This article discusses the goals and benefits of industrialized construction and how a move to productization and manufacturing processes will transform the global construction industry.

It is based on the Built Environment Matters podcast episode featuring Amy Marks, Vice President of Enterprise Transformation at Autodesk, in conversation with Jaimie Johnston MBE, Head of Global Systems at Bryden Wood.

Over twenty years ago, the Queen of Prefab, Amy Marks found herself talking to the C-Suite of one of the biggest contractors in the world. 

She said, “I can show you a way that you can do more, with less people on the job site, and make these jobs shorter.”

The CEO responded, “Why would we want to do that? That's where we make all our money.”

Now, Marks says, everything is changing. That sort of behavior and thought process isn’t really acceptable anymore. The owners want transparency. They want certainty around the data. She believes the heart of this may come from the fact that “data is the new oil, the new currency.”

It’s hard to get certainty around processes that change every single time, Marks says. The construction industry needs to create some stability amongst the fluidity. We need to create a kind of man-made reef in the ocean to provide some information within all of that water. She believes productizing construction will form exactly such a reef.

What is Productization in Construction?

The way things currently stand in the construction industry, every building we create is essentially a prototype. This means that our built assets are riddled with all the inefficiency of one-off designs and custom components. But just as people no longer have their shoes tailor-made by a shoe-maker, it’s time for the construction industry to embrace change and forge a new path toward progress. As we stare down the barrel of a rapidly growing, global population and its associated infrastructure needs, alongside an aging construction workforce and a life-altering climate crisis, our current state of low productivity, non-transferable learnings, and high waste is no longer acceptable. It’s these types of issues, and the associated risk, industrialized construction products and processes help to resolve.

Making the Change with Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA)

The issue of productization forms a key concept within the industry’s broader shift toward industrialized (or manufactured) construction. However, implementing modular and prefabricated building components along with a Design for Manufacture and Assembly processes doesn’t mean we’ll end up with low-quality buildings that all look the same. In actuality, adopting this new way of working holds the key to tremendously positive and wide-reaching benefits for both people and the planet. By adopting industrialized construction, we’ll produce an increased quantity of high-quality, more sustainable buildings, which improve construction project safety and are also easier to build. 

Still, it’s going to require us to stretch ourselves, because there are a lot of misconceptions about the term DfMA, Marks says. In the first place, DfMA is often used to mean prefab, which it doesn’t. Additionally, it’s important to recognize that a lot of DfMA principles and processes aren't necessarily specific to construction prefabrication.

“They're just good design principles. Good for everybody,” she says.

To illustrate, Marks mentions that she once worked on a billion-dollar hospital project, originally planned with over 700 different types of bathroom. The situation wasn’t beneficial for anyone involved, she says, and wasn’t sensible from either a build or operational perspective. Ultimately, her team whittled the final total down to a mere seven types - a change that worked better on every level of the project.

Talking Transformation: ‘Industrialized Construction’ & ‘MMC.’

One of the challenges we’re facing is that, on a very basic level, the construction industry has an issue with language. Terms lose their meaning, or are used to mean different things by different people, Marks says. These days we use terms like ‘industrialized construction’ to refer to the overarching DfMA principle being used throughout the built environment. Marks has embraced industrialized construction as a term, however, but she acknowledges that some industry professionals, working in areas that aren’t directly related to construction, don’t always feel represented by it. 

There’s also the term ‘Modern Methods of Construction’ (MMC), which Marks says she used to use but doesn’t anymore. These days she finds the meaning too ambiguous. In 2005, she bought a 76-year-old company that built steel and concrete volumetric modular, as well as some assemblies. They worked on a huge variety of projects: telecommunications, data centers, schools, hospitals, generator enclosures, and embassies for the government. Marks notes that people tend to think standardized design is something new, but it isn’t. It’s just an idea that’s coming back, growing in scale, and becoming more mainstream. 

Another issue we have in the construction industry, she explains, is that when we talk about this type of industrialized construction work, we tend to focus on the projects we consider to be the sexy, quirky ones. We talk about the asterisk, which will never be done again.

In actuality, her volumetric modular company had built hundreds of schools for New York City. It was a case of lots of buildings and big applications. She says these are the industrialized construction projects we need to be talking about - the ones that everyone needs to do.

