Gabriel Santana
Commercial Director
ITISA Prefabricados

The Middle Point Between Traditional and Flexible

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 15:53

Reducing labor costs and building times are common goals in the global infrastructure industry. Modular building can be an important step to achieving this goal but Mexico’s low labor costs and the trend toward vertical developments discourage its use, says Gabriel Santana, Commercial Director of prefabricate company ITISA Prefabricados, which offers a middle ground with precast, prestressed concrete.

“Labor in Mexico is inexpensive so traditional building systems are commonplace and there are few incentives to restructure toward buildings using modular systems,” says Santana. The minimum legal wage for a construction worker in 2016 in Mexico was MX$106.49 (US$5.86) per day, while in the US in the same year the average hourly wage for a construction worker was US$16.07. These extreme differences in costs mean companies lack the incentive to invest in modular building systems.

“Building horizontal housing developments on the outskirts of cities is no longer profitable because it requires investing in service provisions and people dislike having to commute for several hours to and from work,” he says. Single-story social interest houses can be easily built with modules off-site and then assembled on-site, but the vertical building trend moves away from this kind of development. Moreover, it is difficult to design and build housing facilities en masse because some cities like Mexico City are made up of three seismic zones with distinct needs and specifications for earthquake resistance, making it costlier and difficult to build modules for each zone.

These problems are familiar to ITISA Prefabricados, a company that provides a middle point between modular building and traditional concrete-pouring methods. ITISA produces various kinds of precast and prestressed concrete for diverse purposes in the industrial, vertical and horizontal housing, commercial, transportation and social sectors. According to Santana, “the company has built modules before with some success but migrating to industrialized building models does not make much sense for ITISA.” Although Mexico’s building industry remains resistant to moving away from traditional construction methods, ITISA develops solutions in precast and prestressed concrete for other sectors. In the transportation infrastructure sector, ITISA develops concrete beams and pillars that can support the weight of a vehicular bridge, like the second floor of the Anillo Periférico road in Mexico City. In the commercial sector, ITISA specializes in strong, heavy concrete for commercial centers. These are built on relatively small lots and require several underground parking lots to achieve a compensation system that prevents expansive clay from damaging the mall structure while also supporting the weight of large stores.

In the social sector, ITISA offers solutions for building resistant hospitals and schools, which alongside other Type A structures require more resistance to earthquakes to, firstly prevent collapses of crowded buildings, and secondly, ensure victims of an earthquake can receive medical attention in a safe area. “All infrastructure segments in Mexico are largely influenced by prestressed and precast concrete,” says Santana.

The use of precast concrete, however, is largely dependent on the customer’s time constraints and a willingness to invest a little more than in traditional materials. “This kind of concrete is suitable for building urgent infrastructure because it is easy and fast to create,” says Santana. Commercial centers, for example, are more prone to using precast, prestressed concrete because developers in this sector look to obtain yields from their investments in the short term and thus invest more money in these kinds of solutions. In nonurgent buildings like hospitals, developers usually prefer to stick to traditional concrete-pouring and deliver the finished construction a little later rather than investing more for fast completion. “This material is generally more sought after in government projects where there are tight constraints on production times,” says Santana.

Building modular systems is challenging in Mexico but the use of precast, prestressed concrete in the infrastructure industry is also latent. “Property developers make huge investments and want to see quality buildings delivered on time and within budget as part of their return on investment,” says Santana. “This is something they can achieve with precast concrete.”