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D.G. Tharinda Rathnapala, Dr David Heesom,

University Of Wolverhampton, University Of Wolverhampton,
Wolverhampton, UK Wolverhampton, UK
T.Rathnapala@wlv.ac.uk D.Heesom@wlv.ac.uk

Within the UK Building Construction industry and indeed throughout the world, resources and
great encouragement have been expanded in the deployment of latest technological
advancements to improve the construction industry functionalities, Building Information Model
(BIM) is one of the great technological improvement introduced to the industry to accelerate
technological improvement phase.

How ever there exists very little research into the effectiveness of this Building Information Model
deployment process when applied to offsite prefabricators who are directly effect the whole
building construction phase and beyond the life cycle of any building.

Building Information Model, Construction Industry, Modularization, Prefabrication, Preassembly,

1. Current Building Information Model

Building information model is a sole database of building design information. Not only a design model, it is
an information base which can be used through out the life cycle of the building, from tendering,
construction, servicing, refurbishing and at the end for demolition. Based on the developed central
database, different information can be retrieved to fulfil number of expectations and requirements. Even
though the information can be obtained for different purposes, the root for all information is the same.
Having a core database provides hidden coordination in-between different parties who use the building
information model for their own purpose.

In current instance the use of BIM is evident with major architect companies and giant contractors who
handle a number of projects. But the benefit can gain by processes down the chain as well, (Kemlani,
2006). Different users can obtain different views from the model, these views include not only plan, section
and elevation drawings typically found in a set of construction documents, but also door, window and finish
schedules, material listings, 3D renderings and animations, and virtual reality scenes (www.triglyph.net,

At the same time BIM should not adopt by any entity just for the cost saving purpose, also for many other
benefits which can derive such as the ability to explore different engineering systems, perform energy
analysis, determine building specifications automatically, and eventually eliminate the use of paper and
paper-based processes (Kemlani, 2006), such as drawings, bill of materials, inventory, order processing

According to Adams (2006, p.13) the Building Information Model should capable of providing is reliable, co-
ordinated, and internally consistent digital representation of the building which available for design decision

making, the production of high quality construction documents, construction planning and predicting
performance in different ways. In the same stage it argues that the “BIM model for construction is
substantially different from a BIM model for design” (Kemlani, 2006). This situation creates theoretical
barrier between the initial/planning stage of a building and the actual live executing process of the building
when it comes to integrate different parties in to single database driven BIM.

At which point the building information model should initiate or who should maintain the information model
is still an undefined topic. An important fact is the system existing in the technology world. Still some
barriers and lower growth cause the construction industry to chase behind advanced technology. When
deciding who should contribute to the BIM and what are the types of information the model can accept to
facilitate more reliable information is still an industry question.

2. Construction Industry Pre-fabricators

The UK construction industry provides 8% of the UK's gross domestic product, & employs 1.9 million
people (National Audit Office, 2001). With the increase in private finance to public sector projects, British
consultants & contractors are well positioned to offer skills & experience in PFI projects & can also provide
high-tech solutions to environmental, transport & building projects. (UK Trade & Investment- 2006).

Prefabrication, Modularisation and preassembly are well established strategies in the construction industry.
They create a great impact on construction project duration, reduced labour cost, Productivity and
streamlined supply chain management. Many changes have taken in-place however since the last
significant study on above strategies (Tatum 1987). In the United States the Prefabrication and
Preassembly activities has risen by 86% from 1984 to 1999 according to Hass et al.,( 2000)

Prefabrication industry in UK did not emerge recently. History goes back to 15th century. Charles Paterson,
in his extensive contribution to the history of American Prefabrication, has noted the potable house carried
from England by the expedition of Martin Frobisher in 1578 (Gilbert Herbert, 1978). Gilbert Herbert, 1978
(in Ferguson, 1980) has also highlighted that the basic concepts of prefabrication did not start in United
States. It shows that there were much contribution to the prefabrication industry from United Kingdom and
other European countries. According to Ferguson (1980, pp. 672-674), during the early stages of 18th
century sectional building were made in factory and shipped to distance points.

