Against a background of a national housebuilding crisis, the fallout from the Grenfell Tower disaster, and a construction industry struggling to raise productivity, one possible solution to the inefficiencies and quality issues that occur throughout the design, build and operation of new buildings might lay in modular construction.
What is modular construction?
Modular construction allows for standardised elements of a completed building to be manufactured or assembled off-site before on-site construction takes place. By establishing a library of approved standard component parts, modular construction companies are able to assemble entire sections (modules) of a building in a controlled environment before they are brought together on-site as part of a coordinated build process. The scale of a modular construction build may range from a single dwelling through to high-rise developments and customisation can be made available to clients through multiple standardised design options which can be reconfigured to suit the requirements of a specific project.
How does modular construction help overcome traditional construction issues?
Traditional construction often encounters issues of poorly specified manufacturer supplied products, build problems occurring on-site at additional and unplanned cost, limited availability of skilled labour, and a lack of traceability regarding all project-related information and decision making. Moreover, project construction can often start before the technical design is finalised leading to significant rework at additional cost. Where developments are taking place within expensive build locations this also adds a premium cost to any construction project as costs get passed to the developer when unforeseen issues occur on-site.
By validating the materials and products to be used on a construction scheme, and by simplifying the on-site assembly process prior to construction, modular construction offers developers an opportunity to be proactive and circumvent many such on-site issues. This includes making the location of essential project information readily available for project teams and at the point of project handover to the client.
What are the benefits of modular construction?
Modular construction helps to ensure client satisfaction and product surety through the certainty and quality embedded into the build process. Modular builds are less susceptible to poorly specified manufacturers’ products as time can be taken up front to validate the correct specification of materials. This allows clients to have confidence in the quality and performance that they can expect from their new building. By completing large elements of construction away from the build location, they can also reduce the length of construction time spent on-site as well as reduce the risk of unforeseen construction issues.
Where modular is combined with advanced manufacturing processes, such as automation and robotics, modular builders can also respond quickly to market conditions and leverage a factory-based approach which will maintain quality even when scaling up production. This approach is often known as off-site construction or off-site manufacturing.
What is the golden thread of information?
The golden thread of information is a concept that many in the construction industry are struggling to implement at the moment, as made clear in Dame Judith Hackitt’s Building a Safer Future following the Grenfell Tower fire. Central to the concept is guaranteeing the traceability and availability of project data and all decisions made regarding the design, construction, maintenance and decommissioning of a building. The ‘thread’ implies that the information handed over to clients, which is needed for building maintenance, must be accurate from the start of client ownership and then must remain accurate throughout the building’s lifecycle. With traditional construction, often key information such as product specification and maintenance details are not complete or accurate at the point of client handover which means the golden thread required for optimal running and safety can’t be achieved.
With modular construction, all such data can be validated and coordinated as part of a structured process, which helps provide accurate and reliable data for clients at the point of handover. This also means it is easier to identify what product and material specifications were used on previous projects should any legislation changes occur or manufacturer issues come to light.
What advantages might modular construction hold for the construction industry?
Modular construction is not a new industry concept but in learning from advanced manufacturing and best practice in other sectors, it represents a genuine opportunity to disrupt an often disjointed industry which suffers from a lack of data traceability and accountability.
With its powerful combination of controlled deliverables and customisable outputs, modular construction provides the repeatable quality and safety needed to meet client demands ranging from high-end hotels through to the exacting requirements of new hospital builds.
With the flexibility and benefits available to clients and developers alike, we should perhaps expect to see modular construction embraced more widely across all areas of construction in future.