Construction

A New School
in 12 Weeks

If it were up to Kleusberg, many schoolchildren could soon be attending their classes in modern buildings. This medium-sized company produces completely equipped modules that only need to be placed onto their construction sites by cranes and then connected with each other. Builders and clients can plan them individually with a configurator. The result: “class over mass.”

05/2024

Top of the class: Kleusberg’s plant director Jörg Draschner, product development head Jonas Beuth, and CEO Oliver Hartmann (from left) with consultant Tobias Michels from Porsche Consulting want to cut construction times from years to three months.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

The future of school con­struc­tion stands next to the park­ing lot for plant 2 at Kleus­berg, a mod­ule-man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­ny in the east­ern Ger­man town of Kabels­ke­tal near the city of Halle/Saale. This pro­to­type build­ing is a sin­gle-story rec­tan­gle with a flat roof and wood­en façade. It is a prod­uct of the company’s “school con­struc­tion kit,” whose pre­de­fined mod­ules enable short­er con­struc­tion times while main­tain­ing or increas­ing archi­tec­tur­al flex­i­bil­i­ty. The pro­to­type con­sists of a mod­ern class­room, aux­il­iary rooms, and san­i­tary facil­i­ties. In addi­tion to their short­er con­struc­tion times, the company’s new schools also score points for sus­tain­abil­i­ty. If need­ed they can be moved to new loca­tions, and are near­ly 100 per­cent recy­clable at the end of their ser­vice lives. Kleus­berg and the Porsche Con­sult­ing man­age­ment con­sul­tan­cy present a joint­ly devel­oped need-based and sus­tain­able con­cept here. Long-stand­ing prob­lems in the con­struc­tion indus­try thus appear to be solvable.

Kleusberg’s modular approach enables new schools for 100 to 420 students to be built from prefabricated components in short periods of time. These new schools follow a set pattern with a very wide range of floor plans thanks to different modular configurations. They accommodate an equally wide range of educational approaches — from traditional same-sized classrooms along corridors to differently sized classrooms or a central space with rooms grouped around it. Design options for details such as windows and lighting are also extensive. And if the schools are no longer needed later on, they can be dismantled and reassembled at other locations.Porsche Consulting/Clara Nabi

The under­ly­ing idea is the fol­low­ing: schools of the future should no longer be planned and built as unique projects — in pure­ly tech­ni­cal terms — but rather be eas­i­ly con­fig­ured from stan­dard­ized mod­ule seg­ments. Kleus­berg is there­fore tak­ing a deci­sive step beyond the type of mod­u­lar con­struc­tion that has exist­ed for decades: it is tran­si­tion­ing from a project- to a prod­uct-based busi­ness model. Thanks to its mod­u­lar design prin­ci­ple and online con­fig­u­ra­tor, devel­op­ers can select and com­mis­sion their new schools with­out hav­ing to sac­ri­fice any design pos­si­bil­i­ties. Kleus­berg takes all the require­ments for a school’s dif­fer­ent func­tions into account dur­ing the prod­uct devel­op­ment phase. In short, it stan­dard­izes the parts that the stu­dents and teach­ers do not see. Every­thing else relat­ed to the lay­out con­fig­u­ra­tion and inte­ri­ors can be indi­vid­u­al­ized with­in wide limits.

“This prod­uct-based approach is new for the indus­try. Con­struc­tion gen­er­al­ly calls for indi­vid­u­al­i­ty — for many rea­sons, includ­ing indi­vid­ual site prop­er­ties and dif­fer­ences in local zon­ing and devel­op­ment plans,” explains Oliv­er Hart­mann (born in 1970), an archi­tect and Kleusberg’s CEO Mod­u­lar Con­struc­tion. “Instead, we work with 44 pre­de­fined mod­ule seg­ments that allow for just about any con­ceiv­able con­fig­u­ra­tion. Despite the stan­dard­iza­tion, that enables us to ful­fill our clients’ exact wish­es. Right now we’re using our mod­u­lar approach for school exten­sions and for new pri­ma­ry school build­ings with up to four class­rooms per grade.”