Currently there are many companies in UK and in Europe involved in prefabricating building components.
These modules are normally fabricated to fit in to partially constructed building and are brought in by
transfer freight. The major benefit for the construction industry through prefabrication is, able to achieve
close control of tolerance and higher quality. At the same time the costs are more transparent and
unnecessary building waste can be eliminated (www.masterbuildersonline.com/prefabrications, 2006)

In some prefabricating companies, with the industry development, it is evident to see much CAD/CAM
incorporation in to components manufacturing and assembly processes. In Japan TOYOTA is the largest
offsite house supplier with CAD/CAM technology (www.masterbuildersonline.com /prefabrications, 2006).
The greater advantage of using CAD/CAM facilities within prefabrication industry are reduced cost and
increased productivity. At the same time it provides other infrastructure to adopt great manufacturing
techniques such as Just-In-Time (JIT) , Kanban and Process Smooting.

3. Analysis of Prefabrication industry

When one discusses the prefabrication industry there are few key words which can be highlighted,
Modularization, Prefabrication, Preassembly and much confusion term of “Industrialization”. Since the
above terminologies are often collectively called as Pre Work, yet related terms, are still ill-defined (Hass et
al., 2000)

3.1. Prefabrication
Prefabrication can be defined as “a manufacturing process, generally taking place at a specialized facility,
in which various materials are joined to form a component part of a final installation” (Tatum, 1987).
According to Hass et al., (2000), prefabricated components involve a single craft, skill or trade such as
Electric or Piping. Any component manufactured offsite and not a complete system can be considered as
prefabricated component.

3.2. Modularization
When a large unit fully constructed offsite and delivered to the specified location, it will be called
modularised. This process involves different skilled labours and unity of number of different trades such as
Panelling, Electric, plumbing etc. Usually modular is a larger unit which need to be broken down to smaller
units for the purpose of delivery (Hass et al., 2000)

3.3. Preassembly
A common definition for preassembly is “A process by which various materials, prefabricated components,
and/or equipment are joined together at a remote location for subsequent installation as a unit” (Tatum,
1987). Preassembly can be done in a job site other than the final installation place. Normally preassembly
involves works of variety of crafts and it need to adopt sequential activities into ones that are parallel (Hass
et al., 2000)
Usually preassembly is a combination of Modularization and prefabrication. It may collect number of
prefabricated items made offsite and built in near to final job site together to achieve a modular, then which
can be transferred to its specific location.

3.4. Industrialization
In general terms industrialisation can be defined as “process of social and economic change whereby a
human society is transformed from a pre-industrial (an economy where the amount of capital accumulated
is low) to an industrial state” (http://en.wikipedia.org, 2006). With respect to the construction industry,
industrialization can be regarded as “a term to describe and encompass all three aspects of offsite
construction works, Prefabrication, Modularization and preassembly” Hass et al.,(2000). During 1970’s
Industrialization used do describe all form of pre-work activities and in construction industry it more used to
adopt manufacturing concepts.

With closer thinking about above three sections Prefabrication, Modularization and Preassembly, it is likely
to agree that prefabrication is the starting point of offsite manufacturing process. Prefabrication provides
the necessary units for the modular build, where the segments of modular building will be sent to
construction site, which will then triggers preassembly process just near to the job site or at a feasible

3.5. Industry Interaction

Construction industry is made up of many small competitors, rather than few large companies. The
construction industry is highly fragmented and there are some 163,000 construction companies listed on
the then Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions’ (DETR) statistical register
(Egan,1998). Sun and Howard (2004, p 11) noted that a typical construction project involves a number of
different ad hoc firms, each of which only deals with certain aspects of the project.

In the current architectural profession it is an obvious practice to determine very complex building
formation. This is solely due to the creativity of the architects and the sense of latest technology available
in the construction industry. Architects are free to use their creative mind within architect principle frame
work and not bound to show comprehensive knowledge about how the each and every component in the
building should fit together.

