The demand for modular construction is growing at a blistering pace. Not only in support of global Sustainable Development Goals, but also because it makes absolute sense from engineering, quality, time and cost perspectives.
Prefabricated construction, as the name suggests, is prefabricating various modular components in a factory, and then transporting the components to a construction site for assembly. Often, as is the case on the African continent, the sources of raw materials, factories and construction sites are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of kilometres apart. As a result, project logistics has become the key determinant for overall efficiency in prefabricated construction.
A case in point is the recent distributed deployment of 239 medicine dispensaries across the Malawi countryside, 2 000 kilometres away from the project’s centre of gravity. This turn-key project was undertaken by Resolve Infrastructure Solutions on behalf of the Malawi Ministry of Health and its global healthcare development partners.
The 239 prefabricated modular units represent the equivalent storage capacity of a 14 200 m² pharmaceutically compliant and temperature-controlled warehouse. Half of the units were deployed completely “off-grid”, powered by solar PV systems, and two of the units were situated on islands in Lake Malawi. From start to finish the project took just 6 months to complete – an extraordinary achievement from a project logistics and project management perspective.
There were several keys to achieving these impressive results. All construction materials were sourced from a small group of strategic suppliers, consolidated into bulk primary transportation shipments between Johannesburg and Lilongwe, unpacked, warehoused, picked and consolidated again, this time for Just-In-Time secondary transportation to each construction site, to meet one of the 24 construction teams working in leapfrog fashion across multiple parallel build-streams.
A question that emerged during post-implementation reviews was how the process could be improved upon for future large-scale projects?
Based on the team’s experience of deploying nearly 1 000 modular infrastructure units across Africa, the answer could lie in a so-called Intelligent Project Logistics Management Model (IPLMM), which is an integrated concept that draws upon technological advances in RFID, GPS, smart phones (mobility) IoT, and Cloud Computing.
RFID tags affixed by suppliers to construction modules and fit-out equipment during the manufacturing and picking process allows items to be scanned and their movements tracked along the entire supply chain. Assets identified as such will eventually be assembled into functioning buildings that will exist on the client’s asset register. Thus, it not only becomes possible to track the movement of project material between supplier and construction site, but the use of RFID technologies becomes the basis for asset identification during the rest of the asset’s life – essential for physical asset management, warranty management, preventive and condition-based maintenance.
A combination of GPS and smart phone technologies enables the tracking of shipments, proof of handover and delivery of the correct material across the supply chain to site. Instructions and provenance data flow between truck driver, construction team, warehousing staff and project logistics team.
Finally, the modular building is fitted with IoT sensors to support central monitoring of temperature, electricity loads and solar power yields, and security measures such as open doors and occupation.
Intelligent project logistics management, using proven supply chain technologies, is the key to improving productivity in large-scale prefabricated construction environments and project logistics.