India has set an ambitious target of providing housing facilities to all by 2022. With the country’s fast-paced urbanization, 25 million affordable housing units will be required by 2030. Both these facts indicate the mammoth task ahead for all construction industry stakeholders - both government and private. The question no longer is - can traditional methods of construction solve this problem? The answer to that has been an industry-wide resounding, “No.” Demonstration of this is seen across India in numerous delayed, poor quality and high-cost overrun housing projects. If this is a known challenge, what are the constraints the industry is facing to achieve a real technology transformation?
Construction Technology Knowledge and Application
One of the critical challenges facing the industry is an in-depth understanding of construction technology and its application both among end consumers and many practitioners. One such technique is offsite construction.
What is offsite construction technology?
Offsite construction technology is when concrete elements are assembly-line factory manufactured and delivered onsite for assembly. The term “Offsite” denotes that the building is being manufactured in a factory instead of onsite as done traditionally.
Step1: Value-Engineering Design for DfMA (Design for Manufacturing Assembly)
The first step in offsite construction is to value engineer and break it down to repeatable components that can be assembly-line produced.
Standard elements in a building include walls, columns, beams, roofs, bathrooms, MEP systems, and staircases. In traditional construction, each staircase is designed and built uniquely, leading to inconsistencies and poor quality.
In offsite construction, once a design is value-engineered, the factory has data on the exact number of walls, beams, and other elements with exact dimensions needed for the building. These computer-generated drawings are fed to machines in the factory, and the machines produce these elements with minimal human intervention.
Step 2: Industrialized Factory Construction
A high-end offsite construction factory is fully automated. Machines read the drawings fed to the computer and start the automated production function of building the element.
Factory produced elements are consistent in quality, have minimal chances for errors, and optimally use material and water, ensuring minimal waste.
High-end offsite construction factories like Katerra’s can produce both 2D or 3D concrete elements. 2D elements include roof slabs, wall panels, beams, columns, and even floors. 3D elements include staircases and fully functional rooms like bathrooms, kitchens that come factory-fitted with MEP and all fixtures, including taps, basins, bathtubs, cabinets, etc.
Step 3: Onsite Assembly
Factory produced elements are transported to the construction site and fitted together using high-end connections that are durable and more earthquake-resistant than traditional monolithic structures.
These connections are vital to ensuring the stability and durability of the structure, and many companies, including Katerra, have an IP (Intellectual Property) on connections. Connections are usually a mix of dry and wet connections, depending on the building codes and requirements.
Advantages of Offsite Construction
Offsite construction has several advantages in comparison to traditional construction methods.
- Factory construction means there is minimal disruption onsite, no dust, no pollution, and no noise. This construction is better for communities and people around the site.
- Factory produced elements have better quality, consistency, and durability, unlike a traditional building, which depends on individual workers skills
- No material waste since machines optimize all the material used and there are minimal errors
- +50% faster than conventional construction, since all elements are machine-made and not labor dependent.
- Offsite construction is safer, it also allows for skill development of unskilled labor and can help create better quality jobs
- More sustainable - factory produced elements are steam cured utilizing 70% less water in the process
Let’s now evaluate how these advantages of offsite construction technology fit into the Indian scenario. Firstly, post-implementation of RERA (Real Estate Regulations and Development) Act, real estate firms are penalized heavily for the delay in project delivery apart from facing legal liability. So, offsite construction technology can be a critical element of the timely completion of projects.
Offsite construction also saves realtors from unnecessary cost overruns due to faulty construction at the site by workers. Higher savings in material cost and timely delivery of projects can add both better cash flow and credibility for realty firms, which is beneficial to the bottom line of the realty firms.
Secondly, this is a highly scalable technology that can help deliver the housing numbers we need on time. As the government eyes ‘housing for all’ with millions of homes in affordable housing space, offsite construction technology will be critical to realizing this dream. Even recent government decisions to build affordable rental housing complexes (ARHCs) for migrant workers can make way for the massive adoption of this technology. In the infrastructure sector, offsite construction can be deployed for faster creation of hospitals, bridges, airports, and other critical projects. Offsite construction can also solve the labor shortage challenges faced amid ongoing COVID pandemic.
Moreover, more offsite factories will spur construction activity in the country, boosting the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” mission of India and creating more skilled jobs.
Ironically, the adoption of offsite construction technology remains slow despite its advantages. A host of factors is behind this phenomenon, but the lack of knowledge about offsite construction is the first and most critical factor. Apart from this, the upfront investment in technologies and the lack of government intervention is also a significant deterrent. The government has to actively support private players to set up offsite factories with tax breaks and other incentives, which will encourage more companies to adopt this technology at scale.
As India looks to bridge the critical gap in infrastructure, offsite is a must for timely and cost-effective delivery of projects.