In present industry there are number of prefabricators, modular builders and pre-assemblers. With their
competitive price and technology advancement compared to what architects want to achieve and what type
of solution required by end-user, will determine whether to use a prefabrication solution or not. With the
high cost of project management and ever rising labour and material cost at the end it is a decision making
time for entire construction/design project team (end user, main contractor, architect etc.) to select what
type of build solution is required. This will lead to determine at which point the prefabricators should join
the building life cycle.

In a traditional construction life cycle as explained by Gielingh (in Eastman, 2004, p.6) there are six clear
postpones phases, Feasibility, Design, Construction Planning, Construction, Operation and Demolition
Planning. It involves large number of decision making procedures in each phase, and it is a common
practice to evaluate and select prefabrication solution during first three phases, Feasibility, Design and
Construction planning, if it is a favorable solution. Even though the project phases consider prefabrication
solution and incorporate enough cost and modification space for the prefabricator to contribute, real
involvement of the prefabricator does not appear until the mid stage of the construction planning process.

4. Integration of Prefabricators in to Building information model

In most of the engineering fields there is prespecifiability of the fabrication technology, where small
numbers of parts are combined in to hierarchical structure to deliver final product “Kit-of-Parts” Design and
to deliver different function. As an example the automotive industry, to deliver a full finished vehicle,
manufacturer need to combine thousands of components in a methodical and a structured manner, above
structured and methodical sequence need to be determined from the beginning of the design phase of the
vehicle and designers need to have a comprehensive knowledge about required components. By
determining how the final product needs to be, all the fabrication information will be passed to second, third
and forth level manufactures and fabricators. According to Construction Times (2006) “over 70 per cent of
construction projects in the UK have been hampered by mix-ups involving drawings and plans”, the
solution for such chaos can be derived by having common database driven BIM which can be used as
noted by Eastman (1999 p.31) for feasibility, then design, then fabrication and then operations.

In the same instant most of the engineering fields, required components can be determined based on the
material properties and what type of extreme conditions that finished product will undergo. In contrast to
general engineering fields “Architects are free to use variety of structural systems, mechanical systems,
external cladding, interior partitions, glazing and so forth” (Eastman, 1999, p.28). According to Eastman
(1999) “each one if these different system has a set of primitive units, with relevant attributes, which are
composed according to a set of rules and joining conditions”. At the end it provides infinite solutions for the
architect to achieve the same outcome by mixing different systems. This facility allows the architect or the
main contractor to deliver what the end user wants and what system can be used at an economical way.
But in the same sense “A complete specification of a building is impossible since a physical product has an
infinite number of potential properties” (Eastman, 1999, p.14).

The possibility of using BIM to interact prefabricators is still an ill defined subject. As per Kemlani (in
AECbytes, 2006) “There seems to be a natural correlation between the computational technology of BIM
and the constructional technology of Prefabrication”. What above comment highlight is still there is an
unexplored link between BIM and requirements of prefabricators. With the Availability of all the
prefabricated components in digital format which will represent as accurately as it geometry as their
properties, BIM system could be developed where it can use to assemble these components in the design
stage as well as during the offsite construction stage , Kemlani (in AECbytes, 2005). By having all the
associated information such cost, structure, energy performance and so on, it could be used positively in
BIM model to analysis future proceedings of the project.

By having all the prefabricators information in the BIM model from the beginning of the building lifecycle it
will dramatically reduce the cost and errors and increase the efficiency. This will be great tool for early
decision making procedure and to use as a test bed to trial different prefabrication methods.

But due to the large number of prefabricators and their infinite number of materials and construction
methods it is a very time and cost incurring activity to build up a such comprehensive database. Even after
achieving this it needs to run in a super computer environment to deliver all the relevant information for the
architects or engineers. Then the standards, before determining who the prefabricator is, architect or
structural engineer need to be able to use BIM system to form the building in 3D environment. Without
specialty knowledge on prefabrication industry this will be a highly responsible procedure. At the same time
the system should be able to customize prefabricated components based on its materials, special
construction methods and for different construction scenarios so on.

