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Prefab most applied in projects in the Netherlands, the UK ahead when it comes to advanced prefab applications

When I’m asked what the key trends in the construction industry are, prefabrication is always amongst the answers.

In the European architectural barometer, another one of USP’s multi-client studies, we already reported that architects experience an increasing demand for prefab. Furthermore, they expect this increase of demand to continue in the upcoming years. This is by no means a surprise, as labour shortages force more use of prefabricated solutions and the growing digitalisation (i.e BIM usage) enables prefab to be applied without the lose of to much design freedom.

Although very interesting, the architects perspective only provides a partial image as the contractor is another key actor involved in the implementation & adoption of prefabrication. This is especially the case as the general contractor is gaining more influence and as more contractor led design-build projects are being issued. This is one of the reasons USP Marketing Consultancy started the European Contractors Monitor last year, a new European multi-client research targeting the main contractor. In this research 1,000 contractors with at least 5 employees in eight countries. In 2018 the reports focused on purchase channels (H1 2018) and now our latest prefab report (H2 2018). For 2019 the reports will be about BIM (H1 2019) and media orientation (H2 2019).

High share of contractors have experience with prefab

Prefab - also known as ‘off-site construction’ or ‘modern methods of construction’ - has been used in construction projects by a majority of the European contractors. With the exception of France, at least 60% of the contractors in Europe have used some form of prefabricated building elements in their projects. In the Netherlands, this share is the highest with 93% of the Dutch contractors having applied prefab in projects at some point. This comes as no surprise as the Dutch way of building standardized row houses are very much favouring the use of prefab. Furthermore, the Dutch construction industry is one of, if not the, most digitalised in Europe. For example, the share of Dutch architects using BIM is also the highest in Europe.

High degree of experience with prefab doesn’t translate to high usage (yet)

Even though many European contractors have experience with prefabricated products, this does not mean that prefab is used in every project (prefab is used in approximately 30% of projects) or that the entire project consists of only prefabricated elements. Again the share of projects in which prefab is being applied is the highest in the Netherlands with 62% and the lowest in France with 16%. As with the high experience with prefab of the Dutch contractors, the same arguments why this is the case apply to the high usage.

In terms of advanced prefab usage, the UK is clearly ahead

We have been talking about prefab, but more in general terms, but obviously there are clear differences between how advance the prefab solutions applied are. In the prefab report we break down prefab solutions into three main categories; Prefabricated plain unfinished elements (without finishing, installation or insulation), prefabricated panelised systems (with finishing, installation or insulation) and prefabricated modular buildings or volumetric elements. When it comes to the application of more advanced forms of prefab, it’s the UK and not the Netherlands that is ahead. Although the share of projects where prefab is being applied is lower in the UK then in the Netherlands, the share of projects where modular building elements are being applied is much higher in the UK. Furthermore, in the Netherlands al lot more plain elements are used compared to the UK.

There is much to gain with respect to the use of prefab

Prefab is a solution to many challenges that the construction sector is facing or will face in the upcoming years. A few examples of this are a faster and more efficient building process, reducing failure costs and a (partial) resolution to the labour shortage. There is, however, a lot to gain and learn when it comes to prefab. Contractors expect that the share of prefab will increase slowly over the next 5 years. As the pressure from labour shortages will become even higher, more and more prefab will be applied. There are of course still many barriers to overcome (transportation difficulties, design limitations, costs, traditional mindset of the construction industry, rules & regulations etc), but the market dynamics clearly favour an increase of the growth rate of prefab usage.

These are some results of the H2 2018 European Contractors Monitor report, a research managed by my collegae Henri Busker. The full report covers much more, including building segments, material usage and many other relevant information. For more information on the report/research feel free to contact me directly at or take a look at the report impression