bmpr Offsite Consultancy Services Ltd
bmpr Offsite Consultancy Services Ltd

Editorials

Offsite Supporting Saudi Arabian

Affordable Housing Challenge

 

Keynote speaker at the Building Technology Conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia was not a position that was on my list of anticipated engagements in 2017. Tom Hardiman, Board Member of the Modular Building Institute in the US had recommended to the organisers that I would be an appropriate fit, so when invited I was pleased to be able to take part in such an important event.

 

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has a similar challenge to the United Kingdom in terms of a need for affordable housing. Current estimates indicate the urgent need to build 1.5 million houses over the next 5-7 years to catch up on the housing gap.

 

To put that into perspective, that represents 17 857 units per month, 4120 per week, and assuming a 5 day working week, 824 a day!

 

His Excellency Majed Bin Abdullah Al Hogail – Minister of Housing, hosted the Expo as a platform for local and International companies to understand the opportunity and enable them to showcase their potential solutions.

 

The Government have identified that “Advanced Building Technologies”, or what we would term Offsite or Modern Methods of Construction in the UK, are of paramount importance if the challenge is to be met and so it is these technology providers who were the focus of the event.

 

Front and centre in the audience of developers, contractors, engineering and consultative firms were some 15 or so Government Officials all keen to get a better understanding of what potential solutions were available.

 

His Excellency explained The Ministry Strategy in more detail, and together with a number of the team that had been assembled to help implement it, went on to empathise that this was a challenge that was waiting to be addressed.

 

As I listened, it occurred to me that although the KSA construction industry might be short on practical experience of Offsite Construction, what it did have was a clear understanding and acceptance of Offsite principles.

 

Companies already known to the UK Offsite market such as Framecad (New Zealand), CIMC (China) and Dorce (Turkey) presented alongside others based in the region that were new to me and with each firm assigned 5 minutes or so to deliver its message I wanted to apply a point of principle for the audience to consider. 

 

This slide became a message I was keen to get across:-

 

Success is not looking for a Panacea

 

Offsite / Pre-fabrication is about being PROJECT specific

rather than PRODUCT (or system) specific.

 

What works well for one project will not be the best

solution for all projects.

 

There was a steep learning curve in terms of my education of the KSA Construction Industry, the challenges it faces and the strategy it sees as a vital part of a successful outcome.

 

It’s an obvious statement to make that concrete and light steel frame are the most likely candidates for consideration as appropriate solutions. Not just because you don’t find many trees in the middle of the desert and therefore imported timber based solutions would be potentially cost prohibitive as an affordable housing solution, but also because there is a history and success in the use of these two construction technologies in many countries including some in the Middle East. Experience is a valuable commodity when you have 1.5 million houses to deliver.

 

3D printing and the ability to print buildings is cutting edge and without doubt a very exciting development, whether it’s a Chinese firm who have been reported as being able to produce a “building” for $5000 (£2970), or an American one whose solution is a 400-square-foot house that's about the size of a standard hotel room and cost about $10,134 (£3600) to produce.

 

If a technology supplier says “Our system can deliver an 18 storey building”, my first question is “How many buildings of 18 stories have you delivered?” Whilst not directly relevant when discussing single unit affordable housing hopefully you see the point.

 

There is no cynicism intended, but if you have a large scale construction challenge, don’t you want to know that the solution you choose “has delivered” rather than “can deliver”?

 

Utilising a combination of established technologies whilst also trialling some of the untried ones would probably be my route of caution.

 

Call me old fashioned but I believe in walking before you run – using a parachute rather than going it alone against the force of gravity when stepping out at 30 000ft.

 

Having said that, new technologies have to be trialled by someone and innovation and its pioneers drive the world forward.

 

Volume in manufacturing drives down cost, so in the early stages of this strategy’s implementation there may well be more production space than orders, therefore projects could struggle to achieve the desired budgets. In the longer term manufacturing costs should reduce and in turn show savings on projects moving forward.

