It’s almost never not natural hazard season these days. But, with Barry barreling into the Louisiana Gulf Coast, and sizzling summer winds shifting across the West Coast’s arid forests and grasslands, high season for disasters has opened with a ferocious punch.

Core Logic chief economist Frank Nothaft notes in a July outlook:

More than 500,000 acres have been burned by wildfires during the first six months of 2019, and there is increasing fire risk as the summer progresses.[1]

The bulk of wildfires are in rural locations and cause limited structure damage, but occasionally a fire explodes into an urban center. Two recent examples in California were the Camp Fire in November 2018 and the Tubbs Fire in October 2017. The Camp Fire incinerated about 20% of the one-family housing stock in Butte county and the Tubbs Fire destroyed about 6% of the one-family homes in the city of Santa Rosa in Sonoma county.[2] CoreLogic estimated the value of property loss at $11 to $13 billion from the Camp fire and $5 to $7 billion from the Tubbs fire.[3]

Nothaft concludes with five data bullet points on the impact of 2018’s named wildfire events:

  • Mortgage delinquency rates spiked at least 50% after the Tubbs and Camp fires.
  • Property loss totaled $11-13 billion for the Camp fire, $5-7 billion for the Tubbs fire.
  • Housing stock loss and increased demand by displaced families add to shelter costs.
  • Rent and home-price growth accelerated after the Tubbs and Camp wildfires.
  • Home sales fell in Paradise but jumped elsewhere in Butte county after the Camp fire.

So, disasters–whether or not you attribute them to changing climate patterns and the cause of those changes–are a thing.

Which makes it topical to talk about investments Autodesk and Citi made–announced here last week–in Factory OS, the Mare Island, Bay Area-based volumetric modular construction start-up.

It’s all about time. In many cases, it’s about the excruciating and destructive amount of time it takes those who experience a natural disaster–wildfire, hurricane, tornado, flooding, earthquake, etc.–to get back into their own home.

Factory OS, to an essential degree, is also all about time. Eliminating time and wasted materials from the building process. It’s also about leveraging valuable time in the months ahead to fully realize the promise and potential of a scalable pivot to factory-based residential construction processes that would capture both hard cost savings and soft cost expense opportunity if these processes take a complete role in building’s value chain.

“Imagine–years ago–you’re a professional who works on a typewriter, and suddenly along comes this new technology that allows you to do that work on a word processor,” says Rick Holliday, ceo of Factory OS. “That’s what these investments mean for us. We’ve had the good fortune of talking with the folks at Autodesk, whose headquarters is only a few miles from where we are, since we started up here in 2017, and it was time to deepen that relationship,” says Holliday. “If you liken it to space programs, we’ve gotten to the Mercury stage, and now–with Autodesk and Citi–we can be thinking about Apollo and space shuttle missions and beyond.”

Holliday notes that following last year’s spate of lethal and massively destructive California wildfires, some fair amount of Factory OS focus turned from permanent residential structures and communities to temporary, emergency housing for those displaced in the wake of the wildfires.

“This investment will allow us to complete and tool a 100,000 square foot Rapid Response Center facility adjacent to our 250,000 square foot main factory, and get it operational quickly,” says Holliday. “What’s more, doing this kind of work, we can take the learning and discovery from the Rapid Response Center back into how we set up workflows and competencies of the main factory, and turn those learnings into greater efficiency and management of the value chain.”

Fast Company staffer Adele Peters writes:

“The new center will look at what could be done in future disasters. “We’re going to explore if we can create a standardized unit that could be used for supportive housing, or could be stitched together to create a small-to-medium to a larger-sized building after a natural disaster quickly,” he says. Currently, the company can build four to six apartments a day; by 2020, it expects to be producing 8 to 10. With the Rapid Response Factory, it may be able to produce 12 to 16 units a day by 2021.

The company will develop a version of the assembly line that it uses to build apartment units, which currently has stations for everything from laying floors to adding appliances, so each unit is essentially complete when it reaches the building site, and can be slotted into a larger frame like a Lego block. “Job one is going to be to try to create a plan for a standardized unit and a more automated factory—sort of like building Model T’s or Volkswagens—a simple standardized unit that could be widely accessible at a really good price,” says Holliday. The company’s costs now are 30% less than traditional construction, and on track to be 50% less by the first quarter of 2020.”

By creating a hard linkage between the production and outputs to both further learning and measurable impacts on policy–via Factory OS’ relationship with the Terner Center for Housing Innovation–the partnership aims not just for economic efficiency but for social and policy impact.

The productivity gains that could lead to quantum leap capability in light of the world’s need for 13,000 new housing units per day between now and 2050 is one part of the Autodesk objective, says Joe Speicher, executive director at the Autodesk Foundation.

“We have to innovate in the space and Factory OS and their team are out ahead of this, and the ones to do it,” Speicher says. “The other aspect of this is the social impact focus.” Heather Clancy of GreenBiz writes:

Factory OS is allied with the Northern California Carpenters Union, which is using the company’s first facility to help train workers in the new digital technologies that are integral to the Factory OS approach. “Most companies are very aware that automation and machine learning” are disrupting many sectors, Speicher said. “They are actually doing something about it.”