Volumetric Modular: Providing an Agile Solution

12th March, 2021

Jackie Maginnis, Chief Executive, Modular and Portable Building Association (MPBA) discusses how offsite construction can respond to help provide a solution to the many recent events that have resulted in the construction industry coming under unprecedented scrutiny.

The pressure of operating COVID-19 secure construction environments combined with tough schedules and difficult specification decisions are all taking a toll on developers – particularly those operating in the public sector.

As we strive to recover, it has forced a rethink of the way buildings are designed and built. When we eventually return to the ‘new normal’ – it is a given, at least in the short term, that social distancing measures are here to stay. There is now widespread agreement that in order to operate effectively and safely developers need to reduce their reliance on labourintensive traditional construction and look to new methods.

Taking the majority of the build process offsite into well-managed factory environments requires much less manual labour, making volumetric modular methods inherently easier to implement safer social distancing measures and enhanced hygiene regimes. Factories also offer health and safety benefits because they are controlled settings where procedures and process take priority.

Another significant aspect is the supply chain simplicity offered via modular approaches – taking many of the complexities of specification issues off the critical construction timeline. The pandemic combined with the Brexit transition has the potential to create serious challenges, with an established supply chain predominately in the UK, using volumetric modular technology can help avoid disruption.

The potential for a faster and more streamlined build process was highlighted by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills Council which estimated that if 25% of the construction sector transitioned to offsite approaches, a 3.6% increase in productivity would be readily achievable.

Modular technology reduces build times by an impressive 50-60% when compared to traditional processes. This quick turnaround time is key for helping the construction industry offset delays in project timelines.

As has been clearly demonstrated during this time of crisis, factories can keep rolling and where there is an urgent need – increase shifts up to 24 hours a day. Many of our members made gargantuan efforts to help support the construction of additional healthcare and education facilities over the last few months, achieving unprecedented delivery schedules of a few weeks rather than many months or even years.

There is quite rightly a renewed focus on the quality of materials and the processes involved in creating buildings. Again, this is where modular construction can offer some much-needed assurances, as the supply chains and testing regimes are much more connected. Not only does this ensure smooth delivery within a tight timeframe, but it also limits the opportunities for materials to be ‘engineered’ out and allows for a high level of accountability throughout the build process.

The climate emergency remains a key concern. Compared to traditionally built projects – up to 67% less energy is required to produce a modular build. Offsite construction also has a positive impact on the carbon footprint of the building as it allows for a reduction in the total number of deliveries to sites by up to 90%. In addition, not only is the actual construction process ‘greener’, but the airtightness achieved in using volumetric modular approaches enhances in use energy efficiency and reduces carbon omissions for the lifetime of the building. Modules can now also be factory fitted with sustainable technology such as solar panels and energy-efficient glass.

Some developers have remained entrenched in outmoded methods, however we are now seeing a shift in attitude when it comes to modular technology, largely driven by increased awareness of the time and cost-saving benefits. This in turn is leading to an increase in adoption. According to Forbes, 7.5% of the homes built in the UK in 2017/18 were modular, and increased growth was forecast for 2020 even prior to the pandemic. The government are trying to address multiple issues, but housing still remains a priority. Back in October, Housing Minister Secretary Robert Jenrick said the government will listen to views on where new homes should be built but will not cut its target to build 300,000 homes a year. It has been a matter of great debate if the target will be met but the need for new, affordable homes is not going away and modular construction offers a solution.

Without an even wider adoption of modular technology, it is going to be difficult to achieve the levels of agility, flexibility, responsiveness and the assurance the UK is going to need to both actively and safely achieve the scale of the public sector and housing targets.

To read full article, go to Offsite Magazine issue 27!

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