Kleusberg GmbH: It started with a carpenter’s shop

Kleusberg entered the building industry back in 1948. Originally a carpenter’s shop for construction and cabinetry, it began by making construction trailers, then construction cabins as mobile on-site offices but also as temporary solutions for schools or daycare centers. Kleusberg currently has 35,000 of these cabins for rent. The company’s second pillar is its modular construction, which it developed from a steel composite system in the late 1980s. For more than 30 years, Kleusberg has been making permanent schools, daycare centers, office buildings, and hospitals from prefabricated modules using a project-based approach. Now, it is offering school buildings as products made of standard modules. Kleusberg GmbH remains a family business, with 1,400 employees at 13 locations in Germany.

Rec­tan­gu­lar, L‑, or Z‑shaped school build­ings with four to 16 class­rooms and up to three floors are pos­si­ble. They can have approx­i­mate­ly 500 to 2,500 square meters and accom­mo­date 100 to 420 stu­dents — for very dif­fer­ent edu­ca­tion­al strate­gies. The mod­ule seg­ments can be com­bined in dif­fer­ent ways, enabling tra­di­tion­al lay­outs with same-sized class­rooms off a cor­ri­dor as well as lay­outs with dif­fer­ent­ly sized class­rooms or a cen­tral space with indi­vid­ual rooms grouped around it. Kleus­berg can there­fore con­struct con­tem­po­rary edu­ca­tion­al land­scapes — includ­ing rooms for indi­vid­u­al­ized instruc­tion, for exam­ple, or for the inclu­sion of chil­dren with spe­cial needs.

“We work with 44 predefined module segments that allow for just about any conceivable configuration,” says architect and CEO Oliver Hartmann.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

Unique creations from a configurator

To sim­pli­fy its clients’ selec­tion pro­ce­dure, Kleus­berg offers four pack­ages: Basis, Best Sell­er, Design, and Nature. They dif­fer in the design of their light­ing ele­ments, for instance, as well as their win­dow frame mate­ri­als, type of heat­ing sys­tem, and ener­gy effi­cien­cy. Those who asso­ciate Kleusberg’s pack­age approach and con­fig­u­ra­tor with the auto­mo­tive indus­try are on the right track. As Hart­mann notes, “When devel­op­ing our prod­ucts we did have car­mak­ers in the back of our minds. They, too, can offer high­ly indi­vid­u­al­ized solu­tions from a pre­de­ter­mined range of con­fig­u­ra­tional pos­si­bil­i­ties, guide their cus­tomers with pack­age options, and use series pro­duc­tion lines to make their products.”

Oliver Hartmann (center) and Jonas Beuth (right) conceived the new school construction kit together with consultant Tobias Michels (Porsche Consulting) and tailored it to market needs.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

Yet there is one major dif­fer­ence to the auto­mo­tive indus­try: Germany’s 16 states fol­low a sin­gle set of reg­u­la­tions for vehi­cle autho­riza­tions — but each has its own set of reg­u­la­tions for build­ing new schools. As such, one of the biggest chal­lenges for prod­uct devel­op­ment con­sist­ed of meet­ing all of these offi­cial require­ments at the same time. “We want­ed to devel­op a school con­struc­tion kit that func­tions in every region,” says Jonas Beuth (born in 1993), Kleusberg’s Head of Prod­uct Devel­op­ment, Mod­u­lar Con­struc­tion. “We there­fore had to find the low­est com­mon denom­i­na­tor for all of the reg­u­la­tions.” Not an easy task. For one thing, the num­ber of build­ing reg­u­la­tions in Ger­many has risen from 5,000 to 20,000 from 2005 to today alone.

