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Home > News > Future Foundations – MMC and offsite construction 

Future Foundations – MMC and offsite construction 

02 July 2020 | David Morris

While the skies may not have been bright for the second of our ‘Summer Series’ Construction Breakfasts, the future for MMC (Modern Methods of Construction) certainly is, according to contributions from our guest speakers Matt Hallissey, Head of Strategy at TopHat and Rebecca Wade, Bid Director at the Kier Group.

Attended by people from all corners of the construction sector and wider business community, a look at the future of offsite construction and how MMC can bring about benefits to the sector and beyond, was enjoyed by all.

Matt Hallissey gave us a fascinating look ‘inside the factory’ at the production process of TopHat’s modular housing and how this looks in situ at current projects. Rebecca Wade provided the Kier Group’s take on MMC, including an interesting approach encapsulated in Kier’s ‘Choice Factory’, which explores the psychology of embracing & moving towards an offsite environment.

David Morris, our Head of Construction and host gave an update on the current industry status quo as well as facilitating the opportunity to network. Attending industry peers visited breakout rooms between speaker presentations to discuss challenges and opportunities.

To find out more about Matt and Rebecca’s thoughts on MMC and its place in the future of the construction industry please continue reading.

We started with top line thoughts on MMC

Rebecca:

“I think what’s interesting for me is the broad definition of MMC. We often associate it with being completely about modular builds, but actually it’s so much more it’s that broadest industrialisation, to include prefabrication of industrial components, but also the use of robotics and digital technologies.”

Matt:

“It’s also greener, there’s much less waste, and you can deliver homes that have a much better energy performance than traditional build. It’s also safer, because you have control of the environment inside the factory. You can eliminate many of the things on site, like scaffolding and manual handling, that tend to be the cause of accidents. So we really see MMC as the future. We think there’s great opportunity for it.”

Spotlight on TopHat

MMC in action…

“I’m head of strategy at TopHat. TopHat is one of the foremost MMC operators within the UK, founded back in 2016, and about 12 months ago, Goldman Sachs invested £75 million pounds into the business and they’re obviously a major shareholder with us now.

“And the way we approach MMC because obviously there’s different categories of MMC, we’re in the category one. And the best way to think about that is we do as much as we possibly can within the factory and as little as possible on site. It’s incredible to see our homes coming together on the finishing line in our factory.

“Essentially when a module ships from our factory if you were to walk into it, it will look and feel like a like a completed home.  Once our module is fully completed in the factory, we ship it down tto site on the back of a low loader. Everyone asks me about the shipping, but in fact, the transportation step is one of the easiest things in modular. We can lift it and place it, it’s really very quick. We can get a whole row of houses physically erected within one working day or two working days depending on how long the row of homes is.

“Once the modules are lifted, there’s a little bit of work to do on site and we call that a zip up.  We have the services connections to do both from the ground into the home and then between the floors, then we also have sealing up and finishing to do at the seams where the two modules meet both internally and externally. That process for us, to get to a move in ready home, can be easily achieved in a matter of weeks, depending on the amount of landscaping required. 

“From foundation level up, you can be completed really very, very quickly and much faster than the traditional industry. A big component of this is the ability to manufacture modules simultaneously rather than having to do groundworks. That’s something the high level of modular gives you access to in terms of time saving, that just isn’t possible with traditional construction work, where by necessity, those activities are sequential.

“We can build high end to more affordable homes, at our first development in Kent we have two bed homes up to four and five bed large family homes with garages. All have been popular.”

The future…

“In terms of where we are at the moment, you may have seen in the news that we’re going to be working with BoKlok on the Airport road site in Bristol. A few weeks ago we were also selected by Urban and Civic for one of their developments. With it being a very challenging time in the economy over the past few months, it’s great that we’re putting in the foundations to grow and deliver a lot more homes. Of course, this will help to address the housing crisis challenge that was focused on yet again by the Prime Minister yesterday. When it comes to really expanding the provision of high quality housing that’s energy efficient, we feel TopHat sits right in that spot and that the whole MMC industry will address the issue very effectively.”

View Matt’s presentation here.

Rebecca Wade, the Kier Group

MMC, the full spectrum…

“I’m currently working on a number of projects that are leading on offsite solutions whilst also looking at our roadmap and broader approach to MMC.

“As we touched upon earlier, our industry has been subject to a number of key publications that highlight the socioeconomic importance of offsite construction, be that as a mechanism to address the government’s construction 2025 strategy to achieve lower costs faster delivery lower emissions, to Mark Farmers rallying cry for us to modernise or die to address a broken industry with low productivity, to the 2018 report that was prepared for Heathrow Airport by WPI economics, that noted that only 7% of construction in the UK is undertaken using offsite technologies. And that by increasing this to 25%, it would increase productivity across the overall industry by 3.6%. And that much of this growth would come in the areas of the country that would welcome it the most.

