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Thought Leadership
Prefabrication & Manufacturing
Design

Leveraging and Integrating Prefabrication in Design-Build

Recently, JE Dunn and partners in construction shared their perspectives on what is the purpose of prefabrication and how does it really bring success to a project. What they discovered was that everyone had a different answer. At the same time the feeling was mutual: prefab’s end goal is to provide standard for quality and a collaborative approach that matters for the life of the building.
This conversation was originally presented at the DBIA Southwest Region Conference in Frisco, Texas, Spring 2023 and hosted by Matt Frankel, JE Dunn Construction Client Solutions Coach.
1
How do you determine if prefabrication is the right approach?
Andy Mina, Associate Vice President, Broaddus & Associates...
“From an owner’s perspective, quality, schedule, safety, the cost limitations are all written into the contract and expectations – they are the table stakes. So, what we are really looking for in ideas like prefabrication is risk mitigation. That’s the risk to me as an owner and it may go beyond the schedule. You also have to consider the environment of the project because some of those considerations might not be the direct benefit of prefab, but instead by reducing the amount of people on a project, thus reducing impact. Or can I reduce issues of supply chain by taking control back and reducing risk. When prefab addresses the client’s risk concerns and mitigates them that’s when there is a big selling point.”
Jason Henson, Senior Project Architect & Vice President, HKS Inc...
“I guess we approach it from budget and schedule many times. It is when prefab is brought on as an early idea that we have the right time to schedule. It helps us on the design side to expand that design time, knowing that construction can pull some of that schedule back. And when it’s brought to us, it’s usually an idea brought by the contractor and another way to look at the project because we are limited on time and need to consolidate work. That’s when we say, ‘OK, lets see what is involved.’ And that’s where coordination becomes a huge deal.”
Samuel Balunda, Director of Preconstruction, Baker Triangle...
“Each team member has a different value point they are considering. For example, Jason and I just finished a hospital tower and my challenge from him was to meet the existing campus architecture. For the contractor it was schedule and for the client it was multiple factors. So knowing what each party needs helps identify the value of prefab.”
Josh Mensinger, Executive Vice President, ModularDesign+...
“Often there is a misconception with prefab and modular that there is less of a material life cycle and it’s not. It’s equal. We’re not looking at the life cycle of the product, but rather, how we are planning for future renovation or addressing upgrades. When you are thinking that far ahead, you can plan for what to utilize with prefab and modular and have the potential to build in systems that address future expansion, upgrades and better manage costs. I’ve been doing prefab and modular for 15 years in commercial construction and what was happening a decade ago or even pre-covid is so different. Post-covid, we are hearing more from our builders that prefab is often cost neutral and even a cost benefit, so you have to think about that portion too.”
2
When is the best time to start talking about design-build?
Samuel Balunda, Director of Preconstruction, Baker Triangle...
“What is missed in these initial conversations is bringing trade partners to the table in a much more serious way than what our industry is doing, especially trades who bring those prefabricated approaches. Our industry is the second least efficient industry in the world and that knowledge growth needs to be demanded bottom up and top down.”
Andy Mina, Associate Vice President, Broaddus & Associates...
“Design build is one particular vehicle for risk mitigation. So that’s why I redefine it as collaborative approach, which is much more important. The teaming needs to happen at the very beginning. As an owner representative, we need to do a better job at advising our owners that there is value in bringing more folks to the table. It’s really important in this environment, with escalation and supply chain issues, to bring those subject matter experts to the table and have a better, cohesive, collaborative approach from the beginning. Because again, it comes down to risk management for my owner.”
3
Does Design-Build hamper ability for creativity or is it a benefit?
Jason Henson, Senior Project Architect & Vice President, HKS Inc...
“When we first started doing this there was a lot of consternation around prefab: How was it going to change the design process? How was it going to change my job as designer? What I have seen from exterior prefab is that we actually do have a lot of options, more than I originally thought. We’re able to introduce quite a bit of design. For the interior portion of the building though, I will say we have to think more modular to some degree. When you are doing interior prefab you have to think about the configurations, the footprint, and it becomes more repetitive. But this is just one of those layers, and now we know how to do it and know how to design it early.”
4
How does prefab impact jobsite safety, quality, and even issues of workforce development and lack of enough skilled workers?
Sara Curry, Prefabrication Integration Director, JE Dunn Construction...

“We were doing multi-trade racks for a project in Dallas and went to the warehouse. I did talk to the workers and literally asked, ‘Do you enjoy working in this warehouse building this rack, or would you prefer to be working in the field?’ And the people I talked to said they preferred working in the warehouse developing these products because they could work at waist height and not on a ladder, they felt safer, and were in a more comfortable environment that really supported job satisfaction. They had just come off a job that was incredibly hard on the body. And they also really liked helping prepare the plan for putting these racks in place. On site at the project, there wasn’t a lot of congestion, the site was incredibly clean which impacts safety, and our owner was really impressed with the site’s overall condition and said it was one of the best she’d ever seen. That’s how prefab impacts all these areas.”

“Here’s another example. One of the warehouses I visited, I asked the supervisor, ‘Hey, how do you like this for your workforce?’ And he said, ‘I’m able to bring in younger folks and train them in this environment instead of having them running around all over a jobsite. Here I can control their workload and build their talent.’ We don’t have the workforce coming in like we did 20 years ago. Using prefab as an educational tool is important.”