 

This approach would allow you to determine what is, or more probably what are the best value solutions, remembering also that these might not be the cheapest.

 

It would also give the opportunity to develop relationships with a number of different suppliers and see which of those work best as part of the team. One thing we know for sure is that previous Offsite construction projects around the globe have put success down to cooperation and team work.

 

My 30 hours on the ground in Riyadh although too short, was both enjoyable and educational. It is a pleasure to be part of the implementation of such an important strategy and to everyone involved, I wish you all great success.

 

 

 

High Rise: CLT v LSF

 

Anyone who was the slightest bit superstitious would have turned around and gone home accepting that the trip was doomed from the start. Not me, my commitment to travel to Russia to visit with a new client was a first time challenge that needed to be met head on.

 

Leaving your passport on the office photocopier is not something that someone who has done this for a living and a hobby for 40 years does. So a frantic phone call home and 2 ½ hours later the offending document was handed, relay like through the car window with 10 minutes to spare before check in closed.

 

Returning to the airport for the flight back to the UK I considered: “does it bode well for the future that after three days, the client and I are not speaking to one another?”

 

Mentally rummaging through the carnage, which may or may not have been exacerbated by the Vodka fuelled lunches that were a daily inevitability, there was a question asked by the client that I couldn’t answer. Frustrating in itself when you are trying to impress the man with your expertise, but it started a thought process; “tell me, what high rise projects are being built in Light Steel Frame at the moment in the UK?”

 

None came to mind. I could convey to him the success that had finally been achieved in the US with the topping out of the first 32 storey Pacific Park building in Brooklyn, but in the UK?

 

Light Steel Frame has been the focus of many successful construction projects across the globe over the past few years and the gradual but growing acceptance of this form of offsite has been blazing a trail for the consideration of other technologies.

 

Selling the overall benefits of using offsite is no longer the huge challenge that it used to be: Faster, greener, better quality, the list goes on and the truth is that the more projects there are the more evidence of success there is.

 

In my work with the MPBA, a lot of stories come across my desk about UK LSF manufacturers and their work in supplying schools and hospitals, but for some time now nothing that you could describe as “high rise”(above 6 stories). Nothing wrong with that I guess, so long as the industry flourishes we should all be happy, right?

 

Starting to think about other things that I have been involved with recently in Latvia and the Czech Republic, I posed: is the challenge of “high rise” being addressed by Cross Laminated Timber more than LSF these days?

 

The 9 storey Forte apartments in Melbourne, Australia. Under construction, the 18 storey University of British Columbia, Point Grey Campus and the 10 storey Dalston Lane project in Hackney, London. All high profile CLT based projects, (OK some concrete but bear with me), but why did they choose CLT over LSF?

 

Now don’t get me wrong, I have no axe to grind, my career started 38 years ago working for a timber frame manufacturer, but what is it that drove those decisions?

 

“Which is the best offsite solution” – my answer is always that it depends on the project. What works best for one will certainly not necessarily be right for another, but in case it seems to be about a specific element of the construction market.

 

Obviously they are fundamentally different technologies, wood and steel. There are differences in that LSF is usually supplied as a volumetric modular solution and CLT as a panellised solution. Having said that……………..

 

 “Bathroom pods, clearly a volumetric modular solution, have been around for many years now, usually manufactured in light steel frame or concrete, so it was exciting to see that In the UK, Glulam Solutions Ltd., recently landed the initial CLT bathroom "wet-boxes", prefabricated floor, wall, facade and ceiling panels for the very first Marriott Moxy Hotel built in the UK, at Aberdeen Airport. Hopefully the first of many, GSL hope to complete the installation of 200 bedrooms in approx. 10 weeks.

 

The industry grapevine has thrown up a number of stories recently of projects that are looking into the use of Modularised CLT (full scale rooms, not just bathrooms) and although I am not aware of any that have yet come to fruition, in answer to the question originally posed “Does CLT have the potential to become a Volumetric Modular building solution?”, I for one think yes and we are not that far away.”