Kit-of-Parts Architecture and the Benefits of Standardization

Jaimie Johnston MBE, Head of Global Systems at Bryden Wood and Design Lead for the Construction Innovation Hub, is equally enthusiastic about the changes taking place within the industry and the shift toward industrialized construction. He reminds us that post-war housing was built using a kit-of-parts approach and that Roman forts were prefabricated. A thought-leader and leading author within the MMC/platform construction space, Johnston talks about the development of the UK Government’s Construction Playbook, whose core policy – harmonize, digitize and rationalize demand – creates a new opportunity to apply a consistent set of technical standards to assets being built across the public sector.

This level of standardization has the capability to create fewer documents and standards, giving the market a much better opportunity to respond, he says. Johnston feels that the adoption of a more standardized, foundational approach will act as a springboard, setting up the opportunity to work with more sophisticated industrialized construction techniques like prefab and DfMA. 

Amy Marks is fine with the idea of standardization but thinks things also depend on how performance-based, or prescriptive those standards are. She cautions that we don’t want a level of standardization where there isn’t space for innovation, or which “precludes fabrication.”

These things really depend on who makes the standards, she says, what they are thinking of enabling in the future, and what their understanding of the future looks like. Not all policymakers are thinking about industrialized construction, prefabrication, or DfMA. They may be looking at things in terms of one particular market application, but not in terms of others. So, standardization doesn’t necessarily help us on its own, but it does have a shot of helping us if someone informs it in the right way. 

She also points out that, although we could easily fight forever about industrialized construction terminology, the important thing is that the core concepts remain true. In particular, she reminds us that the term DfMA does not refer to the end product (traditional and alternative structures), but rather the choices we make upfront relating to the design, manufacture and assembly process. 

There isn’t a hierarchy with any of this, she says, mentioning the term ‘modular’ construction. Each industrialized construction technique is just another tool in the toolkit, with varying degrees of suitability depending on the particular scenario. 

She also raises the point that some people feel threatened by the industrialized construction terminology, as a result of not having the necessary skill set. As a result, they become very opposed. This presents an additional challenge.

Marks says it’s particularly problematic due to the siloed nature of the ecosystem. She doesn’t want the language of industrialized construction to hold anyone back, or create barriers, and feels it’s simply a matter of adapting and changing a few behaviors.

Prioritizing Design to Value with Lean Construction Principles

Jaimie Johnston recognizes that people are becoming bogged down in the granularity of the words, even with terms like ‘on-site’ and ‘off-site.’ 

The important thing is to fully understand the outcomes clients are aiming to achieve, he says, be it speed, greatest flexibility, or lowest costs. That’s why Bryden Wood likes the term Design to Value. The goal here is to design things with lean construction principles: using the least amount of material, handled the fewest number of times, delivered quickly, with the right information, and without waste.

Aiming to realize these lean construction goals, regardless of whether that occurs on-site or off-site, is the real objective. Once this level of understanding is in place, informed decisions can be made about the most effective ways to go about making things happen.

Johnston says this includes decisions about the level of granularity of component standardization which is required, as well as whether work is best done on-site or off-site. It’s really about individual value drivers and these vary from client to client depending on their needs.

“Construction too easily gets into the solutions mode,” he says, “and starts thinking of the solution before answering the question.”

Amy Marks says she worked with a technology client earlier in her career, who wasn’t at all interested in having his project finish sooner. However, certainty surrounding the duration of the schedule was very important to him.

This is a value-driver that is well known to Johnston, as a result of Bryden Wood’s work within the pharmaceutical industry. With pharmaceutical plant design and build, the business aim is to start manufacturing as soon as drug approvals are received, which maximizes both health benefits for patients in need, and monetary benefits for the company. Completing the build early is undesirable, as it results in the asset sitting empty.

It’s all about working out what’s most important, Marks says. Clients can’t have everything, but they also don’t need everything. 

“They just want something of value,” she says, “that you understand, and that they understand is of value.”

The Construction Eco-System and the Impact on Value

Still, the current industry obstacle isn’t really that we don’t agree on the importance of value, or think that working towards value isn’t a smart idea. 

