Publications / 2009 Proceedings of the 26th ISARC, Austin, USA

Automation in the Prefab and Modular Construction Industry

Joseph Neelamkavil
Pages 299-306 (2009 Proceedings of the 26th ISARC, Austin, USA, ISBN 978-0-578-02312-0, ISSN 2413-5844)

The construction industry at-large is dominated by numerous small and specialized sub-contractors who typically are not technologically advanced enough to embrace automation. The sector that represents factory built housing (the modular, prefab, panelized, precast, etc.) is an exception. Since the products are built in factories, the principles of mass production and mass customization that are the norm in manufacturing, apply. It will also make it easy to adapt to automation, integration and optimization. In this scenario, the constructability aspects can be verified prior to being built, and an optimum construction plan can be derived. Newer materials can be applied, tight tolerances achieved, while the built products are not affected by outside climatic conditions, as is the case for site built housing. With a view to gauge the needs of automation within the prefab sector, we reviewed several automation technologies relevant to construction, and also have been consulting with the prefab industry to understand their state of practice. This paper summarizes the findings of this study, provides an overview of the type of automation that is prevalent in the industry, and outlines a technology outlook with various elements comprising the aspects of prefab automation. It will help the prefab industry personnel arrive at a broad view of the essence of construction automation, while the research community gets a sense of industry ‘pull’ in embracing automation.

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