Modular construction is gradually becoming established in the UK as a legitimate alternative to traditional construction, moving from specialist to mainstream, but the rate of growth has been slow compared to European countries such as Germany and the market leaders Sweden. However, if the government is to deliver on its manifesto promise of building 300,000 new homes a year from the mid-2020s, then it is highly likely we'll see a considerable acceleration in that growth. So why are both industry and government ready to see modular as the way of the future? In our Webinar “Hard Hats Chat: Women in MMC” we spoke to industry experts Hiba Ali, Victoria Greenfield and Emily King about just some of the many reasons they think modular is so great.
1. Speed and Efficiency
Hiba Ali stated she was ‘breath-taken’ at the speed of modular building, having seen for herself a 44-storey tower built in just 7 months as Senior Design Manager for TIDE Construction. As Hiba suggests, modular construction drastically reduces the time needed for a build, on average by 50%. One of several reasons for this is that while the phase one foundation work is being carried out on site, the production of the modules can begin elsewhere, with no need to wait for phase one to be completed. Teams are then free to move on to the next job, developers see a faster return on their investment and both buyers and tenants get the homes they need sooner. Modular building is also a simpler process than traditional methods. The construction process is more easily managed and the assembly itself uses much less equipment and therefore is lighter on energy and resources.
Traditional construction sites are notoriously dangerous. Even with the most stringent safety programmes and advanced risk assessments, injury and even death is never completely preventable. 58.6% of deaths on construction sites have one of four causes: being struck by a heavy object, electrocution, getting caught in machinery or being crushed. In contrast the safety levels achieved in modular construction are immeasurably higher. As put by Hiba, “The factories are controlled environments and working at a height is hugely limited.” Thus, with production largely being in factories, scheduling can be better planned and the safety of the working environment significantly better controlled.
3. Improved Mental Health
One benefit of modular that is often forgotten is its improvement of construction workers mental wellbeing. In the webinar, Emily King, Divisional Director at Spatial Initiative, put forward these questions: “Construction gets the worst suicide rate than any other industry – so why are we still dragging people away from their homes and families? Why do we still make people work in dangerous conditions?” Her questions highlight how MMC can improve worker’s mental health – by allowing people to work near their homes, and through the peace of mind that a safer work environment brings.
4. Quality control
As each section or module is constructed it can easily be subjected to quality tests which means the process can be kept in alignment with budgets, schedules and specifications. It eliminates the need for unplanned workarounds and ad hoc responses to unforeseen complications. Each stage is signed off separately, which makes it easier to achieve the finished result according to plan. In the Webinar Victoria Greenfield, who is currently the Finance Director at MAR Offsite put it best: “There’s a lot more control, and more technology for cost-savings. Increased control means opportunity to catch out mistakes before they happen. This means the overall quality of the build when it lands on site is so much better. Offset that with the fact you’ve got site working simultaneously with the factory, that’s where you get the time saving, the project management saving and it’s worry free for the client.”
5. Sustainability and Reduced Waste
It is no secret that modular builds are more sustainable, and come much closer to the net-zero target than traditional methods. When a company has to carry out the entire process of demolition or ground breaking, foundation laying and floor-by-floor construction, the potential for waste is significant. Modular construction achieves much less waste by manufacturing in small sections it can closely monitor the quantities of material needed and keep within required limits, thereby keeping costs down and protecting the environment. Additionally, modular building is much more energy-efficient and can make much greater use of sustainable materials.
It is no surprise, then, that modular builds can be so much more sustainable than traditional alternatives, with some reports claiming waste is reduced by a staggering 90%. Hiba celebrated the sustainability of MMC, stating ‘We’re almost there with that zero-waste target. The figures in MMC compared to traditional construction are distinctly different. We are on the right path.”
The nature of modular construction also means it is easy to add extension modules, or even to relocate the entire building, piece by piece. This is a much more sustainable alternative to demolition or rebuilding. Modular structures are also recyclable, because they can be endlessly repurposed.
Although not currently seen as a more affordable option, Victoria Greenfield outlined how, with government target guidelines in mind, Modular construction will rapidly become more affordable than any other type of construction: “We are making modular designs the most cost-efficient for meeting the new Health, Safety, Sustainability and net-zero guidelines.” She also stressed that the cost is being reduced with more investment into MMC: “There’s so many ways the cost element will come down... machinery is improving daily…economies of scale…in depth planning reducing down time in the factory with the use of tools like B.I.M 360 and Autodesk.” For those living in modular buildings it’s also cheaper in the long run because they largely eliminate the need for surface repairs, and they also require less costly heating.
7. Digital innovation
The final point we discussed in the Webinar is the innovative aspect of MMC. As previously discussed, modular building is far more reliant on technology due to the nature of the design and factory processes. Hiba stated that, “MMC will be a catalyst for BIM – a main tool when it comes to managing design across all construction.” This suggests that with more investment put into MMC, digital innovation platforms like BIM will become more and more prominent across construction. As put by Emily King, with MMC “The opportunities are endless.”
Have you been inspired by the benefits of modern methods of construction and wondering how you can get involved? Get in touch with our team now on 020 8332 2727 or email@example.com to find out more about the free CPD accredited courses we offer candidates looking to switch from traditional to modular construction!