The success of the Nightingale hospitals thrust MMC into the spotlight. Here was a modular building project creating fast and innovative solutions to capacity issues within the NHS. In just 9 days, the media watched as the ExCel Exhibition Centre was transformed into a modern hospital using factory built modular components, constructed off-site and assembled quickly to create high-quality patient bays and entire wards.
Driving the economy
As traditional construction sites locked down, the modular sector flourished. Large scale factories allowed seamless social distancing and helped continue the fundamental work of the construction sector.
Worth more than £90 billion and employing around 10% of the workforce, the construction industry is fundamental to building the UK economy. But with traditional construction sites and methods not suited to the new normal of distancing and hygiene regulations, now is the time for MMC to future proof the industry and drive a safe return to the workplace.
It's inevitable that clients will have one eye on a future lockdown when making project decisions. Which could be the catalyst modular construction needs to drive the modernisation of the industry. In Wigan, eight low energy eco-homes were constructed on site by the famous pier in just three days after leaving the factory. These market-leading energy efficient buildings could hold the key to the housing crisis, cutting emissions and reducing material waste and pollution on site.
Of course, modular units need to get on-site somehow but MMC embraces both volumetric units and panels that can be assembled where required. Depending on the environment, the method can be tailored to the means.
'Prefabs' gained a bad reputation after WWII for providing poor quality housing. But the 21st century prefab couldn't be more different. Low energy, high quality and affordable homes are pre-built with class leading insulation panels meeting A level EPC standards. Importantly, a high degree of personalisation is possible with pre-fitted kitchens and bathrooms as displayed in Ikea's BokLok homes.
Factory construction gives a greater level of quality control over units or panels and errors can be caught and minimised. The greater uniformity is of huge importance in large scale building projects where homes can all be produced to a similar calibre. That guarantees the same high standard of finish throughout the entire project and adds value for purchasers and tenants.
Micro manufacturing facilities
Another way forward for the industry could lie in micro manufacturing and the development of micro manufacturing facilities located around the country.
Businesses working in partnership could deliver support to councils around the country with small scale production of highly sustainable homes that provide local jobs. These factories could also support the booming self-build market, satisfying the need for affordable, low energy homes.
The Covid-19 challenge
Covid-19 continues to present a significant challenge to the traditional construction sector. But a focus on MMC built sustainable homes could be a neat solution to the housing crisis, leaving traditional construction firms to tackle the large-scale infrastructure projects that are top of the government's agenda.