Building apartments in a factory saves time, attracts more people to construction

Pentagon modset

By Evan Ramstad, Star Tribune

They’re building apartment buildings inside a factory in Owatonna, Minn.

Not just parts, the whole apartments. Floor to ceiling, bathroom to kitchen, plumbing to electrical, countertops to toilets.

The action inside the factory at Rise Modular is a sight, and it’s the kind of productivity improvement that’s needed when the workforce is tight or shrinking.

The buildings are constructed in standardized parts, called modules or mods, that are up to 16 feet wide and 70 feet long. To move down the assembly line, air casters lift the mods a few millimeters, allowing two people to easily push them along.

“Everything’s done in an ergonomic, climate-controlled environment,” Christian Lawrence, the company’s founder and chief executive, said after we toured the plant last month. “With cranes and other kitting and jigs, and technology, we can be more efficient with our labor.”

Rise built the 202-unit Pentagon Village apartment building that is near completion in Edina. It took 205 modules. Each was trucked up Interstate 35 to W. 77th Street and Computer Avenue and stacked in place by crane. Ten days ago, I watched one of the last modules go up to its spot on the fifth floor. It took less than five minutes.

Homebuilders have long used factories and assembly lines to build parts of homes, like wall panels and roof trusses. Sears and Montgomery Ward sold kits to build houses more than a century ago.

But Rise is one of the first in the country to apply what the industry calls “volumetric module” techniques to apartments and other buildings. It started its first project in spring 2020, a 27-unit apartment building in Minneapolis that was stacked into place that September. It has finished, or nearly finished, five others and has three in the pipeline, including its first hotel.

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