Amy Marks feels the blocker here is the same as it is for topics like prefabrication and productization in construction - that the entire ecosystem is set up in a way that prevents those things from happening.

“I could determine value as speed,” she says, “but then every contract I have, every process I have, every decision-making point, all these procurement methodologies - they're not based on speed. So you could say you want speed, but unless you change the contract, the risk management profile, the processes - in order to achieve speed, instead of what you do every single day - you're not going to get speed.”

It’s a fundamental issue and if we truly want to realize the potential industrialized construction has to offer, we need to address it.

“We rarely change the entropy of processes and behaviors around the good idea,” says Amy Marks. “That's why it doesn't happen, not because it's not a good idea. It's just everything works against it…” 

One challenge relates to the complexity of the construction ecosystem itself, which is made up of multiple different industries, all with different value propositions. These don’t match up, Marks says, commenting that this is why she went to work at Autodesk. Ultimately, she realized that she just couldn’t make the level of impact she wanted to by working from the bottom up, within just one small portion of the ecosystem.

Marks says the level of change needed to facilitate a true industry shift to industrialized construction requires a top-down level of influence. She’s currently writing a book about the topic – ‘The Innovator’s Deception.’ She says she’s starting to see multi-billion dollar companies pushing back. They’re starting to feel dissatisfied with what’s on offer to them with traditional construction and they want something different. 

That, says Amy Marks, is how she knows things are going to change.

Serial Owners and the Power of Clients to Drive Change in Construction

The key lies with the big owners. Marks calls them ‘serial owners,’ because they are large-scale, repeat asset builders. It’s when those big owners start making demands that the shifts occur. She refers to big-budget school programs as an example and talks about their need for operational consistency, usually over large geos. However, she cautions that after owners demand the change, it’s important they’re involved in allowing people to change the process to decrease risk and make things possible.

Jaimie Johnston points out that people often want innovation, but they want it to be tried and tested, without extra risk. They want a sophisticated way of delivering, but through an existing framework, an existing set of contracts, an existing set of contractual terms. 

“No one doubts that you can deliver an asset using some of these technologies, he says, “but it's the framework of procurement methodology and contracts, and IP, and warranties and insurances - all those other things that need to change.”

“What I'm finding now,” says Amy Marks, “is that they love industrialized construction, they want to understand certainty, so they're starting to dictate and decouple the process of construction and productizing it.”

We need to connect makers and designers, she says. We need to look across everything we’ve built and find the consistencies. We can’t do it by hand, we need to use algorithms and machine learning. We need to decouple some of the process, which is done differently every time, to create certainty.

To illustrate her point, Marks raises the example of a generator, built consistently to a 250 horsepower capacity. With a generator, we already know its size, shape, and the way it will act.  An architect wouldn’t request a generator of a custom capacity for a particular project, she says, because no one is going to decide that a manufactured product ought to be manufactured to a different capacity. 

We don’t need to know many DfMA principles surrounding generators because they are productized, she says. The problem with DfMA, “is that you have to not only understand the element that you're figuring out the rules for, but then you need to know the proprietary rules for that element. And you multiply those exponentially. It's too many.”

Creating an Opportunity: Prefabrication and Productization in Construction

The problem we’re currently facing, Marks says, is that “we're only talking about the baby steps of prefabrication, or really fabrication, at this point. We're not enabling productization. There's a difference. And I think we have to quickly almost leapfrog over fabrication to productization.”

Marks says that productization will free architects, empowering them to be “the true architects of the parameters, of the combination, of those elements.” 

Additionally, she adds, given that not everything warrants productization, architects will be able to spend more time doing the work they came into the industry to do - the more artistic work, and the work more specifically related to the end-user experience. 

Jaimie Johnston agrees there’s a massive opportunity on offer for designers with industrialized construction.

“The people who write the standards don't necessarily understand the implications; clients want the value, but don't know how to do it; product producers have no product know-how to make the bits. It should be the designers that are stitching all those bits together, understanding those standards, understanding what's available. That's a massive role. It's a very interesting role,” he says.

Still, Johnston acknowledges that the design community is currently meeting the idea of DfMA with more fear than excitement. 