Oliver Hartmann (left) and Jonas Beuth were inspired by product development in the automotive industry, which can generate many individual solutions from a range of configuration options.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

Nev­er­the­less, Kleus­berg did not have to start from square one. Hav­ing already built more than 160 schools with a mod­u­lar sys­tem and project-based approach, it was very well acquaint­ed with the wish­es of both state and pri­vate clients. The com­pa­ny also sought input from archi­tects, teach­ers, and build­ing care­tak­ers. “Suc­cess­ful­ly tran­si­tion­ing to a project-based busi­ness model requires a deep under­stand­ing of the mar­ket and cus­tomers — espe­cial­ly if the prod­uct idea is com­plete­ly new, as is the case here,” says Tobias Michels (born in 1989), Senior Man­ag­er in Con­struc­tion & Real Estate at Porsche Con­sult­ing. Michels and his team sup­port­ed Kleus­berg in tai­lor­ing the school con­struc­tion toolk­it to meet every­day school-build­ing needs. “Some­times it comes down to what can seem like details,” he observes. “For exam­ple, the loca­tion of the teacher’s desk can affect whether it takes only two or as many as ten min­utes for the stu­dents to set­tle down and start con­cen­trat­ing on their lessons.”

Consultant Tobias Michels and product developer Jonas Beuth are pioneers — because their product-based school construction kit breaks new ground in the construction industry.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

Three months for a new school

The school mod­ules are man­u­fac­tured in a way that opens entire­ly new hori­zons for sav­ing time. In the future, just three months should tran­spire from start of pro­duc­tion to hand­ing over the keys. By con­trast, con­ven­tion­al school con­struc­tion projects can take sev­er­al years before the build­ing is ready for use. Series pro­duc­tion of the build­ing com­po­nents, which is done in a 500-meter hall at Kleusberg’s plant in Kabels­ke­tal-Döl­bau, is what makes it pos­si­ble to short­en the time. Pre-spec­i­fied steel beams for the bear­ing struc­ture are deliv­ered to one end of the hall. At the other end, up to 80 com­plete mod­ules — each with the req­ui­site seg­ments — leave the hall every week. Pre-pro­duc­tion lines assem­ble com­po­nents such as floors, ceil­ings, and walls, which are installed in the basic struc­ture on a step-by-step basis. Viewed from above, the lay­out has a “her­ring­bone” char­ac­ter, lead­ing some experts to in fact call it that — which is yet anoth­er inspi­ra­tion from fac­to­ries in the auto­mo­tive industry.

Kleusberg makes schools in a 500-meter production hall at its plant 2 in the eastern German town of Kabelsketal. Metal beams are delivered on the left, and complete modules leave the hall on the right.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Precisely sized metal beams are delivered to Kleusberg. This eliminates almost all waste in module production — yet another aspect of the hall’s overall sustainability.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
The steel beams weigh tons, and massive gantry cranes are needed to move them.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Modular construction starts with welding the metal frameworks.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Quality control: Plant director Jörg Draschner compares a metal framework with its plan.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Plant director Jörg Draschner, consultant Tobias Michels, and product developer Jonas Beuth jointly developed and optimized all the steps in the production process.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Massive threaded blocks are a specialty item: They’re needed when heavy-duty cranes lift the prefabricated modules for transport.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
As soon as the basic metal framework structure is ready, the module enters a new part of the production hall …Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
… where the next step consists of completing the interior. Clients can choose different options.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
The modules can be tilted in the production hall. This means no one has to work on the interiors above their heads. The mechanism is an in-house development. Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
After the walls and insulation are installed, windows and blinds are next.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Even the prefab concrete stair elements are custom-fitted into modules at the Kleusberg plant.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
High-performance battery-powered tools are kept charged at all times for the production team at a central station. The right code is needed for access.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Newly produced Kleusberg modules stand ready for pick-up next to the production hall in Kabelsketal. Heavy-duty vehicles transport them to their sites at night.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

