The shift towards modular technology

Jackie Maginnis discusses the offsite arena and examines the uptake in modular construction

Despite recent reports that suggest government departments are not adopting a presumption in favour of offsite, the Modular and Portable Building Association (MPBA) has research that shows volumetric modular construction is undergoing a period of considerable growth.

As an optimum building technique for timber, steel and concrete designs – volumetric modular construction is at the forefront of offsite techniques, making up 60-70 per cent of the market. These solutions arguably form a modern method of construction (MMC) that is experiencing entirely different growth trends to that of other offsite approaches.

Over 50 per cent of our membership supplied detailed financial information to support the MPBA’s survey report commissioned through the University of Salford. This market intelligence from 2018 – 2019, provides evidence of a turnover in the modular and portable building sector that exceeds £2,956million.

This figure excludes the turnover from the major players who have recently entered the volumetric modular arena including banking giant Goldman Sachs, investing £75m into modular housing business, TopHat, as well as Japan’s biggest housebuilder striking a multi-million-pound deal that will see Sekisui House partner with Homes England and Urban Splash. This agreement will also see a £55m investment into Urban Splash but the largest deal by far was 9revealed by ilke Homes’ involving a £100m agreement with Places for People.

Historically, manufacturing operations have been considered extensions to construction processes, instead of an integral and important part. This perception is changing. As offsite has become an increasingly dominant force that utilises high levels of technology, the lines between manufacturing, engineering and construction have become blurred, creating a need for new skills and redefining existing ones.

Offsite technology offers benefits that have had a huge positive impact on the construction industry, bringing longstanding traditional practices up to date. The first key shift away from traditional methods is that build processes take place in controlled factory conditions which requires a change of mind-set and approach.

The optimum technology: volumetric modular
Modular and volumetric practices augment the construction industry with a multitude of benefits that span from greener, healthier environments to maximised sustainability, heavily reduced costs and faster build times.

The modular industry has had a remarkable impact on reducing costs while increasing quality and safety. Having gained considerable momentum over the past few years, advanced modular techniques reduce build times by an impressive 50-60 per cent. The demand for customisationhas led the volumetric modular manufacturing industry to develop methods for adaptation during the mass production process to meet individual requirements.

Module selection is influenced by transportation dimensions and shipping distances. A number of other factors are also holistically considered to achieve optimal design efficiency. Module connection details and quantities, installation and crane costing rates, specific site logistics, all must be considered, together with foundations/transfer decks, volumes of required materials and other service core requirements.

Each individual material can be selected specifically for its performance characteristics, tailoring every inch of a modular build. Eco-friendly materials are often specified, and waste is recycled for future projects wherever possible. Not only this, but components are also available in a range of sizes for expansions whenever necessary.

As units are factory manufactured, stringent quality control processes can be undertaken within these well-managed environments. These in-house conditions also prevent weather from inhibiting the construction process, guaranteeing efficiency. On top of this, modular construction enables site work and building processes to be completed simultaneously, reducing labour costs and build times.

Transportation rarely poses issues, as pre-constructed, self-contained units can be shipped to virtually any location, ideal when new premises need to be constructed within limited timeframes. As modules are designed to withstand long-distance transportation and craning onto foundations, they are structurally stronger than most traditionally constructed building materials.

Architectural creativity
Many contemporary architects are embracing volumetric modular to achieve striking façades with bespoke designs. Construction clients appreciate cutting-edge building techniques, particularly with the short lead times of modular construction. Modular buildings are energy efficient, fully compliant with building regulations and can be tailored to meet individual customer requirements.

Modular approaches are revolutionising the construction industry. While traditional build processes are laced with pitfalls, hidden costs and are highly disruptive – volumetric modular buildings are easy to plan, budget, and are quick to erect. Modular technology brings a host of benefits to the construction industry, contributing to healthier, safer and more cost-efficient environments.

Jackie Maginnis is Chief Executive at the MPBA. The MPBA plays a key role in the connecting of sectors in the modular and portable building industry. The association collaborates with specialist technical advisors to enhance innovation in the design and manufacture of modular buildings. These can be designed and manufactured from timber, steel or concrete, in any size and shape to meet individual client needs while ensuring full compliance with building regulations.
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