Modular Construction in Healthcare: Preparations, Advantages and Challenges

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Photo credit: Depositphotos

By Mike Wood

The $400 billion healthcare construction industry has seen its fair share of change over the years. From new materials and the latest technological advances to updated building standards set by the Facility Guidelines Institute and reviewed by The Joint Comission, healthcare construction is constantly evolving. While many trends in the industry come and go, pre-fabrication and modular construction – one of the biggest trends in healthcare today – is here to stay. 

Put simply, modular construction is the process of constructing a building off-site through the use of modules, then fitting them together in a pre-planned order at the job site. The Modular Building Institute further defines the process as construction “under controlled plant conditions, using the same materials and designing to the same codes and standards as conventionally built facilities, but in about half the time.”

As with any new trend, it’s important to consider the advantages and challenges before moving forward. Let’s dive first into the benefits of pursuing modular construction.  

Benefits of modular construction. 

Reduced time. 

One of the most common phrases you’ll hear in modular construction is “speed to market.” Modular construction considerably cuts down on the time needed to build a facility, meaning more patients can be admitted into your healthcare facility faster. Though both modular and regular construction processes start with a detailed design plan, permit approvals and groundbreaking, modular construction soon pulls ahead. As the foundation and excavation is taking place at the job site, the modular facility is being built in an off-site factory at the exact same time. That means no delays from the groundbreaking process or inclement weather. What takes some construction projects 12 months to complete can be finished in just 60-90 days through modular construction. 

Lowered costs. 

Affordability is another significant benefit of modular construction. Costly delays are avoided due to modularity’s quality control. There are specialized inspections in place as modules are constructed and moved down the assembly line. This strategy catches and corrects defects as they appear, without affecting other areas of the project. As modular construction becomes the norm, the overall cost to manufacturers will also continue to decrease. 

Reliability and repeatability. 

All in all, modular construction has a very reliable format and timeline. The process is incredibly streamlined. As the modules are completed in a controlled environment where materials and quality of work is checked before, during and after, your team can take comfort in knowing that the project is getting done without an impacted timeline or budget. Once you’ve built one healthcare facility with modular construction, your branding standard can easily be repeated with facilities of the same type, too. Future facilities can take on a standardized look, feel and color that’ll be familiar to your associates and patients. 

Challenges of modular construction. 

Modular construction isn’t without its disadvantages. Since the construction happens off-site, the modules of your new facility will need to be carefully rigged and transported directly to the job site. The transportation process requires delicate care, as one mishap in transit can result in significant repairs. Additionally, the operation requires more complex decision making for design, material selection and coordination much earlier in the process, effectively “front-loading” the project team’s involvement before the typical start of construction due to modularity’s quick turnaround. Similar to manufacturing environments, once the process is underway revisions to design and materials will have a significant impact on the manufacturing schedule. With that, even though the overall cost is reduced, the initial fees early on are likely to be higher. Connect with your manufacturer early in the process to understand anticipated costs, timing and decisions. 

For your consideration.

As modular construction becomes more prevalent in the healthcare sector and you weigh the pros and cons, you may wonder: Why should our industry embrace this trend? To help determine if modular construction is right for your next healthcare facility project, evaluate three elements with your potential manufacturing partner:  

  1. Capability: Does the manufacturer of the final project have the capability to do what they say they can do? Look into the manufacturer’s recent achievements and if they’ve utilized pre-fabrication and/or modules in the past. 
  2. Capacity: Does the manufacturer have the capacity to produce your vision? Too often, a manufacturer’s capability and capacity do not match.  
  3. Maturity: What is the manufacturer’smaturity?Are there thousands of workers available with an existing distribution channel that can handle the volume coming their way? Are the required materials available or on-site?  An ample supply chain and experience in the field is crucial. 

Going from blueprints to ribbon cutting is an arduous process, but with modular construction, it doesn’t have to be. Building a multi-functional healthcare facility that will remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week isn’t just a goal, it’s a necessity. Modular construction helps set the foundation for your next healthcare project by doing just the opposite – setting it off-site. 

About the Author

Mike Wood is the Vice President of Planning, Design, Construction & Energyat Medxcel, specializing in the creation, direction, organization and administration of Medxcel’s national construction portfolio. Medxcel provides healthcare service support products and drives in-house capabilities, savings and efficiencies for healthcare organizations that, in turn, improve the overall healing environment for patients and staff. Wood leads his construction management teams with his 35+ years of leadership experience and his unique diverse strategic and operations knowledge in the healthcare sector. 

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