Expansion to Increase Production, Predictability, Precision and Profitability for Construction Professionals
By Rick Reynolds
In a recent Builder Online article, CNC and Home Building’s Future, John McManus reflected on the new kinds of tech savvy workers (and by extension, CNC based, automated fabrication facilities) that will be needed to attract construction, engineering and architecture professionals to the benefits of off-site fabrication and rapid on-site assembly. Moreover, to McManus, the decline in skilled labor in the building sector makes this trend inevitable.
In the post, McManus gives a shout out to early adopter and building pioneer, Tedd Benson, and the Bensonwood and Unity Homes teams as East Coast-based exemplars of cutting edge, off-site building, “applying brilliance to changing the way homes are made, and as a result, building better.” Elaborating, McManus wrote:
“What they and others are doing is programming code conversion of architectural, engineering, mechanicals, and construction data into CNC machines that can cut precisely, repeatedly, and with any number of variations to create structural members of home systems.”
With the addition of 110,000 SF of new production space in Keene, NH, to add to their existing 40,000 SF facility in Walpole, NH, Bensonwood and sister company, Unity Homes, two integrated design/engineering/build firms, will be scaling up existing off-site fabrication operations to deliver the highest quality wood structures and increased profitability for their B2B (business-to-business) clients. The new Computer Numerical Control (CNC) cutting, milling and insulating equipment and automated assembly-line throughput, will greatly increase the two companies’ capacity for high-volume, panelized building elements with exacting specifications, tighter tolerances and enhanced structural integrity.
Whether for single or multi-family housing, dormitories and institutional buildings, public buildings or commercial projects, the two companies’ expanded capabilities will meet stringent fire and acoustical requirements, thereby extending the reach of independent contractors, construction managers and developers in taking on these more specialized kinds of projects. Additionally, the wall assemblies, complete with factory-installed windows, ensure higher overall quality, faster weathertight shells and less on-site labor.
Ultimately the Bensonwood/Unity Homes expansion is about expanding their B2B clients’ ability to take on more and different kinds of projects –clients who rely on the predictability of world-class quality, cost and deliverability, year-round. For these professionals, compressed on-site time, minimal waste and fewer weather-related delays mean financially successful projects with long term returns on investment.
McManus states that the exciting part of the latest CNC technology is the way off-site homebuilding, engineering, design and construction firms are taking advantage of it “to make more precise, better fitting, stronger systems.” And while not ending the skilled labor shortage in the short term, as more and more building professionals adopt the new technologies, more highly specialized fabricator positions will inevitably follow.
As McManus concluded in his post:
“So, the thing to contemplate this Labor Day is bringing more talent into the business who can apply this brilliance at the front-end, the coding, the engineering, the design conversions, the analysis, the building it digitally before it gets built physically. That’s the kind of labor housing and construction has the greatest shortage of right now, and it doesn’t even know it.”
With fewer and fewer young people going into the trades, McManus’ analysis couldn’t be more compelling. Given the 21st century demands for high quality, healthy, sustainable, energy-efficient housing (and commercial buildings), residential construction especially needs to more fully embrace the off-site fabrication/ digital fabrication model that trains and employs the workforce most urgently needed today: highly-skilled, technical employees who can work year-round, in a climate-controlled environment, harnessing the latest technologies.
Starting later this fall, the new Bensonwood/Unity Homes climate-controlled facility in Keene, NH, will enable the companies’ elite team of fabricators—working year-round with state-of-the-art CNC construction robotics and software—to scale up their fabrication of panelized wall, floor and roof assemblies, highly aggregated insulated construction assemblies that can be rapidly raised on site into weathertight shells in a matter of days, not weeks.
And, notably, the master woodworkers who have also made Bensonwood legendary in the industry, will remain at the Walpole facilities, creating artful timber frames and custom millwork for the world’s most discerning customers. In early 2018, their skillset will be amplified by a new Hundegger Robot-Drive machine that will accept larger timbers up to four feet wide, offer greater versatility through a broader variety of tooling options, and operate at faster processing speeds.
More on this in a future post.