 

Extract taken from B Mears presentation to University of Volyne May 2016

 

My suspicion is that there is a certain amount of entrepreneurship at work here. Why did we do it in CLT? Because it was there! We do so like to be the first, the fastest or the best.

 

Maybe it’s just that with experience the industry is beginning to identify that each technology is better suited to a certain area of the market?

 

Always good to get something out of an overseas trip……………. Na Zdorovie!

 

Bob Mears. CEO bmpr Offsite Consultancy Services Ltd

 

 

 

 

Many Happy Returns!

The second anniversary of bmpr Offsite Consultancy Services Ltd

 

 

 

This weekend saw the second anniversary of the incorporation of bmpr Offsite Consultancy Services Ltd. The past two years have seen its founder Bob Mears delivering presentations and Master classes in places as far afield as New Zealand, the United States and South Africa and he and his team working with clients in Peru, Argentina, Australia, Turkey and the US (to name just 5!).

Bob gives us an insight into what he has learned about an industry which, regardless of its global setting and stage of evolution, has its champions and detractors in equal measure.


“I already had the feeling from overseas visits that I had previously done, that the UK was considered a centre of excellence when it came to Offsite………or should I say Prefab, because it is only here in the UK where that is a dirty word. The truth is that using the term Prefab in many other parts of the world became essential if I was to communicate effectively, and also not alienate markets keen to learn from our experience and expertise. They know and understand the term Prefab, why should they want to change it?

It was interesting that one of the biggest common factors seems to be the issue of delineation between temporary and permanent prefabricated buildings. The industry struggles to explain that the two are not the same: designed and fabricated to be solutions to different challenges.

The good news to come out of this struggle though is evident, particularly in Australia, where mining camps, which were once very perfunctory and generally to low specification are now being put together taking advantage of improvements in technology adopted by manufacturers of permanent Modular buildings.

The trade bodies here in the UK (MPBA) and in the US (MBI) have lobbied for many years to have the differences recognised. Permanent and temporary undoubtedly have their place; the industry just has to get better at explaining their individual benefits to those who are unfamiliar and not try to “stretch” people’s imagination too far!............Yes, I am sure that three storey building could be dismantled and re-erected elsewhere, but is that a likely scenario?

Don’t get me wrong, Blue Sky thinking is a really good thing. The idea of mass manufactured housing, a’ la the car industry is going to be a wonderful thing when it becomes an accepted and practical solution for the majority, but most of the world don’t think that way right now, and who has the financial assurance to set up a manufacturing facility of that enormity and run it until we do? Recent history is scattered with the failure of those who have tried to push that envelope too quickly.

For what it’s worth, I believe that we would be better placed using the experiences we have gained so far to develop Blue Collar Solutions: Firms who can start small, but who have a vision beyond the manufacture of bathroom pods for the latest project like the Olympics or the South Africa games, and can see the potential of taking the experience they gain from bathroom pods to move into modular construction, or construction firms who can see the potential of setting up their own modular wiring workshop, the possibilities are numerous and the potential enormous.

I have seen them; they are already out there, quietly beavering away, evolving and becoming the future of prefabricated construction.

The other commonality is that the industry seems to be obsessed with “selling” Offsite, or Off-site, or off site, or prefab………..whatever we want to call it. Why don’t we just tell our client that they are getting the quickest, greenest and (if we have done our jobs properly), the most cost effective building he could possibly buy? They may not even care that it has been manufactured in a factory rather than put together on a building site………..just a thought."

Bob is travelling to Philadelphia in November as part of the UK Trade & Investment mission to Greenbuild USA. He can be contacted through www.bmproffsite.com or directly at me@bmpr.co.uk or on +44 (0) 1952 840421.
 


First European World of Modular Conference:
Quality Rather Than Quantity

MBI and Bob Mears of bmpr Offsite have been working together for some time to bring the event to the UK, and when the Modular and Portable Buildings Association (MPBA) came on board, the ball began to roll.

