Everywhere I turn today, I’m reminded of just how modular our world has become. Think about today’s automobiles. Many times, it’s far easier to replace an assembly rather than replace a single smaller component. Plug-in modular components make an automotive technician’s job quick and easy. They also get you back on the road faster. When you think about today’s computers and electronic equipment, the concept of modularity is prevalent on this front too. For example, when’s the last time you heard of someone replacing individual electronic components on a circuit board? It’s a rare occurrence today. It’s far easier and much faster to simply replace the entire circuit board.

Bringing this concept a little closer to home, the use of assemblies and subsystems has also made inroads in the electrical construction field over the last five years or so. Snap-in wiring devices and modular wiring systems are now offered by several manufacturers. You can order custom-configured cabinets that are delivered to your job site partially built to your specs or fully ready to connect electrical enclosures.

On a larger scale, the use of 3D technology and Building Information Modeling techniques is also helping promote the merits of modular construction. We are all well aware of the concept of a modular home, but did you know that these same concepts are now being tested and used on commercial construction projects? Multiple trades (electrical, mechanical, and plumbing) recently joined forces on a hospital project in Dayton, Ohio, to pre-build patient room modules off-site, which were then shipped to the job site and lifted into place by a crane. This same design concept could also be applied to hotel and condo projects. Heck, it might have already been done somewhere.

On an even larger scale, an article in the Spring 2010 issue of the EPRI Journal, “Making the Case for Modular Nuclear Construction,” notes that by installing large, integrated component packages that have been tested at the factory rather than assembling and testing individual components at the job site will result in substantial time and money savings. The article supports its position with real-life examples of power plants built in Japan and submarine construction by the U.S. Navy. However, before these techniques can be implemented on newly scheduled projects, such as Duke Energy’s Lee Nuclear Project and the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant in Texas, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must issue its stamp of approval on the process.

Modular design and construction techniques make perfect sense to me. Performing assembly tasks indoors in an environmentally controlled space or staging facility offers many advantages over performing this work outdoors. Workers complete tasks in a well-lit, clean setting rather than working in potentially dimly lit, cramped, and dirty/wet spaces. Quality control efforts and safety programs can also be better managed in a secured environment than on a remote and sprawling job site. Have you bought in to this concept of modularity, and are you leveraging its advantages on your projects today? If not, I strongly urge you to consider your options on this front. The benefits are well worth the investment.