Photo courtesy of Barnhart Crane and Rigging Co.
More contractors are subcontracting prefabrication, and more who own shops are doing that work for others.

Fewer contractors have prefabrication shops now than three years ago, but modularized operations are gaining in sophistication, and more firms are planning for prefabbed assemblies during design, according to a survey of 170 firms by industry management consultant FMI released on Oct. 29.

The consultant says that 81% of respondents own prefab facilities, compared to 90% in its 2010 survey, and the rate of firms with more than 11% of project work using modular assemblies dropped to 48% from 52%.

FMI says the drop could relate to "hesitations about the method that include selecting the right types of projects for modular construction, state rules about large assemblies to be transported on roads, locating modular assembly areas close to the construction site, convincing people that prefabrication and modularized units can produce superior quality, assuring that work produced meets codes and proving that it works and saves money."

But survey author Philip Warner says 35% of 2013 respondents are planning to use prefab during design, compared to just 11% in 2010.

More contractors are subcontracting prefabrication, and more who own shops are doing that work for others, FMI says. "The practice is not dying," says FMI, adding that 61% of respondents expect to see growth in prefab facilities over the next three to five years.

Driving forces include price and productivity pressure, lack of skilled construction labor and technology that fosters more design and construction coordination, says FMI.

"Industries that require construction of multiple facilities of similar design, such as healthcare, lodging and education, may see faster growth than other sectors," the survey contends

But FMI cautions that firms must ensure fab-shop profitability.

"They may not have enough work to keep the shop busy. They need to think more like manufacturers. It's not always an easy switch," says Warner.

Ken Bush, senior vice president of The Truland Group Inc., sees multi-trade prefabrication in health-care work as a good example of productivity innovation "for the whole project rather than for [one trade's] scope of work only."