Off-site construction (OSC) is an innovative technique associated with the manufacturing industry.
The manufacturing industry and the construction industry are ancient industries, both with origins in the handicraft industry. To date, the manufacturing industry has improved remarkably, whereas the construction industry lags far behind. Then lean construction (LC), integrating manufacture approaches (MA) into construction, was proposed as reference point for the construction industry in order to narrow the gaps between them.
Traditional construction approaches are incompatible with manufacture approaches MA. MA were difficult to integrate into construction leading to the low uptake of LC. However, this is changing. The emergence of OSC techniques and the trend towards industrialization in construction have linked the two industries. The gradually increasing similarities between them, especially the off-site manufacture of building components in factories, has blurred the distinction between building products and industrial products. Manufacturing has presented new opportunities for research and practice in OSC.
It is well acknowledged that the debates and comparisons between typical industrial products (cars) and typical industrialized buildings (prefabricated houses) in a large number of research and practices have lasted for decades. The incompatibilities have already been identified by industry and academia through the many comparisons of cars and prefabricated houses.
These comparisons are not new and have played a critical conceptual and rhetorical role in much of the thinking around industrialized housing production.
Until the late twentieth century, the rise of the lean production system pioneered by Toyota captured the minds of the construction industry while standardisation and pre-assembly in OSC were considered as the driving force behind it. The analogy between cars and prefabricated houses as manufactured products has shown itself to be highly elastic and persistent in past and present times. Although there are clearly lessons to be learned about building from the car-manufacturing sector, they are hard to substantiate. The uptake of LC and integrating MA into OSC are still slow.
However, with the rapid development of information and computer-aided technologies, and the gradually increasing similarities between them in this era, especially the off-site manufacture of building components in factories, has blurred the distinction between building products and industrial products. The comparison is still significant for OSC. Especially based on the techniques of BIM and Internet of Things, we can monitor the whole execution process of cars and houses, and dig more detailed lessons deriving from their comparisons from design to finishes. The lessons could be reached at a systematic, comprehensive and in-depth level and in a rigid, precise and visualized manner, which would be more practical and effective for LC and integrating MA into OSC.
Maybe the House Factory of Toyota has showed us a good paradigm and revealed the meaningfulness in today’s OSC, isn’t it?