Healthcare systems across the country are undertaking massive capital expansions and redevelopment projects. Undermining these construction goals, however, are the growing challenges of widespread labor shortages, supply chain disruptions, and complex design standards.
The latest estimates suggest demand for construction labor this year will outpace supply by more half a million workers. Workforce shortages will have major impacts on healthcare systems’ ability to fulfill capital objectives on schedule and within budget.
Building the country’s hospitals, inpatient treatment facilities, and nursing homes will require new levels of creativity. In response, owners, consulting engineers, and construction teams are turning to the increasingly prevalent solution of prefabrication.
Prefabrication — also known as modular or offsite construction — leverages advanced manufacturing processes and design innovations to create a wide range of high-quality facility components. Assembled in an offsite location through a tightly controlled assembly process, prefabrication manufacturers offer components in standardized, compact units.
Once on site, prefabricated units can be installed through a more streamlined and uniform construction process. Oftentimes, prefabrication offers the benefits of accelerated delivery, lower cost of construction, greater quality control, and smaller environmental footprints.
Prefabrication was once limited to easily replicable components, such as exterior structures or bathroom pods. Today, many options exist for prefabrication in a hospital environment. The largest and most-expensive units are generally best suited for prefabrication.
Within a prefabricated component, each pod is manufactured to include all the necessary infrastructure. This includes plumbing, ductwork, medical gas lines, electrical conduits, communications, and insulation.
Even district energy systems can be built using modular, customizable units. Prefabricated central utility plants may contain chillers, pumps, boilers, and heat exchangers. Each unit can be fabricated to be compatible with chiller plants, boiler plants, and penthouses.
Prefabrication opportunities also exist belowground. Possibilities include piping and underground conduit, as well as in-ceiling chases and conduit racking. All of these can be preconstructed at an offsite facility and transported to the job site for installation.
Prefabrication practices can produce significant benefits — but also come with potential challenges.
Looking forward, a growing number of healthcare construction projects are anticipated to feature modular components. Prefabrication will become increasingly beneficial for healthcare systems across the country, especially as system manufacturers continue to become more versatile, healthcare facilities gain confidence in modular techniques, and labor shortages persist.
To fully take advantage of prefabrication, advanced planning and collaboration will take on greater importance. Architects, engineers, and contractors must work together from the beginning to identify which components would most likely benefit from the “rinse and repeat” approach of modular construction. Delayed discussions often lead to missed opportunities.
Initial planning efforts should ensure prefabricated components fit within the overall design and that the project won’t be hampered by unexpected logistical setbacks. The contractor must be completely on board — and early — to develop a construction phasing strategy that allows large components to be brought in and set. After all, once the building is completely sealed, it’ll be challenging to get that bathroom up through a freight elevator!
At a time when healthcare capital programs face the uncertain futures of an insecure world, prefabrication offers much-needed predictability.
Prefabrication allows construction teams to create schedules that reduce delays, mitigates risk, and lowers overhead costs.
Perhaps most importantly, modular construction expedites the delivery of critical healthcare projects, expanding care sooner for the most vulnerable members of society.
Featured photo courtesy of Epsilon Industries