Comment: Closing the Gap

DarntonB3 Comment, Off site Construction

The benefits to using Modern Methods of Construction and Off Site manufacturing practices are well documented (Improved Quality, Shorter time on site, Use of semi- skilled labour force etc) , but so often the counter argument has been one of cost. It is unfortunate the construction industry has taken so long to develop a recognition of life time costing and failed to embrace the clear sustainability of this method of procurement but has rather focused on the initial capital cost, irrespective of any other benefits.

In recent years there has been a real shift in attitude, towards off site construction. This has partly been driven by the fact that off-site manufacturers now recognise that the aesthetic of a ‘modular’ box need not ( and should not) be the way to create a built legacy, but also the fact that recovery in the construction sector after the credit crisis may well be inhibited by lack of a skilled workforce. As such, there has been considerable investment in the industry by existing manufacturers, as well as a flurry of new opportunists entering the market.  Insurers and institutional lenders have also played their part ( as well as consumers) in showing more readiness to accept off site construction as a robust and reliable way of procuring buildings. So much so that recent tender activity for off site specialists is on the up and Public Sector bodies are in the process of setting up procurement frameworks, specifically aimed at procurement through the offsite route. This the growth in procurement is having the effect of gradually closing the gap that still exists in cost.

So, the race is on to develop ever more efficient ways of manufacturing off site, with production line methodologies couple with innovation in materials and design solutions. The parallel explosion in the use of BIM (Building information modelling – or management depending on where you sit) is tailor made to compliment off site production and to provide a valuable data source for the future maintenance of these buildings.

Major construction projects in the UK where off site technologies are now playing a valuable role in delivering value include the massive Hinkley Point nuclear power station project where EDF Energy are developing enormous amounts of space for workers accommodation, office and other building types as well as significant use in the Student housing and PRS sectors. Increased development of products are also evident for use in Healthcare environments, for commercial use, Leisure sector and Housing solutions, with the latter being fuelled by the ongoing housing shortage and the need to find new and faster ways to deliver new homes.

Yes, the gap is closing, not only in price, but in every aspect of this part of our industry.

 Alistair Hamilton is Managing Director of DarntonB3 Architecture who specialise in providing Design and Consultancy services within the Off Site Construction sector.