When the mod­ules are com­plet­ed, heavy-duty vehi­cles trans­port them from the east­ern Ger­man state of Sax­ony Anhalt to their respec­tive des­ti­na­tions, where Kleus­berg then assem­bles them into a school build­ing — pri­mar­i­ly using a plug-and-play prin­ci­ple, because the pipes and elec­tri­cal lines have already been laid and only need to be con­nect­ed. Even the toi­lets and sinks for the san­i­tary facil­i­ties have already been installed when the mod­ules reach their sites. “The high degree of pre­fab­ri­ca­tion means there’s a lot less to do at the site itself,” explains Beuth. “That’s where we con­cen­trate on the cor­ri­dor areas, class­room mod­ule inter­faces, façades, and roofs.”

CEO Oliver Hartmann and product developer Jonas Beuth stand in prefabricated modules at the Kleusberg plant. Their experience in project-based modular construction flowed into the new product-based school construction kit.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

No delays, no added costs

Series pro­duc­tion not only saves time. Because of the high piece num­bers, Kleus­berg can pur­chase items such as bath­room fix­tures at lower rates and nego­ti­ate bet­ter con­di­tions with sub­con­trac­tors. This is expect­ed to lower costs by around 15 per­cent com­pared to a project-based approach. More­over, a prod­uct-based approach should near­ly elim­i­nate cost explo­sions and delays, as well as qual­i­ty issues. With pro­duc­tion tak­ing place under con­trolled con­di­tions at the plant, includ­ing qual­i­ty checks at every step, and with all the prod­uct experts there and quick­ly avail­able for ques­tions, the mod­ules should have large­ly uni­form qual­i­ties. “Cars, after all, also come from a fac­to­ry and are not con­struct­ed indi­vid­u­al­ly in each customer’s garage — which would sure­ly lower their over­all qual­i­ty lev­els,” says Hart­mann, draw­ing anoth­er com­par­i­son with the auto­mo­tive indus­try from an architect’s per­spec­tive. “If a prob­lem should occur in our series pro­duc­tion, we can quick­ly iden­ti­fy it and take reli­able cor­rec­tive action.” The prod­uct approach can even help to counter the grow­ing short­age of skilled con­struc­tion work­ers. Fewer peo­ple are eager to build walls or apply exte­ri­or insu­la­tion in any and all weath­er con­di­tions. At Kleus­berg, how­ev­er, most pro­duc­tion takes place in a fac­to­ry hall, which could con­sid­er­ably raise the appeal of jobs in the industry.

Schools can follow their students

This approach to build­ing schools offers yet anoth­er ben­e­fit that is espe­cial­ly close to the hearts of Kleusberg’s devel­op­ers, name­ly sus­tain­abil­i­ty. Because the exte­ri­or and inte­ri­or walls as well as floors and ceil­ings are made large­ly of wood, the mod­ules have a pos­i­tive car­bon foot­print. They bind more car­bon diox­ide than aris­es in their pro­duc­tion. In addi­tion, after many years of use, the mod­ules can be eas­i­ly taken apart and used else­where. “If a par­tic­u­lar region no longer has enough stu­dents, we can dis­man­tle the school and set it up where there’s a greater need,” says Hart­mann. “You can’t real­ly get any more sus­tain­able than that.”

The Kleusberg company can build a new high school in 12 weeks, and here’s what it looks like. Lay people won’t see — either inside or outside — that the high-grade building is made of industrially fabricated modules.Kleusberg
Jonas Beuth shows a prototype from the school construction kit at Kleusberg’s plant in the eastern German town of Kabelsketal near Halle/Saale. The different ceiling lights belong to three different interior packages, available on the online configurator.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
Steel frames, wood cladding: Modular school buildings should take only a short time to construct, and their natural materials should ensure healthy indoor spaces and favorable learning environments. Kleusberg