According to Eastman (1999), The current contracting practice, when moving through the building lifecycle
phases it is a common situation of not giving proper consideration about activities involve in the next
phases. Due to this situation and to cope with unnecessary amount of data which need to be in any
computer system Eastman (1999, p.28) emphasized it is more practical to add information about different
technologies (ex prefabricated components) as a design proceeds. In the current stage of the BIM it is hard
to forecast when the prefabricator’s direct involvement appear within the system. Initially offsite
prefabricators need to produce and publish their prefabricated components in a digital format, where it can
be used at the very early stages of the building design process.

Regardless of the lack of capital and investment on technology at the front end of any building construction
to electronically incorporate prefabricators or individual part manufacturers in to BIM, at back stage building
product manufacturers such as curtain wall and store front fabricators, the interior panel system fabricators,
exterior stone cutters (Eastman, 1999) become more automated. They are in a trend to use more 3D CAD
technology to convert 2D or paper based architect/engineers drawings and feed in to manufacturing

Due to mass production and having to deal with a number of construction projects at a given time has
prompted such advance mechanism in the individual part manufacturers and modular builders. This shows
that incorporation of prefabricators in to BIM will not be an alliance activity for prefabricators, the
commitment and leading trade partner’s architect/contractors for the technology is required and appropriate
technical procedures need to incorporate within BIM technology to accept prefabricator’s information. With
the technology advancement and industry evaluation prefabricators can be incorporated in to exiting
Building information models as per in Figure 01.

What the figure 01 illustrates is how the industry can treat prefabricators as another data resource and
embed in to exiting information gathering process. As discussed earlier, required information will be
obtained from industry standard domain which will be updated and maintained by different industry groups.
Information/data can be obtained as per the requirement of the BIM user. The end result will be readily
available information for BIM users and prefabricators to request/supply specific information/product for any
given project which use Building Information Model as its key information system.

BIM – PROJECT #1 BIM – PROJECT #1,#2,#3 …#n

Architects Feasibility study BIM Data Resource

Design Components
Main Contractors
Construction components
planning components
Structural Construction
Engineers Data
Operation Prefabrication
End Users/ planning Products
Demolition (Preassembly,
Capital Investors
planning Prefabrication,

Sub Contractors Industrial Data Resource

Cladding Off Site Prefabrication
Electrical Fabricators Information
Plumbing Preassembly Prefabrication
Etc.. Prefabrication Standards
Modularisation 3D CAD
CAD/CAM standards
(IFC etc..)

Steel Information

Offsite Cladding information

Planning Electrical information
Delivery Other construction
Etc.. information

Figure 1 – Proposed integration procedure for Prefabricators in to Building Information

Model. 6
5. Conclusion

One objective of this research is to understand the latest Building Information Model functionality and its
technological procedures. By keeping the latest supply chain activities such as Toyota, Ford as
benchmarking elements, how to integrate offsite prefabricators in to Building Information Model can be

Second objective is an actual implementation of relevant technological requirements in a selected offsite

prefabricator’s infrastructure to adapt Building Information Model. With the possible live integration with an
existing Building Information Model and the positive impact on both construction and prefabricators
business cycle will be assessed.

A thorough understating about the Building information model is required prior to recommending any
technological advancement. A proper understating about different users and industry requirements need to
be assessed in advance to find how the prefabricators should interact with Building Information Model.

It is not realistic to predict when the whole industry will incorporate prefabricators in to Building Information
Model within its own development stage. But it is a fact that by incorporating such second/third level offsite
manufactures information in to BIM will provide higher cost savings and efficiency in real time construction

6. References:
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Preassembly Trends and Effects on the Construction Workforce, Centre for Construction Industry Studies, The
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