Meet Colby Swanson

Colby is a construction industry expert with a passion for developing bold visions and translating them into results. He loves challenges and challenging the status quo and see’s the true potential in the volumetric commercial industry and how VBC will play a role in that growth.

His entrepreneurial spirit and love of the construction industry were developed building his family cabin, framing houses in college and as a co-founder of four companies (a consultancy, an IT firm, two construction companies).

He’s worked at a highly regarded non-profit consulting firm helping builders, contractors, product manufactures, utilities and government agencies try to be good environmental stewards as well as working for BASF, leading long-term strategic planning and cross divisional business development in the construction space.

Right now you are consulting for VBC. What is your focus concentrated on?

My immediate focus is to upfit the Hamlet factory to increase throughput, and support/counsel VB with an outsider’s perspective. Longer term focus is to quantify and rationalize the most optimal building method of converting raw material to finished buildings. This entails creating a digital twin of the current factory (baseline) so that we can virtually design factory 2.0.

What do you hope to achieve through your time here?

My expected outcome is for VBC to become the first offsite modular manufacturer (in N. America) to increase a legacy factories throughput by 8X-10X. I also expect to drive revenue by opening a new market, the affordable housing market segment, to help “future proof” the company for when the next downturn hits.

What is it about the business that led you to step in and provide your expertise?

Having spent 10 years early in my career dealing w/ building failure and class action litigation, I recognized a pattern of systemic issues preventing our industries ability to meet demand affordably. The rising cost of land, material and labor mixed w/ a healthy dose of industry complacency and arrogance has stagnated progress at a time when the construction space HAS to change. As Plato said in the Republic, “necessity is the mother of invention”.

What is your history with Vaughan? How did you meet?

Vaughan and I met at an industry event where I was speaking to a group of legacy modular manufacturers. My talk centered around the fact that insurgents (new entrants) are rushing into the offsite market and setting the pace of the offsite transformation … and these insurgents don’t care about incumbents (legacy manuf’ers), industry norms, industry inertia, stranded assets, legacy business relationships, etc. Vaughan was sitting in the front row shaking his head in agreement but the rest of the crowd was challenging my premise and telling me why the insurgents would not succeed. Vaughan raised his hand, stood up, turned to his peers and politely told them that all they were doing was complaining and making excuses and that if they didn’t get their heads out of the sand, they would in fact get their lunch eaten. This “turned” the crowd and soon they were asking me, “what they should do” … it was almost a comical how fast they changed their tune. After my talk, Vaughan and I formally introduced ourselves and he invited me Philadelphia and Mifflinburg to take a look at the VBC vision and operation. He and I have a kindred spirit of both disrupting the industry while improving the lives of those around us.

Where do you see this industry in 3, 5, or 10 years?

3 years, more of the same … industry and companies resist change (its human nature) because of risk. The legacy construction stakeholders have tremendous inertia and so off-site construction will continue to operate below the radar. Softening of US residential construction market will correlate w/ slowing global economy.
5 years, new off-site entrants (like VBC) continue to grow amid continued lackluster US residential construction market, supplanting legacy players. “Effective” construction will supplant “efficient” construction to better manage limited natural resources, labor constraints, and growing climate change impacts.
10 years, a strengthening US construction market will powers the off-site industry into 20-25% market share (from 4% in 2019). The largest construction companies will be made up of many new entrants, some of whom do not exist today.

You have an interesting story and path that led you to manufacturing/construction innovation. Tell us what intrigued you to express the need for change in the construction/modular industry once you got into it?

I have always wanted to make a substantive impact in the world, and thru the years I have realized one way for me to do this is helping delivering better, more affordable housing to working folks. With some TLC and modern advancements, the offsite industry is primed to answer the call. It will be very difficult to unlock the offsite industries potential but I love a challenge and I can see the team at VBC is a great vehicle to deliver results.

What is the most exciting innovation you have seen that could revolutionize the industry and how does it fit into our business?

3D printing of structures and components blends two elements of construction, building methods and materials, that will revolutionize the industry. On the building methods front, 3D printing is the ultimate distributed and automated construction technology, effectively bringing the “factory” to the “job site”. This will have profound effects on cost (lower), speed (faster) and building types (new). On the building materials front, which has had limited basic construction material advances in the past 100 years (wood, concrete, steel, glass, drywall, fiberglass, etc.), we will see new composites that are stronger, lighter, more insulative, easily repaired, aesthetically pleasing (hopefully!) and much more.
Innovative off-site stakeholders should position themselves to leverage 3D construction technology both in the factory and on the job site. In the factory, 3D printing should enable factories to produce more in-house components and outsourcing less to 3rd party manufacturers, thus backwards integration of their supply chain. Additionally, 3D printing represents a progressive on-site “service” that coupled w/ an off-site’s manufacturing capabilities, should create a new hybrid class of construction company that is not defined as either off-site or on-site. The general story of “off-site industry growth” is not one of “retreat from the field” or “shifting from on-site to off-site” or “industrializing construction”, but rather it is a story of our industry can become hyper effective at delivering buildings by embracing manufacturing know-how, technological know-how and breaking norms.
Based on the time compression of product innovation and adoption in construction and other non-construction industries, I estimate we are inside of 15 years from a paradigm shift in construction materials, methods (on-site, off-site, hybrid) and machines (robotics, automation).