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Title: Technology assessment of automation trends in the modular home industry

Author: Mitchell, Phil; Hurst, Robert Russell;

Date: 2009

Source: General Technical Report FPL-GTR-188. Madison, WI: USDA, Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory. 51 pages.

Publication Series: General Technical Report (GTR)

Description: This report provides an assessment of technology used in manufacturing modular homes in the United States, and that used in the German prefabricated wooden home industry. It is the first step toward identifying the research needs in automation and manufacturing methods that will facilitate mass customization in the home manufacturing industry. Within the United States, a relatively low level of technology was found in domestic modular home manufacturers. Raw material transportation was mostly manual; manually operated saws sized raw materials; cranes were used to move subassemblies, and modules were pushed by hand or with a battery-powered pusher. German prefabricated home manufacturers used closed panels to construct walls, roofs, and floors rather than modular construction. Three levels of automation were identified: manual, semi-automated, and fully automated. Manual production methods were similar to those found in the United States. In semi-automated factories, automated machinery was used, but an operator was required to manually load, unload, and start the machine. The fully automated factories had equipment capable of machining and transferring panel components and placing and fastening components together. Such investment in automation is risky in the cyclic housing industry. The modular factory has elevated homebuilding from a craft to mass production, but flexibility is reduced and significant customization is difficult. Future research should examine the cost ef-fectiveness of using high levels of automation, software, and equipment in the U.S. homebuilding industry and whether it can profitably provide the manufacturing flexibility for mass customization. Alternatively, the use of lean manufacturing in modular home factories to realize the same benefits needs to be examined.

Keywords: Stick-built, automation trends, modular home industry, wood-frame housing, factory built housing, home prefabrication, closed-wall panels, systems-built housing, prefabricated houses, design, construction, automation, modular construction industry

Publication Notes:

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  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.



Mitchell, Phil; Hurst, Robert Russell 2009. Technology assessment of automation trends in the modular home industry. General Technical Report FPL-GTR-188. Madison, WI: USDA, Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory. 51 pages.


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