Piling Canada

Off-site Construction and Its Future

UNB’s OCRC provides industry with relevant research to advance this construction method
Written by Chintan Patel
June 2023

Want to buy a new home or workspace built directly from a closed manufacturing area? Enter off-site construction. The term itself dictates the definition and explains the meaning. Off-site construction methods have been used for over a century, but have seen ebbs and flows in popularity due to industry innovation, support, awareness and associated stigma. Off-site construction can help deliver construction projects through accelerated construction, shortened schedules, increased safety for labourers and reduced material waste.

History and background

Intending to serve industry-relevant research to advance and accelerate off-site construction methods, OSCO Construction Group (OSCO) and the University of New Brunswick (UNB) founded the Off-site Construction Research Centre (OCRC) in 2019. Located at UNB’s Fredericton campus, the OCRC is dedicated to accelerating construction innovation by improving and adopting off-site construction technologies and practices.

The OCRC was formed to be industry-relevant and utilize new modern building technologies to transform traditional construction methods into off-site construction. The Centre uses and introduces the research and development projects suggested by the current needs of the industry and through collaboration with industry partners. The OCRC team consists of professors, industry professionals, graduate and undergraduate students to provide them with hands-on experience. The Centre holds strong values in delivering industry-relevant research and products, making strong collaborations through industry stakeholders, and creating knowledge excellence while maintaining the integrity of culture and creating a platform for a better world.

Their research areas include process and productivity improvement services such as assessment of current state process mapping, modelling, measurement of time studies and result analysis. The OCRC also offers digital technology improvements like network structure mapping, building information modelling, virtual design and construction, and research around virtual, mixed and augmented reality. Another support provided by the OCRC is lab testing of mechanical properties of building materials, structural testing of materials and finite element analysis.

Process and advantage

Since its inception, the OCRC has delivered industry-related research with the support of its researchers, faculty members and interest from industry leaders. First, the team and the board decide the research needs through industry participants, financial aids and grants, investing in current practices of construction, analyzing improvements and recommending innovative technology or products.

The Centre is innovating with new methods for the current Design of Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) using the same materials, design codes and standards. It gives more flexibility, less waste, cost predictability, shorter schedules and safer construction. DfMA saves time in construction with a controlled environment and full inspection. With great workmanship, DfMA can deliver significant material advantages, reach full strength of materials, have less co-ordination errors and regulate fast processes. Where labour shortages are the problem, and access to sites is restricted, DfMA-built construction products are taking advantage and giving perfect results. They can be well co-ordinated without involving many stakeholders and contractor responsibilities.

The OCRC is involved in prominent projects like developing solutions for Canada’s energy grid system, researching current energy needs and modelling existing systems and providing recommendations for decentralizing the systems and an energy-efficient grid. Most recently, they have been involved in several case studies, capturing information to analyze productivity and safety improvements on an off-site construction project. One project was a modular hotel in New Brunswick where the first floor and civil work were completed on-site while the above floors were manufactured in a plant. This led to crunching the schedule, delivering the project significantly faster and highlighting the safety benefits for the labourers in the manufacturing facility versus the workers on-site.

Future aspects and the road ahead

The OCRC is organizing webinars, student workshops, competitions and events for industry participation to spread knowledge of off-site construction. The OCRC is involved in supply chain research to monitor and benchmark current capacity and capability while providing opportunities for organizations to build on both. The OCRC not only researches conventional materials, but also specializes in precast systems, recycled construction plastics, mass timber and cross-laminated timber. Introducing technology through the OCRC regulates one digital platform to minimize the risk of errors and digital assessment of any non-value work activity. 

The research projects serve as a database to introduce improvement in the organizational system, introduction to digital workflow and digital manufacturing of required components. The need for carbon-free construction and green building practices pushes the industry to DfMA modular-based building systems. It uses only 33 per cent of the energy of a conventionally built project, as per the Waste Resource Action Program. With the introduction of mapping technology and modelling, off-site construction is becoming a vital part of the project bidding phase and from the contractor’s perspective. DfMA is introducing more logistically friendly products and helping manufacturing and shipping from distant locations. 

The OCRC is encouraging not just its partners, but also the construction industry to introduce DfMA into their projects to minimize cost, reduce wastage and increase the efficiency and safety of the workers. The OCRC has collaborated on a hybrid construction project where both on-site and off-site construction methods were implemented to complete the project.

The OCRC and its mission will certainly help and strengthen future aspects of off-site construction and the improvement and adoption of off-site construction technologies and practices. They have partnered with industry-recognized leaders and are always looking for partners for collaborative research. The OCRC also offers students and industry practitioners a certification program and a chance to work on real-time industry projects. For additional information on the OCRC, visit their official website at www.unb.ca/ocrc. 



Categories: Feature

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