Wondering if the current pandemic situation will break or accelerate the prefab construction industry? In an online discussion launched by French construction trade fair Batimat, professionals give us their thoughts on the future of prefab construction in France.
28 May 2020—Before its next edition, the French construction trade fair Batimat has organized online discussions to revisit the challenges of the building sector with regard to the COVID crisis. In the talk they held today, they focused on the future of constructing prefab buildings in France. Will the pandemic halt or accelerate the prefab construction industry?
Is Traditional Construction at the End of Its Rope?
During lockdown in France, 90% of onsite construction was halted.
“COVID-19 has shown us just how fragile the eco-system for traditional construction is”, said Patrick Vrignon, President at BTP Consultants. “One actor involved in the project can bring the entire thing to a standstill.”
“We’ve reached the end of the rope for traditional construction,” said Patrick Vrignon.
Outside the category of digital construction where the idea is to have all actors of a project involved and interactive throughout the entire process, there are too many factors of traditional construction that slows down the process.
“BIM and digital go well with prefab because all the actors can stay involved throughout the whole process of the project,” said Eric Danesse, Technical and Innovation Director at Vilogia.
And, in fact, that is precisely what needs to be done in order to industrialize prefab construction, according to Pascal Chazal, CEO at Hors-Site.
The benefits of prefab construction have been discussed time and time again. The panelists expect the prefab sector of construction will grow the most post-pandemic. However, in France, it seems that the prefab industry isn’t adapted to the market, compared to its neighbors England and Germany who have been ahead of the game over the last ten to fifteen years.
“In order to industrialize prefab, though, the government needs to be involved,” said Patrick Vrignon, President at BTP Consultants. “President Macron has announced that France aims to be the leader in electric cars. That’s what we need for the prefab industry as well, but lobbyists are blocking the industry from advancing and if that doesn’t change, nothing will move forward.”
Still, industrializing prefab construction means an entirely new mindset that would disrupt the construction industry, according to Pascal Chazal, CEO at Hors-Site.
Industrializing Prefab Construction, Why Bother?
If industrializing prefab construction will completely disrupt the industry, is it worth doing?
“It’s a new way of thinking, a mindset change from how we view the construction site in traditional construction to how we view it for prefab construction,” said Pascal Chazal, “where we produce as many elements as possible in a protected area, in a factory. This is especially good for certain sites, like in the city centers, where it’s pretty difficult to produce/construct.”
City centers were also the hardest hit locations during the pandemic in terms of pausing construction.
“What helps us avoid errors in prefab construction is control, auto-control really,” said Patrick Vrignon. “[With prefab], we’re able to keep track of everything much easier which helps us respect completion time.”
The advantages of prefab construction are too significant to ignore: avoid errors by up to 30% or more, enhance productivity compared to traditional construction which has decreased in productivity over the last ten years by 20%, reduce costs and speed up construction by half the time as traditional construction takes.
The speakers agreed that prefab construction has shown better quality results in terms of end-user satisfaction. It’s also easier to train workers in a factory than onsite, they agreed.
While France lags behind in industrializing prefab construction, Eric Aurenche, President of ACIM, explained the need for investors and government backing.
“Student and military lodging projects would be a good place for investors to begin developing prefab on an industrial scale in France,” said Eric Aurenche, President of ACIM.