Ever since the Government’s statement in the 2017 Budget that it wanted Britain to deliver 300,000 new homes per year by 2020, there has been renewed interest in modular construction and off-site fabrication as a faster method of delivery; a considerable challenge given the current level of around 217,000 homes per year.
In the first of a series of articles, David Cordery of Trowers & Hamlins LLP examines the challenges of adopting off-site methods and how they might be overcome.
One key criticism of off-site fabrication in the past is that it fails to meet the standards of quality expected of traditional on-site methods. Although the image of off-site construction has moved away from cheap, flimsy pre-fab buildings, many developers still think that modular buildings do not look as "solid" nor as well-designed as traditionally-built structures.
So what has changed?
Undoubtedly technological advances can help for those willing to take advantage of them. Improvements in building information modelling (BIM) and 3-dimensional CAD/CAM applications mean that such software can be used to both design the product and to program the manufacturing processes, leading to a fully integrated supply method. Building tolerances achievable through BIM design exceed what was achievable even five years ago.
Development of design at an early stage and stress-testing buildability within an existing supply chain before full-scale manufacture begins are keys to making sure the modular solution works. The merging of the manufacturing process with construction activity can result in a streamlined assembly line, with the opportunity to design out any quality issues without the unpredictability of the "human factor".
If a new generation of homeowners is going to be excited by the idea of living in a modular home, then arguably they should not even recognise that their home was built using non-traditional methods. If the home incorporates high engineering standards and the integration of smart features such as climate control, audio-visual equipment and energy efficiency (all of which can be designed, tested and integrated within the controlled factory environment) then that could prove to be the catalyst for the market to fully adopt off-site methods.
The above piece is an abridged version of an article that appears in the Trowers & Hamlins LLP report "Modular construction - Is it time that we started taking modular construction seriously?".
The full report is available at > www.trowers.com/resources/thoughtleadership/is-it-time-that-we-started-taking-modular-construction-seriously