Josh Mensinger, Executive Vice President, ModularDesign+...
“A caveat to Sara’s point: A lot of people think that quality is happening because it’s in a manufacturing setting and the workers are producing better because of training and things like that. I think the difference is – and I say this because I ran jobsites on the commercial side – you have one extremely skilled foreman managing 75 people across 10 floors, and they can’t observe quality the same way. So, you might see unqualified scope of work being finished. But in a manufacturing setting, you have these leaders who are from the field with years of experience that are still managing younger, less skilled workers. But the quality control checks and inspections are tight, and they are making them get the punch done as it is happening and training them right on the spot and before it gets onsite.”
5
What are challenges of prefab you have to overcome?
Samuel Balunda, Director of Preconstruction, Baker Triangle...
“Price. That is the most frequent question. And limitations to the design and aesthetic. Those are the main questions we get. What this really comes into is trust. We establish a working relationship and friendship, and if you don’t establish that trust – whatever the delivery method may be – prefabrication is going to be a challenge.”
Josh Mensinger, Executive Vice President, ModularDesign+...
“When we first decided to do prefab panels for a recent project, we really thought about coordination and getting everyone in the room now to decide if prefab is something we want to do and share what the concerns are from the design side. Architects can always object, but in the end if it makes sense from a cost, schedule or client standpoint, you need to figure out how to design with it.”

Sara Curry, Prefabrication Integration Director, JE Dunn Construction...

“I’m going to back to the statement, ‘This is the way we’ve always done it.’ It really comes down to the behaviors and buy-in of the people. You can have all the checklists and all the material options and everything, but it comes down to whether you have the buy-in to do it. And you’re not going to have everyone bought in, but what I tell my teams, if you give me one project, I promise you will think about it differently.”

Andy Mina, Associate Vice President, Broaddus & Associates...

“Where prefab becomes a thorn in the side for the client is when someone is left out of the conversation and there is failure to bring enough people in early to have these discussion and work out the conflicts. What is we brought in pods in the building but we discover O&M is going to be a nightmare because the connection points on the pods can’t be accessed when they are installed. Why is that? It’s because of failure in the communication. That’s the downside for the client – when all the positives of early communication and planning don’t happen. And it’s a challenge for the project delivery team to come to the client and say, ‘This is messed up because we didn’t talk to each other.'”
6
What are we going to be talking about in 5 years?
Samuel Balunda, Director of Preconstruction, Baker Triangle...
“We are going to be talking about all the standard practices of prefab used in the industry – it’s going to become as much as everyday as air and water.”
Jason Henson, Senior Project Architect & Vice President, HKS Inc...
“My first prefab job was 10 years ago, and it was just prefabbed headwalls. It was a few years before my next one and it was exterior panels. In five years, I think it’s going to branch into much more – like walls running along a corridor that are prefabbed and brought in as pieces put into place. Again, it’s all dependent on how much we want to customize but I do believe this will become another part of the industry.”

Andy Mina, Associate Vice President, Broaddus & Associates...

“From an owner’s perspective, I believe it will become part of owner requirements and you will see an increase in statements that say, ‘You will prefab this percentage of the project or specific elements’ and not just, ‘talk to me about your prefab experience.'”
Josh Mensinger, Executive Vice President, ModularDesign+...
“I think it’s going to be research and development and pushing our boundaries and drive opportunities to assemble things no one is assembling right now and the requirements and codes that will be required.”

Sara Curry, Prefabrication Integration Director, JE Dunn Construction...

“In five years we’ll start renovating these jobs, and we’re going to be talking about adaptability of prefab and adjusting it – so we need to have these conversations now. Because we will be the ones going into those buildings and dealing with these products again. Also, we are going to a productization approach in construction. There will be more of a demand to have a list of products you can choose from that are off-the-shelf – we are doing this with some of our clients right now. Whether that’s racks, skids, walls. That productization is going to be there.”
About the Participants
Samuel Balunda
Director of Preconstruction, Baker Triangle
Sam is an engaging, collaborative, and enthusiastic leader of BakerTriangle Prefab’s Preconstruction department. With his 12+ years of experience, Sam brings a wealth of knowledge and pragmatism to his clients. In his Preconstruction roll, Sam regularly leads clients & projects through Conceptual Design, Target Value Pricing, and detailed Prefabricated Exterior Panel design implementation during the Design Phase. His work spans from Healthcare to Hospitality to Multi-family high-rise. Sam earned his Bachelors of Science, Construction Engineering from Texas Tech University.
Sara Curry
Prefabrication Integration Director, JE Dunn Construction
Sara Curry brings 15+ years of experience leading, planning, and delivering a variety of complex construction projects. In her role as JE Dunn Construction’s Prefabrication Integration Director, she leverages her education in architecture and business, plus her technical skills, highly collaborative approach, and drive for results and innovation. She serves as a key leader in planning projects with heavy prefabrication and modular plans to improve quality, collaboration, and speed to market for her clients and partners.
Jason Henson
Senior Project Architect & Vice President, HKS Inc.
Jason has been working in the building industry for nearly 20 years, focusing heavily on healthcare and commercial construction. He has worked on multiple prominent healthcare campuses around the country and is involved throughout all phases of design and construction on multiple projects at a time. Jason has played a leading role in adapting his project teams to the challenges the industry continues to face, including the further blurring of the lines between design and construction.
Josh Mensinger
Executive Vice President, Modular Design+
With his entrepreneurial spirit and 15 years of prefabrication and modular expertise, Josh is passionate about how modular design and construction can help clients in every sector solve many of the most critical challenges facing the construction industry such as skilled labor shortages, materials cost and construction site safety. As Executive Vice President of MD+, he establishes successful strategic direction for the company, working closely with top leadership to coordinate business development and oversee operations.
Andy Mina
Associate Vice President, Broaddus & Associates
Mr. Andy Mina, P.E. currently serves as a Program Manager for Broaddus & Associates. He is responsible for leveraging his deep knowledge and expertise in construction management to create and lead high-performing teams that represent Owners’ interests in their major capital improvement programs. He has extensive experience in technical leadership, laser-focused on effective engineering, construction, and facilities management.

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