“The old cookie-cutter buildings get trotted out as a reason not to do DfMA,” he says. “There’s so much to get on with, there's so much to build. There's so much opportunity in this space that designers should be seeing this as a phenomenal space to step into and an exciting place. But it doesn't feel like that's necessarily landing with the design community at the moment.”

Marks describes the world of the “new possible,” where everyone becomes a productizer making products, where owners become true influencers, and where some, like the ‘super subs’, general contractors, and builders, become systems integrators. In this space, she says, it is only the architects who become more fully what they’ve always been and always set out to be. 

In this new world, she says, the architects will “truly become empowered architects, when you actually put real things in their hands…”

Johnston, an architect himself, is keen to reclaim the role. He feels these new tools will help architects improve designs, outcomes and generally “achieve better things for clients.”

In other words, it’s the combination of productization and technology which becomes the truly enabling factor. 

Currently, Marks says, “we're letting people design with things that aren't real, and we're letting them make them less real by stretching them, or only looking at geometric shapes. You actually need discrete data, you need the connection with the maker as the architect. In order to set the right parameters you need generative design, you need multi-dimensional CAD like Revit, you need those things in order to make the right decisions.”

So, what advice does Amy Marks have for moving the industry forward?

“Everybody right now, if you're an architect or a builder, you should be working on your foundational skills with the baseline, anchor, portfolio products,” she says.

It’s then what she calls the “connective tissue” technology, the tech which forms between those products to connect them to other products, which will be the key to getting from “conceptualization, design, to make, to operate,” she says.

Productization: Building A Raft in the Ocean of Construction

The process of productizing the pieces and parts involved in construction will help inform our understanding of what technological connective tissue is missing, as well as what we need to do to fill in the gaps.

Amy Marks compares the productization of those elements to building a raft or reef in the middle of the ocean. Whether it be a generator, a panel, a bathroom pod, or something else, productization will provide something solid to work with inside a sea of fluidity, something we can “actually track through and map…”

The key, she says, is that the products must be fully defined. We must understand every aspect, including workflows, performance, and sustainability. Further, it’s important to recognize that productization won’t solve everything. However, it will give us a starting point. 

Marks refers to this as “chaos to order theory,” a phrase she coined after a superintendent on one of her first jobs described his positive experience working with bathroom pods. The pods created a welcome amount of certainty and consistency in his day. He could count on receiving them, he knew exactly what they were, and he could schedule his other work around them. This is the power of productization, Marks says, elaborating on her previous metaphor by saying that when you build a “man-made reef in the middle of the ocean... ecosystems build around it.” 

Bringing up digital twins, she reiterates that it’s only through productization, not process, that we’ll have the level of certainty needed to be able to do things correctly and to the best effect. However, she cautions that we can’t just jump straight from our current position, which she likens to “crawling out of the primordial ooze,” to an end goal of mass customization akin to ordering a bespoke, Nike shoe.

Jaimie Johnston says that at the moment, there are still too many breaks in the digital chain to get us exactly where we need to go.

“We never get operational data in a particularly sensible format,” he says. “You know, the statutory approvals process isn't digital.”

He says that to get the benefits we’re seeking, all of these other aspects need to be reconciled first, and one of the things that will enable that is productization. It’s not really “anything to do with DfMA,” he says, or whether it's a panelized, or volumetric or Platform system. “You're miles away from that if we don't get all of these other ecosystem elements in place to support it.”

Johnston recalls a bathroom pod project early in his own career, where the beautifully designed, millimeter-perfect pods had to be inserted into a traditionally built building. Aiming for efficiency in such modular projects carries risk. He says that far too much time was spent fixing the gaps between the manufactured and traditional parts. Whilst the insides of the pods were identical, the outside utility connections were different every single time. Johnston warns of the knock-on effects of these types of scenarios, where a lack of advanced planning results in a total loss of the intended value.

Marks agrees and says the solution lies in bringing the construction site build portion of projects up to the same accuracy as the modules. 

Modular Construction

Bringing up the B2 Atlantic Yards project, Amy Marks explains that the problems caused by the module frames not being reset when needed is an easily fixable issue to learn from, not a reason to write off prefab altogether. 

