Building Startup to Improve Innovation, Workforce
Modular home building startup Module recently launched the Last Mile Lab, a construction innovation lab aimed at creating attainable, accessible and right-sized housing. In addition, the lab also intends to serve as a workforce training program.
According to Modular CEO Brian Gaudio, the idea for the lab was born during a process when the company pushed manufacturing partners “to push the limits” when it came to durable products in the modular construction industry.
“The Last Mile Lab is a physical place in Pittsburgh where we can be actively performing new product innovation and research that will push the envelope in terms of building performance for modular construction and sharing those learnings back with the industry,” said Gaudio. “We’re able to test things, figure out case studies integrating products before we bring them out to the larger industry.”
About Last Mile Lab
Located in Pittsburgh, the Last Mile Lab operates as a finishing facility for Module homes in addition to serving as an innovation hub, developer of affordable homes and workforce training center.
The facility is supported by funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.
Similar to how the lab was initially formed, Last Mile Lab works with building product manufacturers on the development of sustainable and durable materials. To become an innovation partner, companies can apply through the lab’s website. If approved, manufacturers can have their products tested and tweaked at the facility for modular application.
“We have an innovation partner program for the Last Mile Lab where we will collaborate with a specific building product manufacturer on a research project,” Gaudio said. “It might be that a siding manufacturer is working on a new product, and they want to understand how it can be installed in a factory setting. We test that [product] out on a project, showcase the details, and then bring that up to other parts of the industry.”
Gaudio went on to note that thanks to the large-scale size of the Last Mile Lab, research and innovation are more easily conducted in the facility as compared to other large manufacturing plants. The lab is currently working on a project with Carnegie Mellon University on research related to offsite construction optimization.
“We’re able to leverage the research we’re doing with Carnegie Mellon University and then apply that in a close-to-real-world setting. Last Mile Lab is not a modular factory, but rather a test bed for new ways to build using off-site construction,” Gaudio added. “We’re able to use that in real-world settings and build case studies that can then apply to the larger industry.”
As part of Last Mile Lab’s goal, the facility also prides itself on its workforce development program, which aims to get more people involved in the construction industry. While the program targets women and minorities, it is also working with the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh to create a modular-specific training program for students.
“One of my co-founders, Hallie [Dumont, Module’s chief design officer], worked for a woman-owned construction company. She mentioned that the more people who look like you, the easier it is to envision yourself in that industry,” said Gaudio. “Part of why we wanted to focus our forward development specifically on women and minorities is that there are a lot of [white male] people in the industry. Someone like Hallie who was on a lot of jobsites, the passion she has for making construction a more inclusive environment will actually help alleviate the labor shortage.”
According to reports, the lab has been in conversations with several jurisdictions outside of Pennsylvania to develop similar facilities. If funding can be generated, it is expected that other Last Mile Labs could open in other cities across the nation by 2024.
Late last year, the International Code Council and the Modular Building Institute published two new comprehensive standards slated to accelerate the offsite construction industry.
“The Code Council family already offers multiple solutions to support the safe and efficient use of offsite construction. However, as we continue seeing a surge in global demand for offsite construction, we knew more guidance would be necessary, to add consistency to a global market,” said Dominic Sims, CBO, Chief Executive Officer, International Code Council.
“The new standards align perfectly with the Code Council’s mission to ensure building safety. The standards are also part of our commitment to encourage affordability, in this case by lowering the regulatory barriers to trade, that offsite products often face by having to navigate a patchwork of regional regulations.”
According to the associations, the ICC/MBI 1200-2021 Standard for Offsite Construction: Planning, Design, Fabrication and Assembly and ICC/MBI 1205-2021 Standard for Offsite Construction: Inspection and Regulatory Compliance are intended to promote consistency around the globe of regulatory requirements for offsite construction processes.
The new standards arrived as the building issue continued to face challenges such as workforce availability, housing affordability, job site safety, building quality and sustainability. In wake of these challenges, the industry witnessed an uptick in the offsite construction approach, often referred to as modular or prefabrication, to mitigate the issues.
The new American National Standards were developed by the Offsite and Modular Construction Standard Consensus Committee (IS-OSMC) under the Code Council’s ANSI Approved Consensus Procedures.
In looking at the standards individually, the ICC/MBI Standard 1200-2021 was developed to address important facets of the offsite construction process including planning, designing, fabricating, transporting and assembling commercial and residential building elements. The new standard includes componentized, panelized and modularized elements.
The ICC/MBI Standard 1205-2021 was created to address the inspection, approval and regulatory compliance of offsite residential and commercial construction components, as well as their assembly and completion at the final building site. ICC reports that the new standard also includes permitting, in-plant and onsite final inspections, third-party inspections, the role of Industrialized Building Departments, state modular programs and the authority having jurisdiction.
Neither standard applies to the HUD Manufactured Housing, however.
Moving forward, the Code Council and MBI reported that they were planning to continue their partnership on the future development of additional offsite construction standards including Standard 1210, which intends to address requirements for mechanical, electrical and plumbing system elements, energy efficiency and water conservation in offsite construction projects.