Poten­tial cus­tomers have been respond­ing very pos­i­tive­ly to the school con­struc­tion kit idea. “There’s often a lit­tle skep­ti­cism at first because we’ve depart­ed from the con­ven­tion­al path,” says Beuth. “But thus far we’ve been able to address all the con­cerns and con­vince any inter­est­ed par­ties. Advan­tages such as short con­struc­tion times and lower costs are very appeal­ing to builders.” And there is a big need. The KfW bank group, a state-owned devel­op­ment bank, expects school build­ings to be the largest field of invest­ment for munic­i­pal­i­ties in Ger­many. It esti­mates that around 47 bil­lion euros need to go into build­ing new schools and mod­ern­iz­ing exist­ing ones. In addi­tion, by 2030 the num­ber of school­child­ren is expect­ed to rise by about nine per­cent, an increase of around one mil­lion pupils.

“Advantages such as short construction times and lower costs are very appealing,” says product developer Jonas Beuth in his summary of positive client responses.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch

The idea is transferrable

It’s there­fore no won­der that Kleus­berg has already reached agree­ments with its first cus­tomers. Over the com­ing months, the com­pa­ny aims to bring in more orders for its mod­u­lar schools. Its prod­uct devel­op­ers are nat­u­ral­ly also think­ing beyond this ini­tial mar­ket, because the idea behind the schools is trans­ferrable to build­ings such as hos­pi­tal wards, col­lege dor­mi­to­ries, and refugee hous­ing. It should come as no sur­prise, there­fore, if Kleusberg’s series-pro­duc­tion class­rooms are fol­lowed by many other tai­lor-made build­ings from the company’s configurator.

Commentary

Prospect with Potential

By Tobias Michels, Senior Manager, Porsche Consulting
Tobias Michels, Senior Manager at the Porsche Consulting management consultancy.Porsche Consulting/Marco Prosch
The current economic climate — marked by inflation as well as rising construction costs and interest rates — is posing major challenges to the construction industry. A significant decline in the number of building permits is signaling a critical turning point, with no signs of any meaningful short- or medium-term improvement in sight. Clearly, a sustainable strategy cannot consist of hope and government support alone. Instead, some companies need to fundamentally rethink their business models and adapt to the new market conditions. In particular, the traditional, low-margin, project-based business model needs to be reevaluated. Kleusberg is an example of a company that has succeeded in taking a strategic new course. Although it had already worked with modular construction, it had not been able to take full advantage of industrial construction — due to the project-based nature of its previous business. Products over projects The solution: shifting to a product-based business model. This, however, requires selecting target markets early on in order to take country-specific regulatory requirements (such as building codes) into account as early as the product development phase. It is essential to understand the needs of both the owners and the end users. Only then is it possible to provide customized solutions that prove themselves in practice. Developing these modular products requires an overall approach that covers manufacture, delivery, and assembly. A well-thought-out modular construction and production system — consisting of cleverly designed, prefabricated modules — not only increases quality but also guards against interface problems. Furthermore, it addresses skilled labor shortages, material scarcity, and weather-based delays. And finally, it ensures that budget agreements can be met. It should be noted, however, that transitioning from a project- to a product-oriented business model also brings extensive changes to the company itself. Whereas buildings used to be planned on the basis of individual contracts, company experts now need to produce product-optimized solutions. Sales departments, which previously responded to calls for tenders, now need to position their products proactively on the market. Procurement, which used to act with respect to specific projects, can now establish long-term partnerships for ongoing series production. As is evident, introducing a new product requires a company-wide strategy that extends across all functions and processes and needs to be clearly defined by top management. Kleusberg’s example shows that transitioning to a product approach is not only possible in theory but can also be successfully applied in practice. At a time when the construction industry needs to reinvent itself, modularization and industrial construction offer a promising chance to tackle current challenges and also increase efficiency and customer satisfaction. Companies that view modularization and industrial construction as opportunities today will come out ahead of the game in the future.
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