The construction sector is entering a period of change. With traditional methods mired by escalating costs, prolonged timelines, environmental concerns and huge skills shortages, it’s clear the industry needs to adapt if we’re to overcome the many challenges it faces.
Whether it’s achieving net zero, the housing crisis or the need for safe, affordable homes, to name but a few, is there a silver bullet that can propel our industry into a green and plentiful future? No. But doing the same thing and expecting a different result each time is not a viable strategy anymore.
Change is needed
Traditional methods will always have a place in construction, but they cannot, by their nature, be the future. MMC and offsite construction are not a new concept (they’ve been around since the 19th century), but these approaches have been touted as a valuable tool in our work towards a changed and reinvigorated industry.
MMC and offsite construction don’t have all the answers. Still, proper implementation can set us on a positive trajectory towards real progress and, along with future innovation, might allow us to meet the lofty objectives we’ve set for ourselves.
What’s all the fuss about offsite construction and MMC?
Simply put, MMC and offsite construction involves the pre-fabrication of building components in a controlled factory environment before being transported to a building site for assembly. This shift from the conventional onsite construction process to a more controlled, offsite model is instrumental in enhancing quality, ensuring precise tolerances and significantly reducing waste. The controlled factory settings are conducive to meticulous quality assurance processes, ensuring each component adheres to stringent standards before being dispatched to the construction site.
That translates to several distinct benefits over the traditional method:
1. Faster construction timelines: The speed of offsite construction and MMC significantly trims down the overall construction timeframe. Unlike traditional methods, offsite construction is less susceptible to delays caused by adverse weather conditions, thus ensuring projects stay on schedule.
2. Enhanced quality control: The factory-controlled conditions underpinning offsite construction and MMC facilitate rigorous quality control, ensuring the components are of superior quality and conform to the stipulated standards, a marked improvement over conventional onsite construction practices.
3. Cost efficiency: Offsite construction also heralds better cost control. The precise planning and reduced onsite activities curtail unexpected expenditures, a common issue plaguing traditional construction processes.
4. Sustainability: Net zero and carbon consciousness are issues that loom large across our industry. Offsite construction and MMC stands out for its reduced waste generation. Traditional construction sites are notorious for the voluminous waste they produce, a concern significantly mitigated by the controlled environment of offsite construction. Moreover, the reduction in onsite activities corresponds to lower emissions, underscoring the environmental benefits of offsite construction.
5. Innovation and technology integration: The factory settings of offsite construction and MMC are ripe for the integration of innovative materials and technologies. This facilitates adherence to evolving sustainability standards, reinforcing the environmental credentials of offsite construction.
Skills gap? What skills gap?
The recognition of these benefits within the industry is mirrored in the growing adoption of MMC. With skilled trades, like bricklaying, facing unprecedented skills shortages, a shift towards MMC and offsite is almost a product of necessity.
With the country failing to get fresh blood into training programmes, it’s the less populated parts of the country that are suffering the most. It’s a potential barrier to any levelling up agenda when northern towns outside the bigger cities simply don’t have the skilled workforce needed for urban development and change.
However, under an offsite/MMC model, the need for those in-demand trades is reduced. At Mansell, our factory is an important part of the local community, providing rewarding vocations in a central location. Likewise, our onsite team makes sure the work we do off site is installed exactly as it should be on site.
Industry adoption and the importance of true collaboration
Let’s not be under any illusions, offsite and MMC are not without their challenges. The industry has been used to working a certain way for so long, and widespread change is always challenging, particularly in construction. When implemented poorly and without the required communication and collaboration, MMC and offsite can be problematic.
The proper industry adoption of the method means MMC and offsite specialists need to be included in the earliest design stages of a project. This collaborative approach means design pitfalls and communication disconnects are caught before they become an issue on site, enabling projects to be finished seamlessly and to the highest quality standards. This is a basic requirement of the adoption of the offsite/MMC method.
Quality builds, delivered at scale, is within the untapped potential of offsite and MMC, but the onus is on us as an industry to get the implementation right.
By embracing offsite and MMC and by changing our working practices to ensure its proper implementation, we’ll be taking a step into the future and delivering homes and commercial buildings that can stand the test of time.