Whilst the expectation for the first World of Modular Conference in Europe was that numbers would be limited, 100 attendees maybe, the number who registered, 45 was disappointing. With 11 different nationalities in attendance from Canada to Korea the surprise was that more of the UK Modular manufacturing supply chain wasn’t able to foresee the potential benefits of attending the event.

That said those who did make the effort were rewarded with a list of presenters who included academics from both the UK and USA and two of the biggest names in Modular manufacturing, Waco and Portakabin.

The programme had everything from case studies demonstrating success achieved in the education sector, a guide to selecting a suitable modular manufacturer, an outline to securing funding for those wishing to export goods and IP, information on BIM and the practicalities of carbon reduction and energy compliance.

The format of the two day event held at the Hyatt Regency in Birmingham was similar to that used to great effect by MBI in the US for the past 30 years. It meant that delegates could attend as many of the presentations, networking opportunities and exhibition elements as they wished without the risk of missing any of them.

Connections were made between potential supply chain partners that were a natural fit, but also ones that were less obvious. Conversations between a manufacturer in Ireland and one in South Africa for example, who found that they shared the same successes and difficulties and are now exchanging mutually beneficial information.

Next years’ venue is yet to be determined, but if the comments of the majority who attended this year, and word of mouth is anything to go by, then it will have to be able to cope with substantially more numbers than it did this year.

If anyone would like copies of the presentations from the Birmingham event, please send an e-mail to Bob Mears
 

Editorial title

Realising a premium for modular
Lessons from the UK
The UK’s modular construction industry is flourishing, with offsite methods of construction being incorporated into myriad developments to deliver time and cost savings as well as significant sustainability improvements. Discussed here is what the United States might learn from overseas about these building techniques to start reaping the same economic & ecological benefits.

In the UK, the benefits of modular building technologies, are widely acknowledged and used to provide manufacturers with a premium when selling their systems and products: the shorter build times ensure less time is spent on site and a more immediate return on investment, and the reduced work required on site lessens health and safety issues and limits delay through inclement weather. In addition, increasing engineering within a controlled environment ensures the highest levels of accuracy and, therefore, fewer costly snagging issues. Perhaps more significant for a US industry facing implementation of the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) are the substantial sustainability improvements that offsite construction methods can achieve, both during manufacturing processes and the building’s in-use performance.

Going Global – Impact Measurement
I have worked in a global capacity in the public and private sectors, experiencing how different countries view, manufacture and implement fast-track construction methods.

In every case, it’s been clear that a method for properly determining the environmental performance of modular construction compared to that of traditional building methods has been essential. The most credible way to measure the environmental improvements of a building method or product is to conduct a cradle (extraction) to grave (re-use and/or recycling) Life Cycle Assessment based on the UK’s Building Research Establishment (BRE) or worldwide Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) methodology.

For example, measuring the environmental impact of modular construction for housing in this way and comparing it to traditional back-to-back building methods, shows that prefabrication can typically lower the overall carbon footprint of a project by an impressive 38%. It can also deliver a 42% reduction in CO2 and yield a 21% improvement in the use of energy for building and maintenance (RSL Collaborative_Research). The US has a strong history of modular house building, demonstrating that the domestic sector has recognised the significant gains of offsite construction.

The popularity of prefabrication hasn’t filtered across to other US construction sectors as much as expected, however. Perhaps because of the prevailing popularity of Design & Build, or due to a convoluted procurement process, construction in the States has remained largely craft-based. The way a nation builds is a result of its social, political and economic history, and areas that have traditionally been heavily unionised can find it difficult to introduce new construction methods if a Union does not support them. However well-intentioned the motivation for not backing emerging techniques - whether job preservation or economic vigilance in a time of global recession - this could stifle innovation, which is the lifeblood of sustainability.

