Supporting the Modular Construction Industry

Modular Building Institute (MBI)
Written by Claire Suttles

Modular construction is making impressive headway in today’s market. “The commercial modular construction industry is poised to see some incredible growth in the coming years,” predicts MBI’s Communications Manager S. Elizabeth Burnett.
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The list of advantages to this form of construction is impressive. Because all modular construction takes place within a factory setting, manufacturers are able to recycle and reuse materials more effectively than onsite builders can. In addition, the injury rate is lower within a factory setting, particularly because construction of modules occurs on one level, which prevents falls. And, with all construction taking place within a controlled environment, craftsmen can continue working regardless of the weather. Since delays are rare, modular construction allows trades (plumbing, electrical, painting, etc.) to be scheduled well in advance, increasing efficiency even more.

Regardless of the benefits, modular construction still gets a bad rap. “The biggest challenge modular builders face is the perception that all modular buildings are low in quality and/or are unattractive,” Ms. Burnett remarks. That’s where the Modular Building Institute (MBI) comes in. The international non-profit trade association has been supporting and promoting the industry since 1983 through a variety of valuable initiatives.

MBI members include manufacturers, contractors, and dealers within two distinct industry segments: permanent modular construction (PMC) and relocatable buildings (RB). Associate members are made up of companies supplying building components, services, and financing.

MBI works to overcome negative misconceptions by educating end users at construction industry tradeshows, through whitepapers available on modular.org, and through in-person Modular Summits held several times a year across North America. The organization teaches these end users how best to utilize modular construction and what its benefits are for a variety of markets. “This mainly benefits PMC [permanent modular construction] builders and manufacturers, as their products can be used in many of the same situations as site-built construction,” Ms. Burnett explains. “For RB [relocatable buildings] companies, MBI Government Affairs staff work tirelessly to ensure that relocatable buildings are acknowledged and included in state, provincial, national, and international building codes, which allows companies that own “fleets” of RBs – like classrooms or construction trailers – to continue to do business without overhauling their entire fleet at once.”

MBI also hosts World of Modular (www.worldofmodular.org), the industry’s largest convention and tradeshow. This year, World of Modular hosted more than 750 attendees from 24 countries around the world and provided educational breakouts, networking, and expo time for modular manufacturers, dealers, and suppliers of goods and services.

World of Modular is also where the MBI’s Awards of Distinction are held each year. The commercial modular industry’s premier awards program, the Awards of Distinction recognize the best in the industry across 30 categories and include manufacturers, dealers, and product and service providers. Entries include relocatable, permanent, and renovated modular buildings as well as industry marketing pieces. An impartial panel of industry and non-industry construction and code experts, architects, engineers, and marketing professionals review each entry and judge them on architectural excellence, technical innovation, sustainability, cost effectiveness, energy efficiency, and calendar days to complete. Marketing pieces are judged on stated objectives, creativity, methodology, and results. In addition, MBI recognizes individuals who have contributed to the industry through the Hall of Fame, Lifetime Achievement, and Modular Fellows awards.

Knowledge is power, and the MBI provides plenty of it. The organization offers member companies access to information and resources “to help them remain competitive and strong in a volatile business climate.” The MBI also provides tools that members can apply to their operations, “strengthening the ties to customers and the community or markets served,” says the Institute. The organization’s industry analysis is second to none and provides valuable insight into the size and growth of the industry each year. “The annual reports have become the leading source of information on this industry and are widely used by investment firms, banks, and the media,” Ms. Burnett reports.

Published in early 2015, ‘Introduction to Commercial Modular Construction’ is an exciting new educational resource for modular building professionals developed by the MBI in partnership with Clemson University. The book introduces the reader to the modular construction method, comparing and contrasting the technique to traditional site-built construction. ‘Introduction to Commercial Modular Construction’ is “designed to help the reader understand terminology and concepts of modular building including client needs, design, fabrication, transportation, and installation,” Ms. Burnett explains.

The MBI provides training opportunities as well. “Members experience personal and professional growth by developing more expertise in the modular industry through attending MBI programs. Members gain awareness of industry trends and get hands-on information to help improve work performance.”

The MBI also deals with regulatory issues, monitoring and reviewing thousands of different bills and proposed regulations and determining their potential impact on the industry. “MBI has taken the lead to introduce, change and defeat legislation and regulations that would have an adverse impact on our industry’s ability to utilize our assets in the manner in which they were intended,” Ms. Burnett reports. “We have successfully protected our members’ interests in numerous states and provinces on issues ranging from taxation, plan approval, code compliance, relocation and recertification.”

Extensive networking opportunities are also available to MBI members. “MBI allows members to make valuable contacts and contribute to the advancement of the industry through their involvement,” Ms. Burnett points out. As the largest gathering of modular construction professionals in the world, World of Modular is the greatest networking example, but certainly not the only one. “There are no greater opportunities to network within the industry and among interested end users than at MBI events… We bring industry members together in a variety of ways to promote networking and innovation.” The MBI also publishes the only directory dedicated exclusively to the commercial factory-built industry. “Industry professionals look to the directory as an informative resource throughout the year,” and all MBI members receive a free listing.

The organization can generate leads for members as well. The MBI website encourages potential clients to use the services of MBI members, while the MBI referral service carefully screens leads generated by the website, then places these leads with the appropriate member based on geographical location and expertise. MBI also helps maintain high standards within the industry by requiring members to adhere to the MBI Code of Business Ethics & Conduct, which promotes integrity and quality.

The construction market share for modular construction continues to grow – making MBI’s mission more important than ever. “Modular construction is really taking off in the lodging and multifamily (apartments) markets,” Ms. Burnett reports. “Modular components (i.e., electrical racks and bathroom ‘pods’) are being increasingly used in office and healthcare settings as well. Modular is poised to make leaps and bounds in the construction market share in the next few years, provided manufacturers can keep up with the demand.”

And as opportunities within the industry increase, more and more contractors will likely dive in to take advantage of a lucrative market. “I expect we will see a lot of general contracting firms try their hand at offsite construction – whether it be a small manufacturing facility created for one project, or a larger one for multiple projects.”

The MBI plans to be there every step of the way to ensure that the industry continues to move in the right direction. “MBI’s role moving forward will definitely be keeping member companies at the forefront of the trends in the construction world, as well as promoting continuing education and training for member organizations, and promoting the modular construction industry as a whole through our educational events and World of Modular,” Ms. Burnett predicts. After supporting the industry for over three decades, the MBI is more than ready to take modular construction to the next level.

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