Development of Integrated Mechanical Pods

Shanti Pless, Stacey Rothgeb, Peter Schneider, Ankur Podder, Joseph Louis

Research output: NRELPresentation


This presentation highlights early wins, updated progress, and upcoming developments on ‘national-scale shared development platform’ for rapid prototyping, testing and validation of various integrated Mechanical Pod solutions and form factors. Such pod solutions consist of a set of all-electric heat pump mechanical equipment that have integrated functionalities through built-in controls, with heating, cooling, hot water, ventilation (including energy recovery), electrical management, and battery storage within a single package. The presentation draws inspiration from the success of bathroom pods in the US modular construction industry, UK’s efforts with unitizing mechanical systems as ‘utility cupboards’, and VEIC’s early wins in design-build of all-electric Mechanical Pod solutions in Vermont. The presentation includes researchers and partners involved with NREL in Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA), Virtual Design and Construction (VDC), and digital twin based process optimization modeling of integrated Mechanical Pod solutions. The presentation aims to highlight early wins from such a platform and how various physical and virtual tools are currently being employed as part of NREL’s ongoing multi-year project funded by US DOE. Streamlined procurement, coordination, installation, and O&M of Mechanical Pods such that the majority of work is delegated to the off-site modular factory implies monetary savings. Such a seemingly basic shift in location of the construction process leads to great reduction in complexity, first cost, lead time, and waste, and greater opportunities for innovative compartmentalization and integration of mechanical systems appropriately sized for each apartment or hotel guest room. However, past studies on unitized combination systems show that high installation costs, maintenance issues, challenges with system integration, limitations in existing electrical infrastructure, and lack of architecturally appealing solutions are key barriers. NREL and partners aim to address key barriers through DfMA approach, rapid prototyping and testing, and digital twin process optimization modeling. The presentation is also a call for interested entities to partner with NREL as part of the national-scale development platform, help drive both product and process innovation, and encourage open source sharing of learnings. Learning objectives include (1) learn about the vision of national-scale shared development platform for process-product innovation on integrated mechanical pod solutions and how to get involved, (2) gain an understanding of the components of an all-electric, high performance home, design characteristics and equipment included in an all-electric mechanical pod, integration of mechanical systems within a modular factories’ assembly line, and the system’s commissioning, operation and maintenance. The pre-planning and coordination with the factory and sub-contractors are also highlighted, (3) gain an understanding of using process modeling tools to quantify resource-constrained performance of operations (such as integration of energy efficiency strategies) to manufacture modules of varying design, (4) gain insights on virtual design, rapid prototyping, and emulated testing of various form factors across different climatic conditions. The need for such preliminary testing with open source sharing of learnings will also be highlighted.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages85
StatePublished - 2021

Publication series

NamePresented at the 2021 ASHRAE Virtual Design and Construction Conference, 8-10 March 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-5500-79948


  • all-electric
  • buildings
  • commercial buildings
  • design for manufacturing and assembly
  • digital twin
  • energy efficiency
  • energy recovery ventilator
  • heat pump
  • heat pump water heater
  • HVAC&R system
  • industrialized construction innovation
  • integration
  • mechanical pods
  • MEP system
  • modular construction
  • multifamily
  • net-zero energy
  • process modeling
  • rapid prototyping
  • scalability
  • virtual design & construction
  • zero-energy homes


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