And, although craft-based construction can be a financially and socially sustainable way to build, figures show that it is certainly not the most environmentally sustainable. Using a typical prefabricated module-based apartment build as an example, there were 90% fewer vehicle deliveries to site than when using traditional, non-prefabricated building methods.

Waste reduction is another significant sustainability advantage feature of deploying offsite construction techniques. Research conducted with the UK government’s waste reduction department, WRAP, shows that factory-based construction methods can reduce material waste by up to 90% (WRAP ModernMethodsConstruction Report.pdf).

Spreading Sustainability through Modular Construction
So, how to convince built environment sectors in the US to adopt these construction methods that are already benefiting the UK and the rest of Europe? In the public, private and commercial arenas, repeatability and predictability are of huge importance, as is time certainty and, of course, sustainability. Modular construction certainly delivers on each of these requirements, and if adopted early in the design process can slash build times in half depending on the project.

When it comes to domestic dwellings, typically up to three weeks of an 18 week build schedule can be shaved off using offsite methods. And, when faced with an epidemic housing shortage in an area such as New Orleans, any time saving is a positive one.

What Next?
To some extent, the US procurement process needs to change its model to fully accommodate these technologies. Manufacturers of these systems really need to be consulted at design stage, because the earlier in the process offsite construction methods are specified, the greater the time and cost savings, and the more impactful the environmental benefits.

The future for modular construction in the UK and across the globe is certainly looking bright. Innovations such as bathroom pods and modular bedrooms complete with curtains, wallpaper, tiles and taps for use in hotels, student accommodation and the like – give the option of reducing or adding to a building with complete repeatability in line with demographic demand and are becoming increasingly popular. Ultimately, it is this standardisation that means modular construction will work so well for the US market. What’s more, the factory environment is best placed for furthering other developments, such as the use of post-industrial and post-consumer recycled materials, and methods for building more while using less.

The UK’s advances with offsite construction have already positioned it as the worldwide ‘centre of excellence,’ with many countries across the globe watching its progress in trialling new systems. With the UK’s drive towards innovation gathering speed, now is the ideal time for the USA to capitalise on the advances being made. The UK and the US have been powerful partners throughout history, and the offsite sector presents a great opportunity for setting the construction agenda while occupying an influential thought leadership position on both sides of the Atlantic.

High Rise

CLT v LSF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many Happy Returns!

The second anniversary of bmpr Offsite Consultancy Services Ltd

Anyone who was the slightest bit superstitious would have turned around and gone home accepting that the trip was doomed from the start. Not me, my commitment to travel to Russia to visit with a new client was a first time challenge that needed to be met head on.

 

Leaving your passport on the office photocopier is not something that someone who has done this for a living and a hobby for 40 years does. So a frantic phone call home and 2 ½ hours later the offending document was handed, relay like through the car window with 10 minutes to spare before check in closed.

 

Returning to the airport for the flight back to the UK I considered: “does it bode well for the future that after three days, the client and I are not speaking to one another?”

 

Mentally rummaging through the carnage, which may or may not have been exacerbated by the Vodka fuelled lunches that were a daily inevitability, there was a question asked by the client that I couldn’t answer. Frustrating in itself when you are trying to impress the man with your expertise, but it started a thought process; “tell me, what high rise projects are being built in Light Steel Frame at the moment in the UK?”

 

None came to mind. I could convey to him the success that had finally been achieved in the US with the topping out of the first 32 storey Pacific Park building in Brooklyn, but in the UK?

 

Light Steel Frame has been the focus of many successful construction projects across the globe over the past few years and the gradual but growing acceptance of this form of offsite has been blazing a trail for the consideration of other technologies.

 

Selling the overall benefits of using offsite is no longer the huge challenge that it used to be: Faster, greener, better quality, the list goes on and the truth is that the more projects there are the more evidence of success there is.

 

In my work with the MPBA, a lot of stories come across my desk about UK LSF manufacturers and their work in supplying schools and hospitals, but for some time now nothing that you could describe as “high rise”(above 6 stories). Nothing wrong with that I guess, so long as the industry flourishes we should all be happy, right?