For example, lessons learned from the earlier Victoria Hall project in Wolverhampton (which saw tolerance issues between the modules and core structure of the building), did inspire a shift from concrete to structural steel frames on Atlantic Yards. 

Further, while she believes it’s possible to achieve tolerances, she says that not every process (ie. every contract, every scope, every specification) is currently set up for accurate tolerances. This needs to change, she says, or what we’re aiming to do will be nearly impossible. 

“You can't have the same behavior and think you're going to have some dramatically different result (that's going to be great) all of a sudden.’

The reality is that making these changes offers a solution to many of the problems we’re facing as an industry at the moment, including poor productivity, low value, excessive amounts of waste, and carbon emissions. We need to find a way to facilitate this shift to industrialized construction because almost nothing is coming out in the way we intended it, Marks says, particularly in terms of cost, certainty, and schedule. 

Still, switching the whole ecosystem to support industrialized construction represents a very difficult challenge.

Starting with DfMA

Marks feels one beneficial change would come from the construction industry committing more broadly to seeking guidance from manufacturing professionals. Currently, that isn’t often happening. However, if we want to shift to more of a manufacturing mindset, she believes it’s essential that we “get the right people in the room.”

“The majority of the consultants that are working with our customers and myself on the industrialized construction offering are manufacturing consultants,” she says. “You have to think of things like systems architecture, and you have to understand things like flow. These are guys who live, breathe, eat, drink and sleep manufacturing, who understand how to apply it to these spaces. Right now in the construction business, you have lots of these contractors opening up fab shops, and they're not going to manufacturing consultants to figure out how to set up a fab shop. It’s like, wait. Why? Why wouldn’t you do that?”

Furthermore, this industrialized construction shift isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s taken the automotive industry years to get to the use of six-axis robots, but that was an evolution from very simple automation. This process is about baby steps, not huge leaps to the end state. 

Johnston says we need to “simplify the process, understand, get the foundations right.”

This has to come before we can start to apply other things.

In the past year, COVID-19 has shown us just how much is possible. Marks feels that a behavioral shift is the main element needed to utilize our existing technology to more of its fullest potential. It’s a long game, she says. This is about product-led thinking and strategic initiatives focused on long-term business health. 

“You need an ecosystem of products, ours and other people's, to make this possible, but you first need leadership to give you permission to learn a direction, a strategy, the reasons you're doing this, and that, rarely, if ever, lives in one project. We have to stop this nonsense that we're going to somehow change the world with one project.”

The people in leadership positions, whose jobs aren’t vulnerable, they’re the ones who need to move this forward. “You've got to think about the long game,” Marks says, “and whether or not you're going to exist on this planet.”

She’s also aware that there’s a monetary opportunity here, on top of the current $14 trillion industry ecosystem. The projection is that the industry will make a 45% shift to industrialized construction. Companies that do this well will increase their value, but changes will be necessary. For a start, technology spends will double. 

We’ll also need to have a complete understanding of how the traditional and industrialized aspects of a building will interact with each other, she says.

“You're talking about interstitial spaces, adjacencies, attachments, components. You need to know it for everything,” Marks says.

Looking Toward the Future: Sustainability in Construction

Still, the reality is that the construction industry has been in a state of poor productivity and other difficulties for decades, so why is it that we finally appear to be standing on the cusp of an industrialized construction transformation?

We’re ready now, Marks says, and we don’t really have a choice.

“Technology has changed, the environment has changed, the workforce has changed, the designs are more complex. There’s a lot of things closing in on the space that's creating a lot of dissatisfaction, and the people who have the money are the most dissatisfied - the big end-users, the big governments…”

Around the world, she says, business restarts want three things: digitization, industrialized construction, and sustainability (mostly in the form of understanding carbon). Ultimately, these things are all related to the issue of productization in construction.

Construction waste makes up 40% of our landfills, Marks says, adding that this happens because we’re changing things and cutting them after the fact.

A switch to industrialized construction, with an industry deploying manufacturing processes, would be highly beneficial to the issue of sustainability in construction.

