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Change Leader: Modular Structures May Revolutionize Construction

Todd Danielson on February 23, 2018 - in Articles, Profile

These profiles are based on interviews, and the opinions and statements are those of the subject and are not necessarily shared or endorsed by this publication.

GrowthPoint Structures hopes to transition building to a factory-based modular model, moving the construction process from onsite to a production line, similar to Henry Ford’s automotive revolution. The company recently completed a 140,000-square-foot facility in Carson, Calif., which aims to rapidly decrease the time and costs needed to produce GrowthPoint Modules, the building blocks for affordable housing, schools and rapidly deployable structures. 

Jim Pickell, President of GrowthPoint Structures, aims to scale the company to meet the market demand that continues to rise, particularly from the recent combination of hurricanes, wildfires and increasingly cost-sensitive public-spending budgets. 

GrowthPoint Structures

The company acquires empty single-use shipping containers that are imported into the United States more than any other country in the world. GrowthPoint Structures then uses these containers to produce schools, housing and structures for rapid-deployment situations.

“We start with a shell and capitalize on features such as the structural integrity of the frame,” notes Pickell. “We cut openings into the walls for things like doors and windows, and they’re highly customizable. They’re also stackable, so we retain that structural integrity, and utilize the fact that containers are built to a specification of within millimeters of each other per ISO standards.”

Currently, the company’s tallest project under contract is five stories, but it’s feasible to go much higher. And while it constructs the modules in its factory for delivery, all site work happens concurrently, creating time savings.

“We begin fabrication prior to any site construction,” he notes. “So by the time the foundation is complete, we can drop the modules in place very quickly and substantially shorten the time it takes to achieve occupancy and final inspection approval.”

Benefits of Modular Construction

According to Pickell, the main benefits of its “assembly line” approach are: 1) reduced cost due to less time in the construction phase, 2) reduced labor due to increased efficiency of building, 3) increased sustainability, and 4) reduced operating and maintenance costs. He also notes that some potential customers have preconceived ideas of modular construction that need to be overcome.

“Some people have this preconceived notion that modular, or the utilization of a shipping container, results in an unappealing product with a dull aesthetic,” says Pickell. “And the concept of a container leads to some misconceptions that there are design constraints.

“The reality is we deliver a very sustainable, highly efficient, highly customizable product; it doesn’t even need to look like a container,” he notes. “The shipping container costs less than five percent of the total product cost. It’s just a structural shell that we’ve developed a proprietary method to use.”

Differences from other Modular Construction

“We’re one of the only modular builders using one-trip shipping containers that carry dry goods from China to the United States—they’re essentially brand new,” notes Pickell. “Our final product, GrowthPoint Modules, is different in that we use that original framework of the container for the end product.”

He notes that some companies modify the integrity of the shipping containers they use, selecting certain pieces and using them in traditional onsite building workflows.

“We’ve developed plans that received approval across multiple regulatory bodies,” contrasts Pickell. “Utilizing the structural framework and integrity, we build on that and ultimately build reinforced structural steel modules based on that container.”

GrowthPoint Structures also uses more “assembly line” techniques to have the container structures built and ready to place as soon as the onsite development is ready for them.

Changing the Culture of Construction

According to Pickell, the company’s new factory in Carson, Calif., epitomizes their modern philosophies.

“There’s very limited separation between the factory and office staff, and there’s this belief that what we do matters,” he adds. “Everyone values the work that everyone else is doing, and there’s a mission that’s larger than all of us.”

He also states that construction is one of the slowest industries to adapt to change—including new methods and technologies—but that’s finally changing.

“Disruption is coming quickly to the building industry, and I think it’s been a long time coming,” says Pickell. “In a decade, it will, in many ways, be almost unrecognizable. I think people need to embrace that change, or they’re going to be left behind.”

Visit Informed Infrastructure online to read the full interview.

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About Todd Danielson

Todd Danielson has been in trade technology media for more than 20 years, now the editorial director for V1 Media and all of its publications: Informed Infrastructure, Earth Imaging Journal, Sensors & Systems, Asian Surveying & Mapping, and the video news portal GeoSpatial Stream.

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