 

Starting to think about other things that I have been involved with recently in Latvia and the Czech Republic, I posed: is the challenge of “high rise” being addressed by Cross Laminated Timber more than LSF these days?

 

The 9 storey Forte apartments in Melbourne, Australia. Under construction, the 18 storey University of British Columbia, Point Grey Campus and the 10 storey Dalston Lane project in Hackney, London. All high profile CLT based projects, (OK some concrete but bear with me), but why did they choose CLT over LSF?

 

Now don’t get me wrong, I have no axe to grind, my career started 38 years ago working for a timber frame manufacturer, but what is it that drove those decisions?

 

“Which is the best offsite solution” – my answer is always that it depends on the project. What works best for one will certainly not necessarily be right for another, but in case it seems to be about a specific element of the construction market.

 

Obviously they are fundamentally different technologies, wood and steel. There are differences in that LSF is usually supplied as a volumetric modular solution and CLT as a panellised solution. Having said that……………..

 

 “Bathroom pods, clearly a volumetric modular solution, have been around for many years now, usually manufactured in light steel frame or concrete, so it was exciting to see that In the UK, Glulam Solutions Ltd., recently landed the initial CLT bathroom "wet-boxes", prefabricated floor, wall, facade and ceiling panels for the very first Marriott Moxy Hotel built in the UK, at Aberdeen Airport. Hopefully the first of many, GSL hope to complete the installation of 200 bedrooms in approx. 10 weeks.

 

The industry grapevine has thrown up a number of stories recently of projects that are looking into the use of Modularised CLT (full scale rooms, not just bathrooms) and although I am not aware of any that have yet come to fruition, in answer to the question originally posed “Does CLT have the potential to become a Volumetric Modular building solution?”, I for one think yes and we are not that far away.”

 

Extract taken from B Mears presentation to University of Volyne May 2016

 

My suspicion is that there is a certain amount of entrepreneurship at work here. Why did we do it in CLT? Because it was there! We do so like to be the first, the fastest or the best.

 

Maybe it’s just that with experience the industry is beginning to identify that each technology is better suited to a certain area of the market?

 

Always good to get something out of an overseas trip……………. Na Zdorovie!

 

Bob Mears. CEO bmpr Offsite Consultancy Services Ltd

 

 

 

This weekend saw the second anniversary of the incorporation of bmpr Offsite Consultancy Services Ltd. The past two years have seen its founder Bob Mears delivering presentations and Master classes in places as far afield as New Zealand, the United States and South Africa and he and his team working with clients in Peru, Argentina, Australia, Turkey and the US (to name just 5!).

Bob gives us an insight into what he has learned about an industry which, regardless of its global setting and stage of evolution, has its champions and detractors in equal measure.


“I already had the feeling from overseas visits that I had previously done, that the UK was considered a centre of excellence when it came to Offsite………or should I say Prefab, because it is only here in the UK where that is a dirty word. The truth is that using the term Prefab in many other parts of the world became essential if I was to communicate effectively, and also not alienate markets keen to learn from our experience and expertise. They know and understand the term Prefab, why should they want to change it?

It was interesting that one of the biggest common factors seems to be the issue of delineation between temporary and permanent prefabricated buildings. The industry struggles to explain that the two are not the same: designed and fabricated to be solutions to different challenges.

The good news to come out of this struggle though is evident, particularly in Australia, where mining camps, which were once very perfunctory and generally to low specification are now being put together taking advantage of improvements in technology adopted by manufacturers of permanent Modular buildings.

The trade bodies here in the UK (MPBA) and in the US (MBI) have lobbied for many years to have the differences recognised. Permanent and temporary undoubtedly have their place; the industry just has to get better at explaining their individual benefits to those who are unfamiliar and not try to “stretch” people’s imagination too far!............Yes, I am sure that three storey building could be dismantled and re-erected elsewhere, but is that a likely scenario?

