How can MMC meet the future challenges facing the UK?
Innovative modular construction techniques are already helping the UK adapt to the dynamic and changing needs of the construction sector. But how can they help to address issues facing housing, health and the sustainability of the construction sector?
The construction industry worldwide is facing supply chain scarcity and labour shortages as a result of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. But there are signs that the cost-effectiveness, efficiency and reliability of modular construction is delivering fruit, wherever these innovative methods are adopted.
Solving the housing crisis
The UK government recognises that MMC has the potential to solve the housing crisis that has long dogged Britain. It has the potential to provide social housing at scale while promoting sustainability and growth in the construction sector.
While the UK lags behind places like Sweden and the Netherlands in adopting MMC, there is recognition that modular holds the key to creating diverse and adaptable housing stock that can directly meet the needs of individuals and communities. Better yet, MMC lets us revisualise the way we design and deliver much-needed housing stock with faster development.
MMC the pandemic beater
The advantages of MMC were never better showcased than when the pandemic hit in 2020. As testing and treatment centres, wash facilities, distribution centres for vital services and storage for medical supplies became critical, MMC stepped up to the challenge most notably in the incredibly fast turnaround on the Nightingale Hospitals.
Factory designed and manufactured healthcare facilities proved to be the perfect response to the crisis, delivering additional space and facilities in a timely manner. Prefabricated buildings reduced disruption, noise and pollution around healthcare sites. And off-site construction allowed facilities to be built in factories where it was much easier to observe social distancing and hygiene rules than on a traditional construction site.
Moving forward sustainably
The construction industry is one of the major contributors to emissions, and MMC solves the issues of sustainability at the construction and operational phase of a building.
Modular options vastly reduce the waste generated through the construction process, using precise amounts of materials for each operation. Any waste is then recycled in a timely and systemic fashion. Factory-built construction also optimises the use of labour and energy, reducing energy consumption significantly and making any build more sustainable.
Modular construction allows for highly efficient insulation, integrated into wall and ceiling panels, that can deliver energy efficiency ratings far above the norm. When it comes to putting a building into the operational phase, emissions are significantly reduced with some buildings achieving a better than A rating on the EPC.
In the wake of the Grenfell disaster, fire safety standards in the UK have been the subject of critical review and fire safety in construction is more important than ever.
Further research is needed into creating innovative designs that optimise cost, energy demand and structural behaviour while maintaining the required fire safety level. Existing floor and wall panels are also currently under investigation for fire performance.
MMC solutions are currently being adopted over a range of applications where prefabrication, 3D printing and novel construction and joining techniques are expected to become the standard construction methods as we move beyond the pandemic.