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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Innovative 'pods' cut building costs | Cincinnati.com | cincinnati.com

It's always those darned contractors trying to find ways to build things faster. Looks like another nail in Layer 0. Isn't it great when people think outside of the box to build a box. Seems kind of ironic doesn't it?

Innovative 'pods' cut building costs | Cincinnati.com | cincinnati.com


A new venture by the owners of two long-time Cincinnati plumbing and mechanical contracting firms could transform how hospitals, hotels and other high-rise buildings have been built for decades.

Pivotek LLC is a 50-50 partnership of Forest Park-based TP Mechanical Contractors and Grote Enterprises, a construction services company in Pleasant Ridge. The company is designing and building off-site complete bathroom pods - down to the tile, fixtures and mechanical equipment racks - in assembly-line fashion.

The completed units are then transported and installed at high-rise construction sites. The process saves time, money, is environmentally friendly and safer, the company says.

The use of prefabrication and modular assembly isn't new to the construction industry. But it is gaining momentum nationally, thanks to interest in environmentally friendly building techniques and advances in computerized modeling, which allows architects to precisely plan the location of plumbing and mechanical systems.

Pivotek, one of just a handful of companies nationally specializing in prefabricated bathroom pods, has landed its first order, a multimillion-dollar contract to supply roughly 8-foot by 8-foot bathroom pods for the $200 million, 250-bed Mercy Hospital West under construction in Green Township.

Pivotek, which is temporarily operating out of TP Mechanical's plant in Forest Park, expects to hire up to 40 workers in October to begin construction of the units. In June, the company was awarded up to a $1 million tax credit from the state of Ohio to establish its own plant in the area that's expected to employ up to 235 in three years. The company plans to make a decision on a permanent plant by early next year.

While Pivotek plans to focus on pre-fabricating units for hospitality, housing and publicly financed projects, it is aiming initially on the health-care market.

"We think the greatest potential is health care because of the demand from an aging population," said Jim Foley Sr., Grote Enterprises president. He will become president of Pivotek on Sept. 1.

McGraw-Hill Construction estimates health-care construction will grow 16 percent next year to $28.5 billion nationally, and bathroom pods and mechanical racks carrying plumbing and electrical services down hospital corridors is expected to represent about $100 million, or 3.5 percent of that.

McGraw-Hill says health care is the fastest growing market for prefabrication and modular construction, with 49 percent of all projects using it in some fashion.

Prefabrication offsite offers a lot of advantages. It's environmentally friendly because there's less waste. Material for each unit is precisely predetermined. During on-site, stick-build construction, scrap material typically ends up in the Dumpster.

The prefab assembly is done in manufacturing cells, which allows related jobs to be done simultaneously instead of in sequence, saving time. Assembly is done at bench height inside a building, rather than requiring workers to climb ladders and scaffolding on site.

Bob Compton, Pivotek's operations manager, said the company has refined the process to produce two bathroom pods a shift. That represents about 120 hours of labor in the manufacturing plant, versus about 160 hours on the construction site.

Foley said time savings is one of the biggest advantages of pre-fabrication, allowing a project to be completed and generating revenue faster. The bathroom units can be pre-built and wrapped in plastic at the building site, even before the roof is on the building, he said.

In the case of Mercy Hospital West, installing prefabricated bathrooms is expected to shave up to two months off the construction timetable for a facility slated to open in 2013.

"Prefabricating one bathroom wouldn't make sense, but when you're building 250, it definitely is going to save time," said Brett Oberholzer of Champlin Architecture, which is designing the Mercy project.

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