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Module Transport and Size: Learning From Japan

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  • Japan is a long-time pioneer in module transport and building, with millions of manufactured buildings across the country.
  • Japan’s modules are roughly six feet narrower than those in the U.S. on average, allowing for easier building and transport.
  • Smaller modules allow for over double the production output on modular assembly lines.

Modular, or manufactured, dwellings account for more than 15% of the nearly one million new homes and apartments built in Japan each year. The country is a long-time pioneer in modular construction, employing innovative techniques and technologies to optimize module transport based on their smaller module size. The United States can draw valuable lessons from Japan’s successes, adopting practices that can revolutionize modular transportation in North America.

Module transport size impacts cost

Transport limits in Japan are significantly narrower compared to the United States. As a result, Japanese modular manufacturers design modules that are much smaller than their American counterparts. In the U.S., a common module size is 14’6” x 72’, while in Japan, it is 8’4” x 16’10”.

Why is this discrepancy significant? Shipping larger modules usually means higher transportation costs. Shipping larger modules can necessitate special permits, pilot cars/escort vehicles, specific carriers (which are more expensive and harder to source), specialized handling equipment (like cranes), and more costly accessorials. All of those can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, significantly impacting the cost of a build.

In contrast, Japan’s system allows consolidation within building systems that accommodate simple connections between smaller components. You can take larger square footage homes and break them down to ship at lower rates and assemble them in a matter of hours at the build site.

Additional benefits of smaller module size

Ease of handling

The smaller size of Japanese modules makes them more manageable for automation and easier to align accurately, reducing the likelihood of errors during fabrication.

Faster production

The compact size of Japanese modules enables faster processing on the manufacturing line, with estimates suggesting a production rate of one module every 3 minutes — equivalent to constructing 10,000 square feet during an 8-hour shift.

Comparatively, top modular manufacturers can generally build between one and four modules per day. This equals between 1,000 and 4,200 square feet per shift — a considerable difference.

Standard shipping

Japanese manufacturers ship modules individually to the build site using regular transportation routes. On the other hand, modules in the U.S. must ship as one load rather than in separate pieces and often have several unique transportation hurdles to overcome.

At the build site

Handling smaller modules at the build site allows for further efficiencies and cost savings. Setting up a smaller module usually takes around six minutes, enabling an entire home to be completed within three hours. In comparison, setting up one module of the U.S. standard size can take 45-60 minutes, significantly longer than the smaller modules in Japan.

Aesthetic design in mass-produced modules

There is a misconception about style and aesthetic limitations with modular buildings in Western countries that Japan does not share. Generally, Japanese culture sees factory-manufactured homes as superior to conventionally built ones because of the extensive opportunities to customize prefab builds, with the consumer participating in choices throughout the process.

Japanese builders mass-produce a variety of housing components that buyers choose from, which allows for a custom design. Once the homes leave the modular production assembly-line setting, few people can tell the difference between a factory-made home and a traditional “stick-built” one, no matter the style of the home.

Precision and efficiency in Japan’s modules

Japanese companies have invested substantial resources in the precision engineering of modules and continue to do so. This ensures that modules are crafted to meticulous standards, facilitating smooth assembly and seamless transportation.

Such precision has also facilitated a standardization of module size — one that fits within the existing transportation limits. And, in turn, standardization allows for easier assembly and compatibility between different manufacturers. This reduces the need for cus.tom adaptations on site, streamlining the construction process.

Japan’s approach minimizes logistical challenges and streamlines the module transport process. If American industries adopted a similar strategy, they could foster a more efficient and cost-effective approach to module transport.

Optimizing for module transport with size

Module transport is about getting the right mod to the right delivery site at the right time at the right cost. If you’re looking for module transport specialists, consult with the professionals at Stream Modular. Our comprehensive service focuses on an integrated solution for your transportation needs.

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Stream Modular is a transportation logistics company specializing exclusively in modular construction. We help modular manufacturers and builders transport mods, pods, and panels so they arrive on time and safely to the build site.

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