Innovation in modular construction

In the future we may see glazing that incorporates bio-reactors (the use of algae in construction – who would have thought?) or growth in the use of dynamic facades (fascinating to watch in practice) but what innovation can structural engineers bring to the table in providing more innovative solutions in off-site construction?

The investigation and selection of materials is an obvious choice. The controlled conditions in which off-site structures are constructed often permit the use of more innovative material choices. The “fear of the unknown” and the premium often paid for using little known materials can be overcome when you can avoid open tender to contractors. The design team (working together) should articulate the list of desired material properties that may include:

  • Structural engineering properties (stiffness, strength)
  • Fire resistance
  • Durability & robustness
  • Light weight

The use of the materials can also be innovative with the readily available use of 3D printing to produce components that might otherwise be uneconomical to manufacture. The method of using 3D printers is advancing rapidly with new technologies working outside the boundaries of “layers” to create large 3D projects.

Refer http://mx3d.com/projects/metal/ for an example of a metal printer used for large scale pieces as it “prints” in the air.

Composite materials have been used for thousands of years and have enabled us to draw on the strengths of various elements to combine to create a new material with improved properties. Whilst the benefits of concrete as a composite material are universally accepted, the use of fibre reinforced polymer materials, for example, is not as widely known or understood. A structural engineer will be able to assist the design team in selecting each material for its inherent suitability in an off-site construction context.

This article was published in issue 05 of Built Offsite.

ASSOCIATE, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER

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