A bathroom is probably the last thing you’d expect to be descending from on high but if you happen to look up at the top of the Pavilion one evening, you might just see one floating down.

Bathroom pods represent one of many items manufactured for the Pavilion at PennFab, Penn Medicine’s off-site manufacturing (OSM) facility in Grey’s Ferry. Off-site manufacturing reduces traffic impact and site congestion (55 fulltime workers or 8 percent of the site labor works at the facility), increases quality, and lowering cost. “Off-site and prefabrication is at the forefront of design and construction innovation,” said Andrew Menyo, PennFIRST project manager.

Prefabricated assemblies are critical to support the job and add flexibility to a very complicated project. “If we’re told to slow down the delivery of bathroom pods at the project site, we can slow the assembly operation and shift manpower from PennFab to the job site,” Menyo said. “But if we need to speed up production, we already have all the subassemblies at PennFab. It’s smarter and more efficient.” Most important, prior to delivery to the project site, all assembled pieces are inspected, ensuring a high level of quality control.

What’s Involved in Prefabbing

OSM is all about efficiency and uniformity. All 504 patient bathrooms have the same finish, with only two variations in layout and seven plumbing variations (for coordinating around the structural steel of the building). “These are important metrics to be cost effective,” Menyo said. “We worked as a team to keep variations low, with a consistent size.”

At PennFab, each of the main components comprising the bathroom — floor, walls, and ceiling — are built as individual sub-assemblies. For example, one big room contains three identical jigs (permanent templates) used to assemble the subfloors. Each weekday, three subfloors are completed, using the same approach and the same pre-cut materials. Once completed, the subfloor is flipped onto a pallet and stacked. At the end of each week, the 15 subfloors are sent to another location where the actual flooring is installed on top. Once the floors are returned to PennFab, they’re stockpiled. Similar assemblies from pre-cut pieces occur for the bathroom walls and ceilings. Finally, all the pieces are brought together to complete the two-ton bathroom pod and ultimately delivered to the Pavilion, lifted to the patient floors via a crane, and then moved into the final position.

Traditional onsite methods of building use tape measures and levels, but “prefabrication benefits from a manufacturing mentality. Utilizing computer aided technology and templates, it greatly enhances both precision and efficiency,” Menyo said. Off-site manufacturing isn’t about reducing cost, but rather increasing value. “By prefabbing bathrooms, we’re able to afford nicer finishes. Instead of tile and grout, a common finish in most bathrooms [which require more maintenance], we’re using acrylic solid surface product on the walls and a resinous epoxy on the floors. Normally we couldn’t use solid surface into the hospital and stay on budget but prefabbing allowed us to provide Penn with a higher quality product within budget.”

Additionally, “the solid surface is better in terms of infection control because it is nonporous, leaving no crevice or visible seam for bacteria to harvest,” added Lauren Valentino, Pavilion project manager.

The bathroom pods are not the only off-site items assembled at PennFab. More than 570 mechanical/electrical/plumbing (MEP) “racks” are fabricated for the Pavilion. The services that bring conditioned air, electrical power and data, are all pre-assembled in sections that are upwards of 30 feet long. “The coordination and installation of above ceiling utilities is extremely complicated and requires extensive oversight of the multiple trades,” Menyo said. “Fabricating and fully testing these assemblies offsite ensures that Penn has a building that can operate and be maintained properly.”

All the bathroom pods will be delivered to the Pavilion between now and November, at a rate of approximately 56 a month. So keep looking up!

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