Can FIM solve the ‘modular question’?

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It’s time for a unified platform that supports the interests and activities of all stakeholders in a construction project, and where design and fabrication are linked at all times, writes Tal Friedman

Fabricated integrated modelling, or FIM, offers an innovative way to use digital technology to achieve a new economy of scale fit for the built world environment. A major issue that it aims to solve is the modular question. In short, as long as construction projects are conducted as a series of ‘bubbles’, thanks to fragmented data and supply chains, the same problems arise again and again.

Offsite construction has long been touted as the future of the construction industry, since way back in the late 1960s. It promises faster construction times, reduced waste and increased efficiency. However, despite the apparent advantages, offsite construction factories have never lived up to these promises.

But in recent years, there has nevertheless been a resurgence of interest in this area, as part of a wider construction technology movement. This has led to significant investments in new factories that claim to do things differently. In fact, it’s fair to say that the modular construction world has enjoyed something of an epiphany, backed by large investments from venture capital firms looking to profit from a revival of the concept. These investments have been spurred on by a view of construction as the next big opportunity for digital disruption. With the development of IT and automation tools, the timing seemed right for change, and governments were equally enthusiastic, pitching in to create incentives. It appeared for a while that a long-awaited transformation was about to happen.

So what went wrong? Why are we witnessing a slew of modular companies either going bankrupt or filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection? What happened to the built environment revolution that was apparently on the cards – and how might FIM get it back on track?

The rise and fall of Katerra was just the beginning. Soon, more and more investors joined the goldrush, lured by the potential rewards on offer for the company that finally succeeds in creating the ‘building factory of the future’. Unfortunately, these approaches have collapsed time and time again, leaving industry professionals still wrestling with the still unsolved modular question. How can something seemingly so logical on paper continue to be thwarted by reality? And if manual construction is outdated, slow and inefficient, how come it repeatedly beats offsite construction to the punch?

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Answering the modular question

In the hunt for a solution, a good place to start is by thoroughly understanding the problem. In this case, companies face a number of issues, typically summed up by the following:

To get scale, you need scale

Perhaps the biggest problem in the field of any automation, especially as heavy as construction, is the need for scale. Effective assembly lines only function well under standardised and repetitive conditions. Therefore, in order for any one project to be cost-effective, you need to have many projects in the pipeline.


Building twice

Building offsite essentially means constructing a building twice – once in the factory, and then again on site. That involves funding a large, spacious factory, equipped with high-cost assembly lines, even before the first commissioned project arrives. The upfront costs are huge and the return on investment is unclear. This leaves us once again tackling a scalability requirement.

The chicken-and-egg of distance

Transportation costs are another major challenge. It is extremely expensive and time consuming to transport modular buildings, especially volumetric ones, from factory to construction site. But the closer your organisation is to the target destination for building, the more you will pay in labour, factory rent and transport.

The customisation challenge

Not all buildings are created equal. Since most buildings are not designed for fabrication, most projects will be given permits based on spatial layouts rather than fabrication models. That means a complete rework to match the standardisation of offsite construction is needed, taking up a lot of time and extra cost.

The FIM solution

FIM presents a generative approach that can help solve the modular dilemma and increase the scalability and profitability of modular construction factories through smart planning automation. As artificial intelligence (AI) concepts unimaginable in the past unravel themselves on a daily basis, using FIM principles can unlock much of the long-awaited potential of modular construction.

FIM offers to standardise the construction process using a smart kit of parts that can be adapted to (almost) any layout. Using smart network effects, building plans optimised for smart supply chains can support mass customisation. Rather than limiting designs to fixed layouts, the approach seeks to standardise only what needs to be standard, while also permitting freedom of design where needed. Rather than fragmented point solutions for design, as in classic BIM, FIM promises to create a unified platform that supports the interests and activities of all stakeholders and where design and fabrication are linked at all times.

FIM can help architects and engineers create designs that are optimised for manufacturing from the beginning. Using generative AI to match design intent and real-world constraints means that designs can easily be translated into modular construction components in a seamless manner, without having direct expertise when it comes to all the manufacturing data. That allows them to focus their efforts on what really matters – the quality of design, rather than an endless game of Ping Pong with regulators, fabricators and other stakeholders.

Using generative AI to match design intent and real-world constraints means that designs can easily be translated into modular construction components in a seamless manner

Combining the power of AI with the creativity of human designers, FIM starts by defining the design requirements and constraints of a project. These requirements are then entered into the platform, which uses generative AI to create a range of design options that meet the requirements. Designers can then select the options that best meet their needs and refine them further. This process allows designers to explore a wide range of design options quickly and efficiently, reducing the time and costs involved.

FIM also incorporates DfMA principles into the design process, ensuring that designs are optimised for manufacturing from the very beginning. This means that they can be easily translated into modular construction components, reducing production costs and increasing efficiency.

Modular factories, meanwhile, can increase their scalability and profitability by supporting multiple projects that share similar attributes, and then optimising those for their facilities. Additionally, the speed and efficiency of the design process mean that modular construction factories can take on more tenders and approvals, further increasing scalability.

FIM versus BIM

There are six main verticals where FIM seeks to move BIM from a fragmented process supported by multiple point solutions to a uniform platform. It’s not about creating sketch pads and calculators, but about creating an informed design process fed by real-world data shared by all stakeholders.

1. Real-time data analysis: FIM provides real-time analysis of structural and thermal performance during the design process. This allows architects and engineers to make informed decisions and optimise designs for better performance and efficiency.

2. Efficient design iterations: With FIM, design iterations can be done quickly and easily. Changes to the design can be made in real-time, and the impact of those changes on performance can be immediately evaluated. This leads to more efficient design iterations and faster project completion.

3. Simplified collaboration: FIM simplifies collaboration between project stakeholders, including architects, engineers, contractors, and manufacturers. Because FIM is based on a shared data model, everyone has access to the same information and can work together more efficiently.

4. Improved accuracy: FIM uses a data-driven approach that relies on accurate and comprehensive information. This leads to more accurate modelling and better performance predictions.

5. Integration with manufacturing processes: FIM can be integrated with manufacturing processes, which allows manufacturers to optimise their production processes and reduce waste. This integration also allows for more accurate cost estimates and better project planning.

6. Sustainability: FIM can be used to evaluate the sustainability of a building design, including factors such as energy use, material selection, and waste reduction. This allows architects and engineers to design more sustainable buildings and reduce the environmental impact of construction projects.


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