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Modern Methods of Construction - New Blood, Opportunities and Risk - Is it worth it?

05/02/19
Posted by: Christopher Ruddick

We recently wrote another blog questioning whether the industry had got it wrong in terms of what diversity means.

We equally have done numerous blogs and pushed many articles in regards to Modern Methods of Construction.

I doubt I need to mention as the author of this blog the issues surrounding the threat posed by Brexit and the current level of overseas workers that are “helping” boost the levels of home-grown talent, alongside the lack of new blood entering the market. 

Now an interesting question that can be posed as an extension to that original blog is that obviously diversity can also apply to people’s skillset (and equally working background) and is something that we had not even necessarily originally considered as part of our diversity blog.

Well the announcement (yet another) of a housebuilder opening a factory to deliver homes via modern methods of construction, and yet again it went on to highlight that these new homes would be delivered using modular construction methods.

But where was the difference from other articles and announcements of a factory being opened?

Well unlike other announcements many went on to highlight the fact that Weston Homes had employed former employees of Airbus. In essence, like it or not “new blood” to the construction and vastly different skillset from “traditional” construction workers.

Clearly this represents an opportunity for the industry to look outside the traditional and obvious sources of talents to other industries, who in many cases may have a better understanding of the hardware and more critically software required to deliver modular homes whilst meeting various requirements.

Equally, bringing talent from outside the industry serves as an opportunity to bring alternative viewpoints and ways to achieve things. 

So what other potential opportunities does Modern Methods of Construction bring?  

In honesty, many of the advantages of modern methods of construction have been highlighted in numerous previous blogs by TDM and equally other industry related sources.

Some example benefits usually highlighted are the ability to work in near every condition (bar the onsite bit), materials usage and ultimately speed.

But, what is rarely discussed in this race to join the rest is the risks and barriers to change associated with such delivery methods. 

Many of these issues focus around initial issues such as demand fluctuation posing potential problems for supply of relevant materials, which explains why some like Weston Homes have invested to have storage for relevant materials.

An interesting question to consider is whether more will go down this road of having onsite storage or adopt other from other industries practices such as Just in Time (JIT) manufacturing with minimal inventory being held onsite.

Which neatly brings us on to the risk of the fact that MMC is still in an evolutionary phase where certain players will potentially be doing things in slightly different ways, processes and procedures that others may or may not be using.

Will investors as early adopters such as Weston Homes be left with “white elephants” of storage facilities that are no longer required if the industry decides to adopt practices such as JIT?

Speed is helpful in terms of delivery of new homes, but what about the infrastructure around it? For example the roads and services that many buyers are now considering a must? Part of the problem with delivery of these services is usually driven around the fact that a number of the external service providers are notoriously slow.

Further to all of these is obviously the initial level of investment required to have land, space and a factory built on it. 

But, there is a more subtle, project related issue, in comparison with traditional build which is that the attitudes of the industry need to move to a right first time ethos with much project cost being front loaded, these costs being occurred alongside other costs of land and planning.

Whilst the issues of the construction skills shortage will be reduced when utilising such construction methods there is still be a requirement for sub structures, super structures and finishing trades on site. 

The biggest issue for the industry? Consumer Perception.

Unfortunately, for some within the nation the mention of modular homes, will be quickly be associated with pre-fabrication many decades ago. Whether younger generations will have similar issues with such homes, possibly pushed down by older generations, time will tell. 

Although even here, that is up to the industry to decide how much effort, time and money they wish to pump in to potentially change such views. 

Overall, MMC has numerous advantages and many other countries already use such methods in a lot greater way to help deliver their new homes, the UK is trying to catch up in that respect. Like anything though some of the greatest risks will be in this initial evolutionary phase where there will be different views, standards and methods involved. 

That said, as the author of this blog there is clear opportunities and advantages at a time when there are multiple issues that are “hampering” the delivery of new homes in the UK.

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