“Often when we think about MMC and we talk about offsite, thoughts turn to volumetric construction, however, we’re very keen to view it in a broader sense. And there are a number of definitions and terms that are used in this sphere. So be that  MMC, which I think Matt gave a really good overview of earlier to DFMA (Design For Manufacturing and Assembly) – the idea of bringing a manufacturing mindset to the design and construction of buildings and infrastructure and delivering efficiencies through the use of repeatable components and processes to achieve a high quality product at low cost and in less time.

“And then there’s standardisation, the use of standard components or processes to provide a high level of repeatability. And that using those repeatable components can increase economies of scale in terms of procurement efficiencies, and also repeatable manufacturing processes which, can give us consistent high quality product.

The Kier approach…

“So what’s our approach to offsite? Of course, unlike Top Hat, we don’t have a factory supplying certain products. So therefore we’ve really taken our services that we can provide choice to our clients and help them to determine the best offsite solution or potentially hybrid of offsites and on site solutions to best suit their needs.

“So our focus is very much looking at a whole array of offsite solutions that best suits a project, so that could be anything from cross laminated timber to precast concrete to prefabricated MEP. You quite often find a combination of these solutions involved in our schemes to help drive efficiencies, really focusing on accelerating the works that have the greatest impact.

“But it’s not only speed that offsite can deliver as Matt’s outlined, it’s enhanced quality, safety, certainty and reduced waste.”

The Choice Factory…

“Despite that, though, we do find that the industry actually, as that 7% metric and highlights faces A number of key barriers to the uptake of offsite. And these can include skills gap, a lack of industry awareness, a lack of consistent pipeline, to Boris’s announcement. I think it’s quite interesting in terms of a stepping stone to address that, hopefully, gaps in performance data as to how well off site systems can perform supply chain capacity.

“At Kier we term those as the rational or logical barriers, however, there’s also a more irrational barrier that we think presents an even greater risk to offsite adoption, and that is habit and embedded behaviours, the tendency for people to choose what is familiar or easy, so traditional construction over what could actually bring best value. And although the industry has done a lot of research on the rational barriers, the impact of behavioural aspects has so far been unexplored.

“So that’s why our publication ‘Choice Factory’ is very much looking at the psychological and behavioural aspects of MMC uptake, which we think is an area that very few others are actually looking at, at the moment.

“The Choice Factory, sets out six behavioural leaders that we recommend are adopted to embed offsite construction. So this is for making it easy. Human nature tends to lead us to do what is convenient and as Bob Dylan would say then repent!

So making offsite easy to adopt and implement is key. And government’s presumption in favour of offsite can go some way to support this.

“Equally important is to make sure it’s understood, use of consistent language, clarity of definitions. as we’ve already touched upon, and raising awareness of what offsite solutions are out there. Making it social:- Humans are social animals, we’re influenced by those around us and what they say and do. So this lever is about elevating the profile of offsite construction, making it popular and highlighting actually that it can unlock creativity and breaking that traditional stereotype of post war prefabs.

“We then come on to making it desirable; this is about defining value for our clients, not necessarily ourselves in terms of contractors and manufacturers, and ensuring off-site solutions provide the value that’s attractive to our clients. Focussing on the outcomes that offsite can provide, not necessarily the solution itself.

“Then looking at how we can make it rewarding, so endorsing offsite awards and encouraging investment into off-site. So R&D tax credits can go some way to support that. And then making it a habit and reinforcing that adoption over time, which is very much all about education, sharing tools, knowledge and understanding.

So for example, within Kier, we’ve created an inhouse knowledge factory to share offsite learning associated with the different methodologies that we’re deploying.

“We want to be an advocate for the benefits of offsite and the diversity of those benefits, which Matt’s outlined earlier. We very much see our role within Kier as being an integrator, in terms of bringing together a number of solutions, suppliers, and consultants to deliver that value.”

Wider socioeconomic benefits…

“When it comes to the future of MMC, the benefits of adoption are much wider than just for construction delivery. For example, in facilitating the Government’s levelling up agenda, we’re currently developing a tool to quantify the value of offsite construction relative to social value. Traditionally, when we’re undertaking construction projects, we require a very transient workforce that creates pockets of social return in the immediate area surrounding a construction site. However, offsite construction allows us to create permanent job roles and apprenticeships throughout the country. Furthermore, an examination of offsite manufacturing facilities against a deprivation map of England, shows a correlation between offsite locations with some of the country’s more deprived areas, showing how investment in offsite construction can direct investment to the areas where it is needed most. We are keen to better understand and support these broader benefits of MMC.”

View Rebecca’s presentation here.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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