Adaptation of Shipbuilding Production Systems to Construction

RT-255 Topic Summary
RT 255


Significant use of modular construction is occurring across many sectors of the industry, with pockets of enhanced modular execution driven mostly by owners’ needs for faster project delivery. RT-255 builds on the work of RT-232 and found that the shipbuilding industry’s Interim Product Database (IPD) modular construction model can be adapted to the construction industry and is prevalent in some construction projects. The following three elements are typically incorporated into IPD modular construction projects:

  1. The construction of a structure/building consisting of a distinct set of standardized assemblies or modules, with each assembly being an interim product in the construction of the complete building.
  2. The sub-assemblies can be grouped by production process similarity to establish interim product families.
  3. Sub-assembly product families can be built in a manufacturing type environment and transported to the project site for installation.

These projects contain products and production processes that are easily configurable for follow-on projects.

It is suggested that benefits of the IPD process include the following: 

  1. Shorter Schedule: As an enhanced approach to modular construction, the actual time to construct the facility is significantly reduced.
  2. Lower Material Costs: Standardized sub-assembly materials can be purchased in bulk, reducing material costs through economies of scale and optimizing the supply chain.
  3. Higher Quality: Employing a manufacturing type scenario provides a controlled environment, eliminates inclement weather, site access, height constraints, and skilled labor issues and allows more thorough QA checks and inspection.
  4. Innovation Friendly: The manufacturing type environment facilitates the introduction labor saving techniques (jigs, automation, robotics) to realize optimum production at least cost.
  5. Safer Construction: The manufacturing type environment can facilitate a safer construction environment and reduce hazards with field installation.

In addition the development of a qualified design library allows for the adaptive reuse of standardized designs, resulting in a reduced design schedule.

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : Effective at Reducing Project Schedule

This has been identified as the number one benefit for adopting IPD modular construction techniques. Modular construction is occurring based on the IPD shipbuilding model with execution driven mostly by owners’ needs for faster project delivery. Case studies (listed in Table 1 in RS255-1) have shown that significant schedule compression is being achieved. The IPD methodology currently generates a substantial reduction in the engineering design time for ships up to 80 percent. This savings on design is largely realized from the adaptive reuse of a standing database library of qualified and scalable designs, with very limited new design.

  • Five case studies identified schedule improvements between 15 - 50% over original baseline schedules due to the modular approach that allows for paralleling activities, construction out of season. 
  • Cost savings were marginal or non-existent.
Reference: (RS255-1)

2 : Barriers to IPD Implementation

Case studies have shown various implementation barriers exist to successfully execute a project based on the IPD model.  RT-255 identified 22 barriers grouped into the following six categories. (Reference RS255-1 Appendix, page 35 for a detailed construction methodology barrier analysis.)

  1. Execution considerations (4)  
    1. Integration for reusable modular construction
    2. Customization
    3. Ability to scale and repeatability
    4. Plant capability
  2. Design considerations (4)  
    1. Natural phenomena
    2. Site constraints
    3. Codes and standards
    4. Inspection and tests
  3. Transportation considerations (5)  
    1. Travel distance and cost
    2. Road restrictions
    3. Handling capabilities
    4. Shipping and packaging
    5. Transportation risks
  4. Module interface considerations (2)  
    1. Interface tolerances
    2. Ability to handle field changes
  5. Labor considerations (3) 
    1. Labor at construction site
    2. Labor at fabrication area
    3. Labor agreement
  6. Long-term methodology considerations (4) 
    1. Market size
    2. Initial funding
    3. Long term funding
    4. Regulations and codes
Reference: (RS255-1)

3 : Identification of Potential Trends

The research identifies virtually no data to substantiate the following, but there are common patterns that can be drawn from the five case studies:

  1. Project Cost Savings Economic benefits will be realized as projects move from the high-risk stick-built environment to an IPD modularized approach. However cost saving are marginal or limited in research studies to-date. Productivity differentials over field conditions were observed in modular facilities due to controlled conditions, closer supervision, and easier access to tools, but very little hard data suggests cost savings are identified. The report analyzes one case study regarding the economics of building an off-site modular manufacturing facility. 
  2. Lower Material Cost No specific material cost savings is identified in the case studies; however the research identifies potential savings through bulk purchases and economies of scale.
  3. Improved Safety and Higher Quality The prefabrication sites typically saw improved safety statistics over a site construction due to the safe, sometimes climate controlled, environment.  The environment reduced hazards and improved working conditions, thus improving both safety and quality. In addition, projects requiring stringent quality construction can benefit from a modular approach due to easy off-site verification of quality standards.  
  4. Single Project Focus Impedes Modular Investment The case studies identified the limited re-use of designs in the development of a core module library do to the specific design function of each project.  
Reference: (RR255-11)

4 : Future Opportunities

Owners and contractors can continue to develop and adapt the IPD process by embracing the advantages of modular construction in the initial planning stages. In addition, they can continue to develop module design criteria that can be adapted and reused on future projects, which is identified as the single largest barrier to the future application of the IPD approach. As each project is undertaken, parametric rules for modifying and optimizing modules can be developed.
Reference: (RR255-1)

Key Performance Indicators

Improved cost, Improved quality (Reduced errors & omissions), Improved design, Improved safety

Research Publications

Transforming Modular Construction for the Competitive Advantage through the Adaptation of Shipbuildi - RS255-1

Publication Date: 04/2011 Type: Research Summary Pages: 42 Status: Supporting Product

Adaptation of Shipbuilding Production Systems to Construction - RR255-11

Publication Date: 01/2011 Type: Research Report Pages: 230 Status: Reference

Presentations from CII Events

Plenary Session - Transforming Modular Construction for the Competitive Advantage

Publication Date: 06/2009 Presenter: Number of Slides: 21 Event Code: AC09

Implementation Session - Transforming Modular Construction for the Competitive Advantage

Publication Date: 06/2009 Presenter: Number of Slides: 49 Event Code: AC09