Meet Modulous: Q&A with Sam Gioia

Tell us about your role at Modulous.

I’m Head of U.S. Manufacturing & Assembly. I’m responsible for the successful delivery of our physical product, which is a modular Kit of Parts for the construction of residential multifamily housing, in the U.S. market. This includes consultation on the physical product from a manufacturability standpoint through the development and management of our supply chain partners.

How has your previous manufacturing experience shaped your perspective on AEC [Architecture, Engineering and Construction] and real estate, and how has it prepared you for your new position at Modulous specifically?  

All manufacturing, regardless of product, is the process by which products are created and delivered to the customer. Standardization is key. If you only do something once, you can’t iterate. You can’t improve. An optimized manufacturing process provides repeatable, high-quality products in the promised timeframe at a profitable margin. The challenge in AEC is standardizing processes to gain manufacturing efficiencies.

Standardization doesn’t mean that everything needs to look the same. You’ve got standard components that are defined like the basic structure, but then you have interchangeable variations for different wall panels, flooring, and finishes. It’s similar to the automobile industry. You can’t ask for a Camry with different parts, but you can have a leather interior, a different paint color, or add a sunroof. You can rearrange things as long as they don’t break the manufacturing model. Manufacturing facilitates configurability over customization.

With our Kit of Parts, everything starts from a 3D digital representation before being manifested physically. This allows us to consider all the things that could normally interfere with one another in the design from the beginning. This should drastically diminish the number of work change orders that often delay construction.

What inspires you professionally?

I believe that the AEC industry is at an inflection point where we are just beginning to see the advantages of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC). In my former career in microelectronics, there was an observation that the number of transistors on a computer chip would double every two years. It’s known as Moore’s Law. The thing about it was that there was no law; it was simply a goal of increasing productivity. The exciting thing about this was that it required the whole industry – manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, and software developers – to make this happen. Innovation was an expectation. I think the same is true now for the AEC industry, and we’re beginning to see modular factories with integrated tools linked to 3D BIM models develop.

How would you describe the culture at Modulous?

If I had to pick one word for the Modulous culture, it would be collaborative. As a relatively small company, there is a need to listen to one another since many skill sets in the company need to understand their work’s impact on others. I think collaboration is the most critical element in trying to solve the challenges in the housing industry.

What do you think needs to change in the U.S. real estate and AEC industries to solve the housing crisis in the U.S.?

The land cost has skyrocketed in major metropolitan areas, particularly in the Western U.S. The only way to address this issue is to increase housing density. The challenge is to achieve livability and sustainability. Modular buildings with sites designed to create a sense of community and provide food and entertainment within walking distance would significantly impact the housing crisis.

Why is it important to diversify real estate and AEC, and how can we attract people from other industries to join us?

In general, I think there is a lot to learn from other industries. Some problems confronting the AEC industry have been answered in different sectors. The challenge is to engage from the standpoint of mutual respect and collaboration. People that come into AEC from other sectors have shown a condescending attitude and don’t listen to veterans in the industry. Likewise, some people in AEC believe that solutions from other industries don’t apply because AEC is complicated.

Investigating how other industries do things should be a requirement. For example, automobiles weren’t always built using robotics. Learning how the automotive assembly line has evolved would be instructive for how our modular factories could develop. Looking at manufacturing planes and computers would also be informative, as would learning about Amazon’s logistics processes.

Do you think there are growing pains when an industry discovers that the solution to a problem is multidisciplinary?

I think tradespeople fear that if projects go through manufacturing, the trades go away, and they lose their jobs. I believe the same issue applies to general contractors because their jobs would also change substantially. However, it is not that the jobs are going away, but that they can do different things now with their skill sets. For example, we had interns this past summer who studied Construction Technology, and I think they are the future. The interns understood the traditional practices and saw the benefits of new approaches. The next generation is coming in to make this happen. Because they haven’t invested a lifetime into their careers yet, they don’t feel like they have to protect themselves from change in the industry.