The House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee began an inquiry into off-site manufacture for construction in March and issued invitations to provide written evidence to be submitted to the committee.
Published on 19th July, the committee’s report ‘Off-site manufacture for construction: Building for change’ states that the construction sector as it currently operates cannot meet the UK’s need for housing and may struggle to meet the need for infrastructure. Given that the UK already lags behind other countries in construction productivity, and is facing a labour shortage, the Government and construction sector must urgently find solutions.
The report finds that there is an urgent need for a ‘radical overhaul’ of the UK construction sector. The UK Government is now expected to provide a formal response to the report highlighting how it aims to address the points raised and actions required. The House of Lords' committee has made it clear that off-site manufacture could help increase productivity, as well as the quality and efficiency of buildings, while reducing labour demands and the environmental impacts associated with traditional construction.
Our own contribution to the House of Lords' committee is aligned closely with its findings. We also support its view that the take-up of off-site manufacture has been varied and limited because the construction sector is working with outdated and unsustainable business models that are not conducive to off-site manufacture.
However, despite all of the praise that off-site construction is receiving, the sector is still dogged by the reputational legacy of poor-quality pre-fabs from past decades.
In fact, according to research from Ecobuild*, a fifth of the population think pre-fabricated housing is poor quality, with one in six claiming it is old-fashioned. Also, nearly a fifth of those interviewed didn’t think a modular home would last as long as a traditionally-built house. Despite the widespread support for an increase in modular construction, poor perception is a key barrier for uptake with homeowners. In reality, these people would not be able to tell whether the building they were occupying was built using off-site or modular techniques. They are, to all intents and purpose, completely indistinguishable to traditional builds.
Present-day factory-manufactured buildings, like those created by Caledonian, are light years away from most common perceptions. As such, off-site is slowly becoming more popular with housing providers, and we hope that this will encourage developers to reconsider how they deliver their build programme.
In preparation, we have signed a collaborative partnership agreement with Arcadis, the leading global design and consultancy firm for natural and built assets. Focusing specifically on the residential sector, we are working alongside the company to develop new modular designs and to build additional capacity in the commercial and technical delivery of new housing.
As part of the partnership, Arcadis brings residential insight and expertise, along with design and construction management support. This allows us to focus on our manufacturing and delivery capacity. It means that, together, we can offer a fully integrated housing solution, from initial design concept through to manufacturing, construction and project completion.
Compared to building using traditional methods, the residential sector benefits enormously from off-site construction. More than 80 to 90% of the work can be completed in our factory, a quality-controlled environment, unaffected by the weather or skills shortages on site. This significantly reduces the likelihood of delays to the project. In addition, off-site offers minimal disruption to the surrounding community by ensuring rapid build and significantly reducing deliveries and activities to site.
Suitable to more than just housing, off-site construction benefits are accessible to all sectors – schools, hotels, communal buildings, further and higher education, retail, commercial outlets and health, amongst others. Offering a full turnkey solution, we design and build to an exacting specification, using BIM, Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) and lean manufacturing techniques, meaning we can offer a building that fits seamlessly alongside any existing structures.
Manufacturing off-site, in itself, creates a safer workplace, being a more controlled environment, requiring less need for working at height. Modular is also more economical and kinder to the environment, with a dramatic reduction in waste and the consumption of materials such as cement, compared to traditional build methods.
Home sweet home
A great example of how modular homes can address the UK housing shortage is the revolutionary new three-storey Urban Houses that we recently manufactured and installed for Berkeley Homes.
Our innovative SMART construction solution meant that we were able to incorporate a number of innovative design features into 75 modules that created 13 houses at Kidbrooke Village in the London Borough of Greenwich. This included a large open-plan living area and 360° panoramic-view roof terrace, reached by an external staircase.
The modern development provides buyers with a choice of three and four bedrooms with well-planned interiors that are adaptable to householders’ needs. For instance, they can be converted into separate accommodation on the ground floor to meet the changing needs of the householder. By incorporating a private roof terrace into the design, the houses have also retained a traditional street setting, whilst at the same time providing residents with plenty of private outdoor space.
A key part of the House of Lords' report is that off-site offers “clear and tangible benefits”, but that “much of the evidence” heard by the committee painted a picture of a fragmented industry lacking in trust, when collaboration between clients, designers and contractors was required to make off-site manufacture work.
Our own methodology is to take traditionally-constructed buildings and apply manufacturing techniques to drive efficiencies. This is achieved through three core areas – the use of BIM, Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) and lean manufacturing techniques. Precision manufacturing then helps us provide a finished product that is more efficient and of far higher quality.
Any manufacturing process gains high productivity by adopting mass standardisation of products. The process of off-site manufacturing will no doubt increase the productivity of the construction industry, but a step further would be the standardisation of design and specifications.
The implementation of a standardised design solution across numerous schools has resulted in the development of our standard product which we now offer as an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution to school expansion. The residential sector could learn a lot from this and deliver improved efficiencies by having a ‘standardised’ approach to developments rather than an outdated, costly and protracted ‘project-specific design and build’ approach.
*2018 survey of more than 2000 people carried out by Ecobuild