Don’t get me wrong, Blue Sky thinking is a really good thing. The idea of mass manufactured housing, a’ la the car industry is going to be a wonderful thing when it becomes an accepted and practical solution for the majority, but most of the world don’t think that way right now, and who has the financial assurance to set up a manufacturing facility of that enormity and run it until we do? Recent history is scattered with the failure of those who have tried to push that envelope too quickly.

For what it’s worth, I believe that we would be better placed using the experiences we have gained so far to develop Blue Collar Solutions: Firms who can start small, but who have a vision beyond the manufacture of bathroom pods for the latest project like the Olympics or the South Africa games, and can see the potential of taking the experience they gain from bathroom pods to move into modular construction, or construction firms who can see the potential of setting up their own modular wiring workshop, the possibilities are numerous and the potential enormous.

I have seen them; they are already out there, quietly beavering away, evolving and becoming the future of prefabricated construction.

The other commonality is that the industry seems to be obsessed with “selling” Offsite, or Off-site, or off site, or prefab………..whatever we want to call it. Why don’t we just tell our client that they are getting the quickest, greenest and (if we have done our jobs properly), the most cost effective building he could possibly buy? They may not even care that it has been manufactured in a factory rather than put together on a building site………..just a thought."

Bob is travelling to Philadelphia in November as part of the UK Trade & Investment mission to Greenbuild USA. He can be contacted through www.bmproffsite.com or directly at me@bmpr.co.uk or on +44 (0) 1952 840421.
 


First European World of Modular Conference:
Quality Rather Than Quantity

MBI and Bob Mears of bmpr Offsite have been working together for some time to bring the event to the UK, and when the Modular and Portable Buildings Association (MPBA) came on board, the ball began to roll.

Whilst the expectation for the first World of Modular Conference in Europe was that numbers would be limited, 100 attendees maybe, the number who registered, 45 was disappointing. With 11 different nationalities in attendance from Canada to Korea the surprise was that more of the UK Modular manufacturing supply chain wasn’t able to foresee the potential benefits of attending the event.

That said those who did make the effort were rewarded with a list of presenters who included academics from both the UK and USA and two of the biggest names in Modular manufacturing, Waco and Portakabin.

The programme had everything from case studies demonstrating success achieved in the education sector, a guide to selecting a suitable modular manufacturer, an outline to securing funding for those wishing to export goods and IP, information on BIM and the practicalities of carbon reduction and energy compliance.

The format of the two day event held at the Hyatt Regency in Birmingham was similar to that used to great effect by MBI in the US for the past 30 years. It meant that delegates could attend as many of the presentations, networking opportunities and exhibition elements as they wished without the risk of missing any of them.

Connections were made between potential supply chain partners that were a natural fit, but also ones that were less obvious. Conversations between a manufacturer in Ireland and one in South Africa for example, who found that they shared the same successes and difficulties and are now exchanging mutually beneficial information.

Next years’ venue is yet to be determined, but if the comments of the majority who attended this year, and word of mouth is anything to go by, then it will have to be able to cope with substantially more numbers than it did this year.

If anyone would like copies of the presentations from the Birmingham event, please send an e-mail to Bob Mears
 

Realising a premium for modular
Lessons from the UK
The UK’s modular construction industry is flourishing, with offsite methods of construction being incorporated into myriad developments to deliver time and cost savings as well as significant sustainability improvements. Discussed here is what the United States might learn from overseas about these building techniques to start reaping the same economic & ecological benefits.

In the UK, the benefits of modular building technologies, are widely acknowledged and used to provide manufacturers with a premium when selling their systems and products: the shorter build times ensure less time is spent on site and a more immediate return on investment, and the reduced work required on site lessens health and safety issues and limits delay through inclement weather. In addition, increasing engineering within a controlled environment ensures the highest levels of accuracy and, therefore, fewer costly snagging issues. Perhaps more significant for a US industry facing implementation of the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) are the substantial sustainability improvements that offsite construction methods can achieve, both during manufacturing processes and the building’s in-use performance.

