VT Engineers Modernizing Modular Structures
A team at TenFold Engineering is working to revolutionize relocatable modular construction out of its precision manufacturing hub in Springfield, Vermont.
Previously based out of the United Kingdom, the company and its original design plans were purchased by now-TenFold President David Jaacks in 2020. Since moving operations to Vermont, Jaacks has brought on eight employees which have been focused on cutting the pod weight by 25,000 pounds and perfecting a 45-pound hinge that helps the structure unfurl.
Once the business scales up, Jaacks anticipates employing 120 workers.
“Innovative manufacturing is still one of the largest employment sectors in this labor market area, if not the largest,” said Bob Flint, Executive Director of the Springfield Regional Development Corp. “That manufacturing expertise has a direct tie in my mind to the machine tool industry.”
Starting as the size of a 20-foot shipping container, the steel-framed modular structures unfold and expand themselves to 450-square-foot-sized units. According to TenFold, the structures are heated by radiant heat mats and were designed to be used as offices, retail and housing.
The modular units are customizable and capable of collapsing themselves as well, making them easy to transport and deploy—an idea that Jaacks says has resonated widely in the industry. With housing and construction costs continually on the rise, he believes the concept could be more appealing to those seeking mobile homes.
Since releasing information about the modular design and correlating videos of how the structure operates, TenFold has reportedly received 30,000 inquiries from interested buyers.
“A lot of the inbound interest that we do receive is, of course, for single-occupancy housing. But then we also have gotten a tremendous amount of interest from both businesses and government agencies,” said Sean Kennedy, the company’s Director of Business Development.
Kennedy adds that while the company isn’t planning to prioritize prospective homeowners first, it feels that businesses will be more equipped to purchase the pods at scale. By the end of 2022, TenFold is aiming to manufacture the pods regularly, producing upwards of 50 collapsible structures per year.
Earlier this year, the company received a $500,000 capital improvement grant from the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development. That money, which came from federal COVID-19 relief funds, is being used to help modernize TenFold’s nearly 50,000-square-foot manufacturing space.
The modular structures are expected to sell for $350 per square foot, or just under $160,000.
Other Modular Company News
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.
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.
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 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.