Marks also invites us to consider the ancillary benefits of creating a factory: a workforce composed of diverse ages and populations, economic sustainability for that factory around the world, social sustainability, industry sustainability (because the construction workforce is an aging population) and, of course, environmental sustainability.

She highlights the level of current dissatisfaction and the focus on our planet - our dwindling supply of resources: people, things, and materials.

“We can’t all live on this planet unless we get better at this,” Marks says. “That’s what’s actually changing this. People are making that connection. And we're becoming more of a global economy as well, so they're seeing examples.”

These days she’s starting to see “masses of the big players change their behavior.”

She’s as excited for them as she is for architects.

Marks recalls that while talking to the Head of VD&C for a large company, she was impressed with the work and incredible technology going into a two-billion-dollar hospital project. At the end of the presentation, she asked, “how much of this can you use for the next project?”

The answer: “None of it.”

It’s not acceptable, she says, addressing the position of the serial owners who are building hospital after hospital, school after school. Owners who are spending billions of dollars.

“What owner in their right mind is going to spend money and not get consistency of any data,” she says, “to learn from, reuse and evolve, to be more operationally efficient? How could that be acceptable?”

“We find the same thing”, says Jaimie Johnston. “It's serial customers who are dissatisfied with either the quality they're getting or the value they're getting.”

Johnston says that the biggest value driver of them all is climate change and carbon. He agrees that there’s a “dawning recognition” that we don’t have a choice. However, these days, the data is starting to allow us to do these things, making this particular moment in industry history different from the ones that have come before. 

“I think that's why it might stick this time,” he says. “But if it doesn't stick this time, we've got enormous problems.”

Marks seems confident about the direction things are headed.

“Three-quarters of all specialty subcontractors have experience with multi-trade and two-thirds of general contractors have experience with multi-trade assemblies and prefabrication,” she says, referencing McKinsey’s report about the state of U.S. construction over the past three years.

In other words, it’s already happening. We just need it to get better.

A Formula for Change

Regardless of BIM or digital twins, we won’t win if things continue as they are. We have fundamental problems which need to be addressed. These include the lack of productization in construction, as well as the lack of knowledge about DfMA principles and practices.

We have drawings moving back and forth across industry silos from architects and engineers to fabricators and beyond in a way that means “we build things, prefabricated or not, that aren't what was originally upfront in the process,” Marks says.

She believes this is where we will see the most change and brings up Gleicher’s Formula for Change (revised by Dannemiller), where dissatisfaction, vision, and steps toward the vision must be greater than resistance.

“I actually think we’ve hit dissatisfaction at this point,” she says, pointing out the various issues across the industry: construction companies unhappy with the money they’re making, designers unhappy with the roles they’re playing, owners dissatisfied with the inconsistency.

And the question that needs answering now is: “what does the future look like?”

Marks says that her job at Autodesk is to help people envision what that future could be by taking the current building blocks and foundational pieces and expanding on them. She knows there will be resistance and thinks we’ve got to start thinking about things to be able to combat issues like old thinking, processes, contracts, scopes, and procurement methodologies.  

“We've got to be able to highlight the dissatisfaction, show people there's a potential vision up. Nobody changes unless there's something better on the other side,” she says. “But we should be able to show them there's something better.”

The owners want all of this, but the general contractors tell them it isn’t possible. They can’t tell them the concrete steps of action after the vision. They should figure out how to get those owners what they want, Marks says, and the owners need to be willing to take on some risk. They need to collaborate. “Just because you push risk onto somebody else doesn't make risk go away. We have to start opening up our eyes and stop pushing down responsibility onto somebody else. That's why we're so siloed. Also, we can't keep automating inefficient processes.”


The Global Evolution of Industrialized Construction

Ultimately, every single part of the ecosystem has a role to play in this new world, and everyone has to work out what their role is. Marks is enthusiastic about what will happen when we combine the amazing talents of individuals with the power of technology. She’s eager to see the transformation.

Johnston agrees that things are generally improving, but brings up the difficulty being created by large pockets of resistance still needing to be unlocked. He feels that government support is helping to advance the issue of industrialized construction in the UK, including with the previous BIM mandate.

However, both Marks and Johnston agree on the fact that it’s a true sign of progress to now be able to discuss the rise of industrialized construction in so many countries across the world. Ten years ago, Marks says, those types of conversations wouldn’t have existed at all. 

