ecent Government announcements – underpinned by a number of industry reports and major investment declarations – is advancing the off-site sector. Driven by the demand for more predictability throughout the construction process, the resurgence in off-site construction has resulted in increased levels of market activity and innovation. Whilst the house-building industry appears to be grabbing many of the headlines, off-site construction is also rapidly expanding in other sectors. Building design and construction is the sum of many parts – some projects demand unique and one-off solutions, but for many, rapid and robust systems are required to get buildings on-stream and ready for occupation or commercial use. As the adoption of off-site technology by what has previously been a traditional industry is gaining momentum, now the transition to more repeatable, DfMA-led and comprehensive solutions is the next logical step.
Volumetric building modules are pre-assembled three-dimensional units that can be combined, stacked or linked to form complete permanent or relocatable buildings. This type of system is best suited to projects where modules form rooms, allowing extensive factory finishing and high levels of repeatability. The superstructure is more often formed from steel framing systems and frequently a combination of hot-rolled and light gauge steel.
Presently, residential applications
include single living accommodation units for MoD projects, student halls of residence and key worker housing sectors but applications in the medium- and high-rise Built to Rent (BTR) sector are becoming increasingly prevalent. Beyond residential applications, volumetric modular has been best suited to markets where the speed of programme and restricted site distribution are paramount such as hotels, healthcare treatment centres, schools and offices.
The growing use of volumetric modular has seen an evolution in systems types. The main types of modules are light gauge steel, capable of six to 10 storeys depending on the system type. With the greater demand for medium- to high-rise applications, corner columns with hot-rolled or cold-formed stronger steel sections and more robust floors – often using concrete – have emerged.
Developments in volumetric modular building technology are opening new opportunities for companies such as EOS Facades to design, manufacture and supply entire solutions or form part of a hybrid structure.
Volumetric pods, on the other hand, are typically non-load-bearing, factory-finished internally, complete with building services but not finished externally. Most commonly, the framing of the structure is either light steel frame or hot-rolled, hollow steel sections. Types of pods include washrooms, bath and shower rooms, kitchens and plant rooms.
EOS has been involved in the development of pre-fabricated utility cupboards too; these systems, similar to volumetric pods, can be used on any project and there is no limit to how they can be customised to meet project requirements for ﬁt-out of any space that requires building services. The pre-plumbed modules include a self-supporting frame, plumbing, waste connections and typically underfloor heating manifolds and MVHR solutions. On-site, the modules are lightweight and easy to handle, making installation even faster.
Steel framing systems do not suffer from shrinkage or unpredictable differential movement, which affects other forms of construction. It is not predominately a single-sector or single-solution technology and can add value to a project ‘upstream’! The adaptability of steel results in systems being used in a variety of ways and forms to meet the demands of low-, medium- and high-rise developments across all construction sectors. Volumetric modules and pods further extend the appeal and specification; the steel framing sector is future-proof and ready to meet the demands of the construction industry.
Off-site system manufacturers are operating in exciting times for the built environment; whatever the construction sector, there has never been a better time to capitalise on the raft of benefits that factory-based off-site technologies can deliver.