What are the best ways to meet time pressure and storage space limitations when installing piping systems in tall buildings, and how do we support modularity?

Installation speed is critical for all high-rise projects. Researchers have found that even for the most unique, iconic buildings, the key to accelerating construction speed is to ensure that every floor is a typical floor, so that construction doesn’t have to slow down or stop for work on atypical elements. Another way to speed up construction is to prefabricate elements to minimise the time that cranes are required. On-site storage space limitations are also a compelling reason to move fabrication into the factory, rather than at the job site.

Modular building technologies, starting with small modular parts of buildings (e.g. bathroom pods) and moving up to full modular building construction, offers a way to build tall buildings faster. Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA) is at the core of this industry, where building parts are designed for ease of manufacturing as well as for ease of on-site assembly. The traditional on-site construction approach is shifting to off-site construction and on-site assembly, further supported by building information modelling (BIM).

An example is Apex House in Wembley, North London, which when completed will be the tallest modular structure in Europe. This 560-bedroom block of student accommodation will rise to 28 storeys and take just one year to complete, half of the time it would have taken if built conventionally. It will comprise 679 separate modules, each one delivered complete with a kitchen and bathroom, services, light fittings, switches, socket outlets, and internal finishes, with the bases for the beds installed. Developers cite a list of the benefits of this approach, including quality control in the factory, 50% installation time savings, small workforce of 22 people on site, reduction in space requirements on/next to the site, and reduced waste to 2%.

In China, Broad Sustainable Building, a prefab construction firm, constructed a 30-story hotel in less than 15 days, assembling three floors a day using a modular method. The company now has ambitions to assemble the world’s tallest skyscraper, at 220 floors, in only three months.

With modular builds becoming increasingly popular, the question for developers becomes: how can piping systems best support modular builds developments?

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