Opened late last month, Skender’s newest high-tech manufacturing facility gives the Chicago-based firm the capability to take many of its projects from concept to reality in a controlled, offsite setting.
The 130,000-square-foot plant located on the Southwest Side of Chicago uses BIM techniques, modular fabrication and lean manufacturing processes to minimize weather risks and scheduling issues while increasing quality and safety, Skender Chief Design Officer Timothy Swanson told Construction Dive.
“What we’re seeing now with the opening of our new facility is a full alignment of our design, engineering, manufacturing and construction abilities,” he said, adding that the factory represents a milestone for the firm. “We’re jumping from site-based construction with this leap into manufacturing,” Swanson said.
Using an assembly line system, skilled employees will build and assemble 95% of a project's modular components, including fixtures, finishes and most appliances. The modules are then shipped to the jobsite where they will be assembled and finished by Skender construction teams.
Expected to be at full capacity in about 18 months, the plant will employ 150 people, who will be eligible to be bargaining members of the local carpenters’ union.
The vertically integrated design, construction and manufacturing firm's first modular order is for 10 affordable-rate, three-flat apartment buildings for Chicago developer Sterling Bay. Based on a common architectural type in the city, each three-flat consists of 12 modules, totaling approximately 3,750 square feet per building, with three two-bedroom, one-bathroom units and modern, market-rate finishes, Swanson said.
The steel-frame units will be completed and ready for occupancy in the city's 27th Ward in a nine-week production schedule – 80% faster than conventional construction methods – and at a 5% to 20% lower project cost, depending on the delivery method, according to the firm.
Ideal for hotels and healthcare facilities
In addition, Sterling Bay and Skender plan to start a seven-story, 83-unit modular apartment building in Chicago during the first quarter of 2020. While Skender officials aren't ready to publicly announce other modular clients, the firm is in the design phase with other developers and end-users for a dozen other projects, including healthcare, hospitality and mid-rise market-rate multifamily units, according to Todd Andrlik, Skender vice president of marketing. Swanson said one of these projects is a 30,000-square-foot outpatient facility the company is building in a former retail store.
The modular process lends itself to structures like hotels and healthcare facilities that have easily duplicated floor plans with similar fixtures and fittings, Swanson added. “Where we’re most enthusiastic about the new facility is for the types of projects that have the expectation of high quality but with work that can be repeated,” he said.
Even though modular building is becoming more prevalent in U.S. construction, with companies like Marriott and Prefab Logic investing in it, Swanson said there are still many misconceptions about offsite construction.
“In North America, assumptions around modular and manufactured products are that they are of lesser quality,” he said. “We are making the only designed object in the world that carries that kind of baggage — it’s not like people say they only buy their cars from companies that build them in a garage. That logic is not sound."
To help dispel some of these myths, Skender unveiled a 650-square-foot luxury condo prototype last fall. “Visitors were surprised by how a modular building could be so high end,” Swanson recalled. “For example, they said they didn’t know a modular unit could have stainless steel appliances."