Going Global – Impact Measurement
I have worked in a global capacity in the public and private sectors, experiencing how different countries view, manufacture and implement fast-track construction methods.

In every case, it’s been clear that a method for properly determining the environmental performance of modular construction compared to that of traditional building methods has been essential. The most credible way to measure the environmental improvements of a building method or product is to conduct a cradle (extraction) to grave (re-use and/or recycling) Life Cycle Assessment based on the UK’s Building Research Establishment (BRE) or worldwide Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) methodology.

For example, measuring the environmental impact of modular construction for housing in this way and comparing it to traditional back-to-back building methods, shows that prefabrication can typically lower the overall carbon footprint of a project by an impressive 38%. It can also deliver a 42% reduction in CO2 and yield a 21% improvement in the use of energy for building and maintenance (RSL Collaborative_Research). The US has a strong history of modular house building, demonstrating that the domestic sector has recognised the significant gains of offsite construction.

The popularity of prefabrication hasn’t filtered across to other US construction sectors as much as expected, however. Perhaps because of the prevailing popularity of Design & Build, or due to a convoluted procurement process, construction in the States has remained largely craft-based. The way a nation builds is a result of its social, political and economic history, and areas that have traditionally been heavily unionised can find it difficult to introduce new construction methods if a Union does not support them. However well-intentioned the motivation for not backing emerging techniques - whether job preservation or economic vigilance in a time of global recession - this could stifle innovation, which is the lifeblood of sustainability.

And, although craft-based construction can be a financially and socially sustainable way to build, figures show that it is certainly not the most environmentally sustainable. Using a typical prefabricated module-based apartment build as an example, there were 90% fewer vehicle deliveries to site than when using traditional, non-prefabricated building methods.

Waste reduction is another significant sustainability advantage feature of deploying offsite construction techniques. Research conducted with the UK government’s waste reduction department, WRAP, shows that factory-based construction methods can reduce material waste by up to 90% (WRAP ModernMethodsConstruction Report.pdf).

Spreading Sustainability through Modular Construction
So, how to convince built environment sectors in the US to adopt these construction methods that are already benefiting the UK and the rest of Europe? In the public, private and commercial arenas, repeatability and predictability are of huge importance, as is time certainty and, of course, sustainability. Modular construction certainly delivers on each of these requirements, and if adopted early in the design process can slash build times in half depending on the project.

When it comes to domestic dwellings, typically up to three weeks of an 18 week build schedule can be shaved off using offsite methods. And, when faced with an epidemic housing shortage in an area such as New Orleans, any time saving is a positive one.

What Next?
To some extent, the US procurement process needs to change its model to fully accommodate these technologies. Manufacturers of these systems really need to be consulted at design stage, because the earlier in the process offsite construction methods are specified, the greater the time and cost savings, and the more impactful the environmental benefits.

The future for modular construction in the UK and across the globe is certainly looking bright. Innovations such as bathroom pods and modular bedrooms complete with curtains, wallpaper, tiles and taps for use in hotels, student accommodation and the like – give the option of reducing or adding to a building with complete repeatability in line with demographic demand and are becoming increasingly popular. Ultimately, it is this standardisation that means modular construction will work so well for the US market. What’s more, the factory environment is best placed for furthering other developments, such as the use of post-industrial and post-consumer recycled materials, and methods for building more while using less.

The UK’s advances with offsite construction have already positioned it as the worldwide ‘centre of excellence,’ with many countries across the globe watching its progress in trialling new systems. With the UK’s drive towards innovation gathering speed, now is the ideal time for the USA to capitalise on the advances being made. The UK and the US have been powerful partners throughout history, and the offsite sector presents a great opportunity for setting the construction agenda while occupying an influential thought leadership position on both sides of the Atlantic.
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