The different geos have different value propositions, just like clients, she says. Their different paths and strategies reflect their individual needs “based on the current environments that are there and what they're trying to overcome. I think we can learn from one another,” she says.

For example, Singapore is very metrics-based. They’re tracking everything with technology and bringing industry and universities together to view things from different perspectives. In the United Kingdom, there’s great craftsmanship, as well as in Ireland, where they’ve adopted manufacturing techniques. In America, there’s volume because of geography. In Australia, they’re getting pressure from Asia. They’ve lost the car industry. They want to create an industry. They’re bringing in young people and technology, Marks says.

However, regardless of the country, there are a few elements needed to make the shift to industrialized construction work: purpose, government support, academia, the involvement of young people, training, and complementary parts of the ecosystem - including industry and finance. 

Education is a hugely important factor and Amy Marks has now written an eight-week course curriculum for Columbia University. It covers not only prefab but other industrialized construction topics such as how to look at MEP assemblies, manufacturing, automation, robotics, machine learning, AI, and construction Platforms. It’s unlike any other course in the world, and that’s the problem, Marks says. There isn’t anywhere for people to go to learn these things, so we can’t expect them to finish their education and be ready to enter the space. That’s why our team at Autodesk is creating a knowledge center - to pass on what they know through the software, through the technology.

Leading the Change

According to Amy Marks, we need strong leadership figures in the industry who are going to take risks and be thought leaders.

“Every CEO that comes to me, I'm like, get ready, this is gonna take a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of effort, you're not going to get there on one project.”

She cautions against trying small, single aspects of industrialized construction on one project at a time, as the projects take years to complete and so the learnings are too few and take much too long to achieve. She says there’s a need for more people like herself and Jaimie Johnston to challenge what doesn’t make sense and stick their necks on the line.

“It's not easy to be the Queen of Prefab!” she says, adding, “Mike Tyson says, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. I've been punched in the face a lot. It's not easy, but nothing that's really amazing is ever easy. And, by the way, interestingly enough, I don't really get punched in the face that often at all anymore, which is, I think, a litmus test that things are changing.”

Marks says that these days people mainly just want to know how to get where they need to go with all of this. She says the CEOs still fighting the change to industrialized construction need to recognize that others aren’t anymore - that in a long-game sense, they “probably aren’t doing the right thing.”

“Companies should be seeing this as a massive opportunity in shaping themselves,” Johnston says, “positioning themselves to see it as a benefit and not saying: ‘I hope this passes me by and I can avoid making some of the big shifts.’”

Marks reiterates that the shift to industrialized construction is going to take everyone’s involvement. All of the key players need to recognize their own dissatisfaction and start making changes.

“I don’t just feel the shift,” she says. “I’m holding on some days because I’m getting knocked over from the shift!”

The thing that will make the biggest difference at the moment, she says, is the productization - connecting those products upfront in the platform to provide connectivity for designers and makers.

“And I think that's why what you're doing at Bryden Wood is so cool. We need to enable a connected ecosystem and a connected tissue between all these foundational products to really make this work. And I see examples of it all the time.” 

Marks talks about the convergence that’s happening between industries, companies, processes and products. The world is getting smaller than it ever was before, she says, and it’s creating greater opportunity. She points out that 10-15 years ago she wouldn’t have been able to get in the room with the kinds of big companies she’s meeting with now. These days they’re coming to her for help and she’s passionately excited about the change happening right before her eyes. 

“What we have to recognize,” she says, “is we're counting on each other, and we have to make sure that we're all doing the right things because it’s so connected.”

She reminds us that facilitating a successful shift to industrialized construction isn't just about the technology and the software tools, but about creating the right processes, having the support system from government and building departments, and authorities having jurisdiction.

“By the way,” she says. “I started saying industrialized revolution because I truly meant it. This is a revolution. There used to be days when I felt like I was carrying a heavy backpack full of rocks uphill. But now there's an army behind me, a battalion. There's like, countries with armies behind us. And I think you've probably felt the same way. Sometimes it felt pretty lonely out there. But you know, it's not lonely anymore. That's so good.”


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