How Can Construction Process Simulation Modeling Aid the Integration of Lean Principles in the Factory-Built Housing Industry?

Ankur Podder, Shanti Pless, Isabelina Nahmens, Ondrej Labik, Alison Donovan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


New and existing factories that produce and deliver factory-built housing can benefit from construction process simulation modeling to explore the integration of Lean principles in their operations. Construction process simulation modeling provides digital or virtual recreations of the real-world factory environments to visualize, quantify, analyze, and optimize their underlying behavior, including factory productivity, material flow, labor dynamics, bottlenecks, and work scope. One of the key benefits of process simulation modeling is the ability to create and compare "what-if" scenarios, including integrating Lean principles such as reducing waste (for example, transportation, waiting), line balancing, and just-in-time concepts. In general, three process simulation methods are widely used: discrete event simulation (DES), agentbased modeling (ABM), and system dynamics (SD). Myriad process simulation software also is available, but depending on the industry, complexity of the system, and purposes of the simulation, some software might be more appropriate. Similar to how computer-aided design (CAD) software such as AutoCAD and Rhinoceros enable building design of modular or factory-built housing, process simulation modeling software such as jStrobe, ProModel, and AnyLogic can enable factory design of new and existing factories to deliver modular affordable housing at scale, as opposed to traditional site-built construction. Software with DES capabilities can help generate a process model that is a logical representation of resources and activities in a factory. Software with CAD-DES integration can leverage product-process data integration to help spatially visualize a DES model of the factory in the CAD environment. Software with multimethod simulation capabilities, widely used in the manufacturing industry, brings together DES, ABM, and SD in a single platform that allows visualization, quantification, analyses, and optimization at varying data fidelities. Near-real-time data from an existing factory can be directly plugged into multimethod simulation software so that the construction process simulation model is a near-accurate representation of the real-world factory conditions. This report provides insights into the use of simulation as an aid to integrate Lean concepts in factories, including guidelines for selecting the appropriate process simulation modeling method and software. These insights have been developed as part of ongoing process simulation modeling research, development, and demonstration projects at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory focused on how process simulation models can enable better integration of resilience, energy efficiency, and low-carbon design strategies.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)331-344
Number of pages14
JournalCityscape (Washington, DC)
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5500-81208


  • energy efficiency
  • factories
  • factory-built housing
  • low-carbon strategies
  • modular construction
  • process simulation modeling
  • productivity
  • resilience
  • simulation
  • solar
  • storage


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