prefabrication

prefabrication

[pree-fab-ri-keyt]
prefabrication, in architectural construction, a technique whereby large units of a building are produced in factories to be assembled, ready-made, on the building site. The technique permits the speedy erection of very large structures. It has been applied to urban housing for more than a century. Major architects, including Walter Gropius, Konrad Wachsmann, and Buckminster Fuller, have been involved significantly in the development of prefabrication. See also module.

Assembly of standardized building components at a location other than the building site. Units may include doors, stairs, window walls, wall panels, floor panels, roof trusses, room-sized components, and even entire buildings. Prefabrication requires the cooperation of architects, suppliers, and builders regarding the size of basic modular units. In the U.S. building industry, the 4-by-8-ft (1.2-by-2.4-m) panel is a standard unit; the architect's drafted building plans and the supplier's prefabricated wall units are based on multiples of that module. Advantages of prefabrication include the cost savings of mass production, the opportunity to use specialized equipment to produce components, and standardization of parts for quick assembly and erection. The major drawback is in assigning responsibility for quality control. Seealso precast concrete.

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Prefabrication is the practice of assembling components of a structure in a factory or other manufacturing site, and transporting complete assemblies or sub-assemblies to the construction site where the structure is to be located. The term is used to distinguish this process from the more conventional construction practice of transporting the basic materials to the construction site where all assembly is carried out.

The term prefabrication also applies to the manufacturing of things other than structures at a fixed site. It is frequently used when fabrication of a section of a machine or any movable structure is shifted from the main manufacturing site to another location, and the section is supplied assembled and ready to fit. It is not generally used to refer to electrical or electronic components of a machine, or mechanical parts such as pumps, gearboxes and compressors which are usually supplied as separate items, but to sections of the body of the machine which in the past were fabricated with the whole machine. Prefabricated parts of the body of the machine may be called 'sub-assemblies' to distinguish them from the other components.

The process and theory of prefabrication

An example from house-building illustrates the process of prefabrication. The conventional method of building a house is to transport bricks, timber, cement, sand, steel and construction aggregate, etc to the site, and to construct the house on site from these materials. In prefabricated construction, only the foundations are constructed in this way, while sections of walls, floors and roof are prefabricated (assembled) in a factory (possibly with window and door frames included), transported to the site, lifted into place by a crane and bolted together.

Prefabrication is used in the manufacture of ships, aircraft and all kinds of vehicles and machines where sections previously assembled at the final point of manufacture are assembled elsewhere instead, before being delivered for final assembly.

The theory behind the method is that time and cost is saved if similar construction tasks can be grouped, and assembly line techniques can be employed in prefabrication at a location where skilled labour is available, while congestion at the assembly site, which wastes time, can be reduced. The method finds application particularly where the structure is composed of repeating units or forms, or where multiple copies of the same basic structure are being constructed. Prefabrication avoids the need to transport so many skilled workers to the construction site, and other restricting conditions such as a lack of power, lack of water, exposure to harsh weather or a hazardous environment are avoided. Against these advantages must be weighed the cost of transporting prefabricated sections and lifting them into position as they will usually be larger, more fragile and more difficult to handle than the materials and components of which they are made.

History

Prefabrication has been used since ancient times. For example, it is claimed that the world's oldest known engineered roadway, the Sweet Track constructed in England around 3800 BC, employed prefabricated timber sections brought to the site rather than assembled on-site. The method was widely used in the construction of prefabricated housing in the 20th century, such as in the United Kingdom to replace houses bombed during World War II. Assembling sections in factories saved time on-site and reduced cost. However the quality was low, and when such prefabricated housing was left in use for longer than its designed life, it acquired a certain stigma..

The Crystal Palace, erected in London in 1851, was a highly visible example of iron and glass prefabricated construction; it was followed on a smaller scale by Oxford Rewley Road railway station.

Current Uses

The most widely-used form of prefabrication in building and civil engineering is the use of prefabricated concrete and prefabricated steel sections in structures where a particular part or form is repeated many times. It can be difficult to construct the formwork required to mould concrete components on site, and delivering wet concrete to the site before it starts to set requires precise time management. Pouring concrete sections in a factory brings the advantages of being able to re-use moulds and the concrete can be mixed on the spot without having to be transported to and pumped wet on a congested construction site. Prefabricating steel sections reduces on-site cutting and welding costs as well as the associated hazards.

Prefabrication techniques are used in the construction of apartment blocks, and housing developments with repeated housing units. The quality of prefabricated housing units had increased to the point that they may not be distinguishable from traditionally-built units to those that live in them. The technique is also used in office blocks, warehouses and factory buildings. Prefabricated steel and glass sections are widely used for the exterior of large buildings.

Prefabrication saves engineering time on the construction site in civil engineering projects. This can be vital to the success of projects such as bridges and avalanche galleries, where weather conditions may only allow brief periods of construction. Additionally, small, commonly-used structures such as concrete pylons are in most cases prefabricated.

Radio towers for mobile phone and other services often consist of multiple prefabricated sections. Modern lattice towers and guyed masts are also commonly assembled of prefabricated elements.

Prefabrication has become widely used in the assembly of aircraft and spacecraft, with components such as wings and fuselage sections often being manufactured in different countries or states from the final assembly site.

Advantages of prefabrication

  1. Self-supporting ready-made components are used, so the need for formwork, shuttering and scaffolding is greatly reduced.
  2. Construction time is reduced and buildings are completed sooner, allowing an earlier return of the capital invested.
  3. On-site construction and congestion is minimized.
  4. Quality control can be easier in a factory assembly line setting than a construction site setting.
  5. Prefabrication can be located where skilled labour is more readily available and costs of labour, power, materials, space and overheads are lower.
  6. Time spent in bad weather or hazardous environments at the construction site is minimised.
  7. Less waste may be generated and in a factory setting it may be easier to recycle it back into the manufacturing process, for instance it is less costly to recycle scrap metal generated in a metal fabrication shop than on the construction site.
  8. Molds can be used several times.

Disadvantages

  1. Careful handling of prefabricated components such as concrete panels or steel and glass panels is required.
  2. Attention has to be paid to the strength and corrosion-resistance of the joining of prefabricated sections to avoid failure of the joint.
  3. Similarly, leaks can form at joints in prefabricated components.
  4. Transportation costs may be higher for voluminous prefabricated sections than for the materials of which they are made, which can often be packed more compactly.
  5. Large prefabricated sections require heavy-duty cranes and precision measurement and handling to place in position.

See also

External links

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