From education to healthcare, hospitality to retail, and commercial housing to office buildings, modular construction is everywhere. Leading the charge is the Modular Building Institute (MBI). A non-profit trade association based in Charlottesville, Virginia, the MBI serves as the Voice of Commercial Modular Construction®, and remains the sole international non-profit trade association representing the growing commercial modular construction industry.
“It is MBI’s mission to expand the use of offsite construction through innovative construction practices, outreach and education to the construction community and customers, and recognition of high quality modular designs and facilities,” says Tom Hardiman, CAE, the organization’s Executive Director. Founded in 1983, the MBI remains focused on its mission of ‘Changing the way the world builds: greener, faster, smarter.’
Back in 1982, the owners of about a dozen companies met to discuss common regulatory issues they were facing, and decided to form a new trade association. Following a number of steering committee meetings, the Mobile and Modular Office Association – as it was then called – was created. Successfully growing, the group began including and concentrating on a number of other markets, and the name was changed to the Modular Building Institute.
The MBI today has over 300 corporate members with about 2,500 member connections. Regular members include manufacturers and fleet owners of relocatable buildings and well as permanent modular construction contractors. Associate members are companies supplying building components, services, and financing, while individual members include students, professors, and individuals who are not employees of companies engaged in modular construction. The MBI is governed by a Board of Directors with a minimum of 10 individuals who have been elected by, and from, the regular and associate membership.
Growth of modular construction
“MBI has grown over the years to encompass all sectors of offsite construction,” comments Hardiman. “If a module is involved in that construction method they are welcome into MBI.” These elements can include “bathroom pods, containers, and even elevators,” he explains.
“We have seen our biggest growth come from hosting the World of Modular Annual Convention and Tradeshow. In its 34th year we are seeing a steady increase in interest of the modular construction industry,” he says. This year, World of Modular – which is open to all interested in the modular construction industry – will be held in Tucson, Arizona, from March 17 to 20. “More than 700 builders, developers, contractors, architects, fleet owners, and equipment/service suppliers will come together to network and exchange ideas about the modular industry,” says Hardiman. The World of Modular is an open forum for anyone interested in the modular construction industry. It offers “high-profile speakers, top-notch educational sessions, exhibits, the latest trends in modular, entertainment and more!” says the event website, www.worldofmodular.org
Advantages of modular construction
For over three decades, the Modular Building Institute has actively promoted the many advantages of modular over traditional construction methods and materials. Constructed off-site under controlled plant conditions, modular structure components boast the same materials used in ordinary construction and meet required codes, yet are put together in modules on-site much faster than conventional building – often in half the time. Since the components are manufactured and stored securely in a manufacturer’s warehouse until they are delivered to the job site, they are not subjected to rain, snow, wind, or other inclement conditions, as often happens with wood, metal, and other traditional building materials stored in outdoor sheds. Additionally, quality management protocols remain high, as modular component manufacturers adhere to strict quality control and quality assurance programs, often with independent inspection.
Environmentally, modular construction offers many advantages over the use of other methods. Since components are manufactured off-site, they are assembled quickly and waste is not generated, as with wood or metal scraps. “Removing approximately 80 percent of the building construction activity from the site location significantly reduces site disruption, vehicular traffic and improves overall safety and security,” states the MBI. “So, for schools, hospitals, or other active businesses, reducing on-site activity and thereby eliminating a large part of the ongoing construction hazards is a tremendous advantage.”
Structurally stronger than conventional construction since all modules are precisely designed, engineered and manufactured, once fully assembled, modular builds “become one integrated wall, floor and roof assembly.” Considering the speed with which they are completed, their outstanding structural integrity, longevity, and more, modular construction is ideal for healthcare, education, energy, security, retail, and a host of other industry sectors. From strict quality control to minimal waste, cost-effectiveness, speed of construction, design possibilities and structural strength, more and more companies are realizing the benefits of modular construction.
Soaring to new heights
Opening at the end of 2016, Brooklyn’s Pacific Park stands as an example of the advantages and capabilities of modular construction. A 32-storey tower, the impressive structure – which has colorfully been described as fitting together “Tetris-like pods [to] reveal a complex modular construction method” by CNN – comprises 930 modules. Part of the 22-acre Pacific Park Brooklyn complex, the project was developed by New York-based Forest Ratner Companies and created to bring the advantages of modular design to the city, which is known for its shortage of available, reasonably-priced housing. With more and more persons moving to cities, the demand for housing will increase. Many believe modular building, which can cut construction time by half, is the answer. And in the case of Pacific Park, about 80 percent of the building was manufactured and completely finished – including plumbing, fixtures, drywall, appliances, and fixtures – at a Brooklyn Navy Yard factory ahead of time.
“Modular construction will continue to see growth across all markets, but especially in multi-family and hospitality,” predicts Hardiman. “We are seeing more owners and developers embrace modular construction to see a quicker return on investment. The Pacific Park in Brooklyn is the tallest modular building in the world. It recently opened at the end of 2016 and is currently bringing residents in.”
Witnessing increased growth across all markets, the MBI has seen a surge in multi-family market for the PMC side, and education for the RB side. “I think more developers and owners are seeing the benefit to the use of modular construction on commercial projects that have a repetitive nature. Hotel construction around the world uses offsite construction methods and those successes are spurring more use in the United States. In 2016, we saw multiple hotels constructed with modular construction from a number of our members.”
Looking to the future
To be sure, modular construction is faster than traditional construction methods and ‘greener’ due to factors such as manufacturers purchasing materials in bulk, requiring less vehicular traffic, and significantly reducing waste. The MBI keeps its members informed and engaged through a variety of social media streams, and also maintains the MBI Foundation and the MBI Canadian Foundation, established specifically to provide educational opportunities in the form of training, research, and scholarships to individuals with an interest in commercial modular construction. “Since their beginning, the foundations have trained over 1,000 industry professionals, awarded 17 student scholarships, and spear-headed invaluable industry research,” says Hardiman.
Continuing to reach and educate commercial construction professionals, the MBI Board of Directors embarked on a mission in 2015 that they felt “would both unify and benefit the entire membership of the organization.” Focusing its efforts and resources on increasing market share from an estimated 2.5 percent to 5 percent of all new construction starts by the year 2020, the MBI conducted a series of interviews, discussions, and surveys which were sent to 75 modular manufacturers across North America. “MBI’s focus now shifts to identifying growth barriers and opportunities in these key markets, while factoring in regional differences,” comments Hardiman. “The board recognized that there is not going to be a single, one-size-fits-all solution to growing market share and that key markets most certainly differ by geographic regions. There is also a recognition that if this effort is to succeed, it will require greater participation and support from the entire industry.”
For the MBI, the next step is the development of targeted, region-specific plans supported by companies to address and minimize regulatory barriers, maximize exposure, and identify relevant trade shows, speaking opportunities, and professional development needs. According to the Modular Building Institute, this may require hiring a professional government affairs representative in one region to address a barrier, marketing modular construction in a regional publication or website targeted for growth, and the further development of training resources identified by the industry, such as the recent “Introduction to Commercial Modular Construction,” developed with Clemson University.
“Over time we have focused on identifying growth barriers and opportunities in key markets, while factoring in regional differences,” comments Hardiman. “There is not a one-size fits all solution to gaining the five percent share, but we feel like the diversification of modular builders into new markets is a strong key to growing. The construction industry is one of the last holdouts to embrace industrialization, automation, and improved productivity. The Modular Building Institute is on the leading edge to help bring about this evolution and help change the way the world builds.”