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The Farmer’s review indicates that over the next 10 years there will be an estimated 25% decline in the labour force. From this report it is believed that “Modular will develop most where there’s cheap land, where the local authority is pragmatic and open to innovation, and where there’s a desire for quick delivery, ” said Farmer. This is now being recognised by the government, they will directly commission housing projects that use off-site construction through a £3bn Home Building Fund to promote innovation in the industry, revealed the housing minister Gavin Barwell. The Government’s long-awaited Housing White Paper was published on 7th February 2017 and stated that some firms are increasing their use of these (offsite construction) methods, but needs to go further. To underpin the growth of this sector we must ensure that homes built offsite can access finance on the same basis as traditionally built homes. The Government states that it will stimulate the growth of this sector through the Accelerated Construction programme and the Home Builders’ Fund. This plans to create new opportunities for the use of modern methods of construction to encourage investors into the sector and give current suppliers confidence to expand into the housing market. It will also support a joint working group with lenders, valuers and the industry to ensure that mortgages are readily available across a range of tested methods of construction. Therefore, it appears that a lack of government support could be the reason as to why these types of methods are not in common practice. However, The Buildoffsite Property Assurance Scheme, which provides assurance to lenders on methods of construction, has existed for some time but there is limited take-up among lenders, partly because of a lack of data to support them in making decisions. More research therefore needs to be provided to these lenders/investors so that the confidence in this construction is similar to view the Government take in Japan.
This type of Government backing has been previously seen within the UK however, in the implementation of BIM, whom some would say has become a standard practice within the construction industry. The history of BIM stretches back several decades because of ongoing concerns about efficiency and wastage in the construction industry. It took nine years between the original publishing of BS 1192 (the British Standard concerning collaborative construction data) and the 2016 UK Government mandate for BIM Level 2. However, the conception behind BIM really began in the mid-2000s. In 2002 the AVANTI Programme received funding to study how ICT could be used to aid collaboration in the construction industry. The idea at the time would’ve been deemed as a “modern take” on construction. The aim of the study was to improve efficiency and the quality of information gathered on a construction project. It led to the identification of specific positive impacts of ICT, including up to 80% reduction in the time taken to find information, 50% reduction in the time taken to publish and assess tenders and up to 85% time saving on using and reformatting information. The results of the AVANTI Programme were adopted into the formulation of BS 1192:2007 which would act as a code of practice for the construction industry when dealing with certain data. It set out common data practices, naming conventions and file classifications which were intended to be followed.
Similar to the current problem we face, achieving greater efficiency and cost saving on public sector construction projects was seen as both aspirational and necessary. In March 2011, the BIM Task Group published its BIM Strategy which outlined how the UK Government could help the construction industry in realising the benefits of BIM. In May 2011, the Government published their Construction Strategy which deemed that 3D BIM should be achieved by 2016. This would apply to all public sector projects. This appears to be a fine example of the successful implementation of a modernised construction method. With BIM offering similar benefits of reduction in time and costs, this supports the claims that MMOC could provide the high production of homes the UK currently needs.
The main aim of these types of construction is the reduction in cost and/or time. With modular construction there can be a reduction in both. Similarly, this can be achieved using Augmented Reality. The use of augmented reality allows build information to be shared in real-time, leading to better overall outcomes. This is due to AR’s ability to overlay data and images onto physical spaces, which is especially useful in the case of complicated processes in order to highlight potential hazards and issues before they transpire. From this, it is possible to analyse whether the construction schedule may be affected and the appropriate measures can be taken to avoid these predicted issues, ensuring the project runs to time. This can therefore clearly save time of construction but also enables companies to eliminate remedial costs due to “unforeseen” circumstances that can now be visualised before conception. An example of its use is employees at Gilbane Building Company based in Rhode Island got a look at Microsoft’s augmented-reality computer, HoloLens.
The HoloLens allows the user to look at a mockup of a project, an issues spotted ahead of time, the company could then ask the supplier to cut the frames shorter in the shop rather than make workers adjust dozens of tracks that would hold the frames in place. It was estimated that the move saved Gilbane about $5, 000 in labour costs. This is just a small example as to how effective the use of the HoloLens can be, the reduction in costs on a project mean the overall reduction in the price it is being sold out. Of course, other factors come into account when pricing a home, but the margins will often be the same so a reduction in overall costs leads to a cheaper home for the public.
Although the above appears to highlight the clear benefits that MMOC provide and how these could aid in building the “300, 000 homes a year” that we require within the UK, there is however downsides to deferring from the standard methods currently in place. With this heavy investment in technology, it could be said that it could only worsen the effects of the lack of labour we currently face. The report, Moving to Industry 4. 0: A skills revolution which has been produced by Mace states that the next ‘industrial revolution’ will transform the sector, but that thousands of workers will need to be retrained to keep up with the pace of technological change. According to their estimates around 600, 000 construction employees over the next two decades who are involved in technology changing roles will be vulnerable to job loss due to these advancements. The answer to such an issue would have to need heavy investment in training of the current labor force we have, another issue that advance of MMOC face, money. This issue of high cost is apparent in Mace’s jump factory Project. The issues this presents are a large upfront cost of £9 million pounds’ investment to use this method, much like other Modern Methods there is a high up front cost. In general, these types of construction are known for having larger costs than the more traditional methods of construction, as seen in Figure 5 below. In figure 5, there is an overlap of the possible costs comparing the more traditional methods of Brick/Block and Open Panel to the modern methods of Hybrid and Volumetric. This therefore means that there is a greater confidence required in this method of construction before contractors are likely to support its use in every day construction projects.
To conclude, there is a strong case for Modern Methods of Construction being the answer to not just the housing crisis we currently face but to improve construction methods that have been around for centuries. The research carried out has highlighted the fact that with an ever growing population and a decreasing labour availability MMOC must be considered as a possible answer the effects these factors will have on the housing market. For businesses to be able to adopt these types of construction they will need to have confidence in their choice, it seems clear that these types of construction require higher costs but have many benefits that will lead to cost savings reducing these costs. With Government support this will hopefully create confidence in deferring from the standard traditional methods. The benefits that the above methods offer appear to outweigh the issues they present and believe it is a strong option for creating the required homes the UK currently needs.
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