If you are thinking of using Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) there are certain things to be considered from the start. These may seem like obstacles to overcome but actually it’s just a different way of thinking that is needed to make the process easier and most of all harness the benefits of MMC. These are the top tips we find ourselves repeating often as a specialist architectural and consultancy practice in offsite construction. They will equip you with more understanding that will lead to a higher level of confidence so you are able to illustrate how an offsite approach will benefit your project.
GETTING THE TEAM ON BOARD
If you are a working on behalf of a client and wish to explore what benefits MMC and offsite can offer, it is important to make sure your team is up for it. Traditional construction is the basis of most business models in the industry.
Project Managers, QS’s and contract administrators may not view the idea of a significantly shorter programme in a favourable light. They may struggle to price it when a large portion of fee’s, for on-site schemes, are taken up by site visits, progress meetings and managing change.
Architects can feel exposed if they don’t have much experience working with factories and don’t understand they require a higher level of detail and the format of the information needs to suit the factory setting and how it relates to the site. This can lead to frustration if not managed correctly.
Main contractors may also feel they are marginalised by the fact that a large portion of the work is happening in a factory. It also takes away some of their control over and potential for changes.
All these unconscienced or sometimes conscience bias can make it feel like you are pushing against the tide. However as long as your requirements and aims are clear, most challenges can be overcome. At their core, construction professionals love solving problems and MMC is just another set of tools with the potential to solve them.
There is no “one-size fits all”! When using MMC you’re always going to be “pre-assembling” parts of the building away from the construction site and delivering them to the site when they are needed. Therefore you’ll need to consider the logistics of the site in terms of:
Access and egress of heavy goods vehicles;
The optimal position of the crane;
Temporary material laydown areas;
Safe handling and installation of the pre-assembled parts of the building.
The geographical location of the site as well as the access to the site is important in terms of determining the maximum width and height of the MMC product you can use. Often, Google Maps will allow a decent enough desktop search to get an idea of access. It’s often worth driving a virtual route from a main arterial road such as a dual carriage way or motorway so that you can get an idea of any overhanging trees, awkward street furniture, low bridges or tight corners that might mean your route to site needs to be re-considered or the product your using might be constrained. A panelised product might be more suitable than a modular product, for example. There are good logistics and haulage companies that specialise in MMC and will be very helpful with their knowledge or even drive the route and provide a report if the project is likely to go ahead.
If it’s determined that large size modules are the best solution for your project then you might need to consider road closures and consult multiple counties that are on your transport route since they will all have their own knowledge of your route and if you’ll need to consider using escort vehicles, road closures or night time deliveries.
We have a rule of thumb that we use for modular projects is that anywhere within the M25 corridor is difficult to deliver modules above 4.2m wide. If you are delivering to rural areas then generally you have more options in terms of ease of road closures, less street furniture to deal with and less traffic but when delivering to inner cities you’ll probably end up with night-time deliveries and some size constraints.
UNIT RATE AND REPEATABILITY
Consider the size and scope of your project when trying to match MMC systems that best suit. Student accommodation, hotels and medium to high rise apartments generally have more repeatability on a floor-by-floor basis and therefore, if designed properly for modular, they should equate to a good match for a modular MMC system. Please ensure that your services line up! Good vertical riser space that is consistent and easy to access is vital for deploying a modular solution. We often see traditionally designed building layouts with boxes drawn over the plan to highlight the “modular breakdown” yet the service risers dogleg all around the building. It’s not just as simple as drawing rectangles on a plan but it’s also not rocket science!
All of that said, modular construction isn’t JUST for high volumes or high repeatability. There are low-volume, project specific modular manufacturers, in fact the UK is has a lot of them and they are very good at what they do. A lot of the lower volume modular manufacturers are active in delivery of schools and hospitals. Modular pays off in these instances because it can be installed quickly, within tight timeframes such as school holidays. We are starting to see modular pick-up for the low-rise residential sector too with investors and developers beginning to realise they can off-load their finance faster if the build is turned around and handed over quicker than traditional.
Generally, if you’re looking at low-rise buildings or low volume buildings with low levels of repeatability in the design you’ll need to opt for a panelised system. Panelised systems can be delivered to tighter sites and are lighter in delivery, meaning a smaller crane can be used. A panelised system will take longer to complete than volumetric since there will be more to complete on-site but is still faster than doing all on-site. If you have a project that isn’t going to benefit much from a super quick turnaround and is difficult to access then you should start exploring the panelised system providers on the market.
SUPPLY CHAIN AND SYSTEMS
The UK has a wide range of products on offer in the market. These products range from bathroom pods, wall panels and floor cassettes through to full modular. Across the range of product you’ll find different materials. You might be on the market for a panelised system only to discover that there are timber frame, Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), steel frame or Structurally Insulated Panel (SIP) products on the market. Which one is right for your particular project will depend upon a number of factors that should all be considered in the “optioneering” stage of your project but even when you find the right system and right material for your project you’ll then have to engage the supply chain and understand more specifically what each different manufacturers USPs are.
Our advice is to take baby steps when learning about your supply chain. Don’t assume modular volumetric is the only MMC answer. Try to aim for higher levels of “pre-assembly” in your projects and make sure that you have the right advice onboard are each stage of the project.
DESIGN TEAM AND ADVICE
The right advice is certainly something the industry is suffering from. The biggest risk we’ve identified, to date, that is slowing MMC uptake is bad advice. MMC isn’t rocket science but engaging the wrong supplier, failing to put the right risk mitigation in at the design stage, and coming to the party with unrealistic expectations of how interfaces with different systems can be managed, are all just a few of the bumps in the road that can be negotiated better with the right advice.
One place to go to for sound, independent direction about who you should engage is the Offsite Alliance. The Offsite Alliance is an industry body that has seen phenomenal growth since it began in 2019 and is now the “go-to” place if you need to understand the reputable organisations and manufacturers you should engage with. For more information visit: www.offsitealliance.org
These are just a few key pointers that should help you steer your next project successfully when it comes to deploying any MMC solution. The headline, as ever, is to always make sure that you’ve got the right advice on board as early as possible. Early engagement is absolutely vital.