The 3 Main Types of Modular Construction

Is your only experience of modular construction seeing prefabricated homes being hauled down the road on the back of trucks? Then you might think it is just about factory-built prefab houses. But modular construction comes in many varieties.

Crafting a modular building and then installing and finishing it onsite can be as simple as turning a stack of panels into a simple warehouse. Or it can be as complex as piecing together intricate modules on the side of a mountain to create a breathtaking luxury villa.

These two types of modular construction — 2D panels and 3D modules — can also be combined to create a third kind: hybrid modular construction.

Each has its advantages. 2D panels offer easy logistics and flexibility in building design; they are assembled onsite. 3D volumetric solutions maximize the productivity offered by factories. Once delivered, they only need to be installed. Hybrid modular construction plays to the advantages of both of the previous two.

With the basics covered, let’s delve deeper into all three types.

2D Panels: Flexible Design and Simple Logistics

Have you ever put together an Ikea bookshelf or other prefab furniture? Then you’re familiar with 2D panelized modular construction. The only difference is that construction projects use many more panels and the panels are generally much larger and more varied. They can be unfinished, finished or even contain conduits for air-conditioning, ventilation and plumbing.

2D panels are both more cost-effective and easier to assemble than traditional construction. Compared to 3D modules, 2D panels are also cheaper to transport. According to McKinsey & Company’s “Modular construction: From projects to products,” shipping a square meter of 2D panels 250 kilometers costs $8 USD, while shipping a square meter of 3D modules the same distance costs $45 USD.

2D panels work well for open-concept spaces like those found in high-end residences or hotels, where transporting a large prefab building would be costly or impossible. Still, the cost of putting together and finishing 2D panels also needs to be considered when comparing 2D panels to 3D modules.

3D Modules: Increased Productivity and Efficiency

A 3D module can be anything from part of a room or a whole room to part of a building or even a whole building. It can also be unfinished, pre-finished or fully finished and ready to hook up to utilities.

Built in factories, 3D modules maximize productivity with streamlined processes. They also save time, since bad weather never comes into play.

Once onsite, 3D modules just need to be connected (if there is more than one part) before the finished product is connected to electricity and plumbing systems.

3D modules work well for complex rooms like kitchens and bathrooms. They also excel in projects like hotels, where there is a high level of repeatability and a lot of complex rooms like bathrooms.

The size of individual 3D modules can’t compete with the large spaces that can be made from a collection of 2D panels. Modules take up much more space per room on trucks and have to be small enough to fit on roads. But they are connectable and can form large buildings.

Hybrid Modular Construction: the Best of Both Worlds

Depending on the project, the best option can be the hybrid model. This approach combines the flexibility and shipping advantages of 2D panels with the productivity benefits of 3D modules.

One common hybrid solution is to use 3D modules for kitchens and bathrooms and 2D panels for the rest of the building. This means that the intricate work of the kitchens and bathrooms can be done in the factory without limiting the size of the finished building.

Bringing It All Together

So which method is best? It all depends on the size and complexity of the project, as well as its location.

A good modular developer will take these into account — plus the building process and transportation logistics — to create a building that is sustainable, cost-effective, and of the highest quality.

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