6 ways modular construction + virtual twin will reshape medical infrastructure

Modular construction is the prefabrication of architectural components (or modules) that can be shipped directly to construction sites and assembled into various configurations. Compared to traditional construction, this allows for a much more efficient building process. Where traditional construction requires most materials to be prepared by local teams at the building site, modular components arrive already quality-checked and ready to go.

Put another way, modular construction is like ordering a set of Legos from the internet, immediately opening the box and sitting down to build something. Traditional construction is more like ordering plastics in bulk, inviting several people to your home and asking them to create molds, melt and cast the plastic, let the pieces dry, etc. With this in mind, it is not hard to see the value of modularity.  

Now, modular construction is poised to disrupt the construction industry and transform the ability to bring quality healthcare infrastructure to underserved areas around the world. Although modular construction has existed for some time, a new approach incorporating the emerging technology of virtual twin is breaking new ground. Because modular components are so highly standardized and predictable, it is possible to model and pre-optimize facilities in the virtual 3D space with total detail and accuracy, simulating everything from airflow and human movement to asset performance and energy consumption. 

This blend of technological prowess plus modularity is, of course, a key feature of Aden’s AKILA Care medical facility. Among other feats, AKILA Care can move from virtual modeling to a fully operational hospital in the real world within 150 days.

AKILA Care is one of the most exciting applications to date, but it certainly won’t be the last. Here are some of the possibilities now opening up through the new wave of modular construction.

1. Use virtual twin as a 3D blueprint from conception to completion and beyond.

AKILA Care hospitals begin as a virtual twin: a 3D model incorporating every detail of the facility, from walls and ventilation to door hinges and light switches. Within the virtual twin software, you can model for external factors, from topography to weather forecasts, to see their effect on the structure’s exterior and interior. You can also plug in all utility systems to predict energy use. For an infectious disease hospital, this offers the revolutionary ability to model and simulate interior airflow and its effect on the viral spread. And this comes before the structure is even assembled.

During assembly, the entire facility is linked through sensors, and data is fed into the virtual twin for real-time modeling of the asset’s condition and energy use for optimization of utilities and operations.

Another major benefit is the ability to expand the facility as needed, both horizontally or by adding a new floor. If a replacement or addition is needed at one of the AKILA Care hospitals, it’s as simple as identifying the required component in the virtual twin, sending an order to the supplier and waiting for it to arrive. Then, all that’s left is to plug it into place.

2. Standardize quality and resolve any issues at the source.

Modular construction is more of a manufacturing process than it is typical construction. The modules (frames, walls, ceilings, floors, etc.) are all produced in a factory, or what we would call “offsite.” Compared to a typical construction site, where hundreds of processes are happening at the same time, this highly centralized process allows for closer inspection and quality assurance. Flaws in material quality are flagged directly at the source of manufacturing and resolved before ever reaching the site, ensuring the strictest compliance to building codes and safety standards once the construction phase has begun.

3. Deliver a functioning facility in a fraction of the time.

All construction projects begin with a phase of sourcing labor, then gradually move on to groundbreaking, frame construction and finally the exterior and interior. Modular structures begin with the same phase but have the advantage of being able to produce modules at the factory while simultaneously preparing the foundation on-site.

Once production is finished, modules are shipped together to the site unassembled, at which point the process moves extremely quickly; all you need to do is assemble the pieces. Instead of waiting for every bit of grout, concrete, plaster and paint to dry, a module is installed, given a once-over of detail finishing and ready for the next one.

With the ability to go from virtual twin to full operations in only 150 days, it’s clear just how disruptive modular construction and AKILA Care hospitals can be to their respective industries.

4. Stop worrying about the weather.

Weather powerfully impacts the timeline, budget and outcomes of every traditional construction project. Concrete can’t be poured when it’s too cold unless you invest additional time and money. Workers can’t stay out too long in the heat without health & safety risk. Rainy weeks can dampen whole projects, literally and figuratively.

Modular structures, on the other hand, are component-based. This is because everything is prefabricated indoors at a factory and easily assembled, which almost entirely removes weather as a variable in the assembly and delivery timeline.

5. Assemble without the need for highly skilled labor; fill in the gaps with technology.  

One of the most disruptive aspects of modular construction is the reduced labor force required during the construction phase. At a traditional worksite, successful construction depends on dozens of contractors, high and mid-skilled workers, all of whom require high compensation. At a modular worksite, you need only a fraction of the specialized labor, such as crane operators and electricians. Mid-skilled teams for jobs like formwork are unnecessary, so the only remaining workers to be sourced are general laborers, which greatly reduces costs.

Due to most of the workforce being unskilled labor, training and direction are essential for a successful project. Linking with virtual twin technology also gives access to a 1:1 digital 3D model of the structure which allows for assembly simulation and training in the early phases, and later can be used as an interactive manual during the building phase—especially when paired with augmented reality (AR) devices—bridging the gap where skilled labor would traditionally be used.

For countries without high-skilled labor pools, this is a welcome change. This is also what allows AKILA Care hospitals to be deployed anywhere in the world.

6. Reduce waste at each stage of construction and after.

Construction is a massive contributor to overall physical waste—responsible for up to 30% per year globally. Inevitably, traditional construction sites, with their heavy use of raw materials like wood, steel and concrete produce over-orders that turn to waste. In fact, by 2025 construction and demolition activity will produce an estimated 2.2 billion tons of waste. All of this debris has greatly contributed to expanding landfill areas and has also been linked to landslides and groundwater contamination.

Furthermore, carbon emissions generated during the production, transportation and disposal of traditional building materials are a major contributor to greenhouse gasses. Using modular construction eliminates overproduction, almost completely cutting physical waste, and reduces carbon emissions at each phase of production, assembly and finishing.

As modular facilities, AKILA Care hospitals are inherently more sustainable. We take this commitment to an even higher level by integrating renewable energy sources and optimizing utility use through the virtual twin. A commitment to improving public health means nothing without a commitment to sustainability.

Break the mold with modular construction.

While technology has advanced rapidly on many fronts, the traditional construction process has fallen farther and farther behind over the past half-century. 

Modular construction is a revolutionizing force, which standardizes and streamlines all aspects of the industry. This impact will be felt with special strength when it comes to building healthcare infrastructure in underserved areas. By combining modular construction with virtual twin, AKILA Care hospitals are breaking down the traditional limitations of construction, dramatically cutting down on wasted time, and using the newest technologies to optimize energy, utility assets and the overall reach of top-quality healthcare.

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