offsite manufacturing : The technology of offsite manufacturing, sometimes called offsite construction, which consists of prefabrication and modular construction, has the potential to help mitigate the UK housing crises. For the UK to meet a target of building 250,000 new homes a year, offsite manufacturing can be a part of solving this crisis by leveraging the speed and efficiency of this technology.
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What is offsite manufacturing?
Offsite manufacturing (OSM), offsite production (OSP) and offsite fabrication (OSF) are terms that describe the factory work, manufacturing, planning, design, fabrication, and assembly of building components at a different location than the site of final installation -the “building site.” This technology facilitates the speedy building and assembling of permanent structures and is used by most leading developers, producing impressive new developments such as Ancoats Gardens. In a similar way that Henry Ford revolutionised manufacturing of automobiles by optimising the manufacturing process, offsite manufacturing’s defining characteristic is integrated planning and supply chain optimization.
The construction industry has acknowledged that offsite manufacturing is one workable solution to reaching the homebuilding target, while also helping address skills and materials shortages. The skills shortage is only set to deteriorate even further due to an ageing workforce and Brexit, meaning that offsite manufacturing can afford a much-needed boost to the construction industry.
More homebuilders are starting to adopt offsite manufacturing into their construction methods, and a UK local authority, Croydon Council, has granted planning permission for the construction of two build to rent modular towers that will be the world’s tallest modular buildings. The two modular towers will consist of one 44-story and one 38-story tower and consist of 546 homes. The growing interest in this construction technology is attracting significant investment from big players in the build toas rent sector.
The benefits of offsite manufacturing
Offsite manufacturing technology offers a much-improved construction speed compared to conventional methods, as well as better sustainability and cost saving benefits. One way that valuable time is saved with using this technology is that, with traditional construction methods, the building site is first prepared and then eventually construction can then begin. However, when offsite manufacturing is used, the site can be prepared simultaneously while the building can start preparing the modular components to be sent to the site for assembling. In addition to this, adverse weather conditions have much less impact on construction with offsite production. When all the benefits are added together, the result is that the construction time is reduced by half, a significant cost and time saving that the UK housebuilding programme desperately needs.
Building sites can easily be adversely affected by weather conditions, perhaps more so now with climate change, but offsite fabrication, carried out in factory conditions, is not affected in the same way by setbacks and delays. Moreover, offsite manufacturing technology has the potential to further increase productivity and cost savings with automation as the technology improves.
The UK slow uptake of technology
While the UK has been slow with the uptake of this technology, other countries have not, such as Sweden, Germany, and the United States. Part of the reason for this situation is the large up-front investment required to develop the factory. Fortunately, however, better financial warranty schemes are being developed which should help increase the number of lenders willing to provide the necessary finance.
Offsite manufacturing technology has already shown its usefulness with large-scale and high-profile projects like The Shard in London, utilising the PowerProject technology.
Digital technology solutions
A crucial aspect of successful offsite manufacturing is the sophisticated digital information systems that are used for the sharing of accurate and up to date information. It is vital that all the parties involved in the construction process, like the planners, architects, developers, and contractors, have access to up-to-date and relevant information. Because this information is often held fragmentally and can cause huge problems and setbacks, the development of these digitalized information systems that help with efficient data sharing allows for real-time updates of accurate information so that all the players are singing from the same song sheet.
The UK government is increasing incentives for homebuilders to make use of offsite manufacturing in residential construction, such as introducing the Home Build Fund. This is a £3 billion fund that is being offered to smaller homebuilders that take up offsite manufacturing for homebuilding construction. The UK government said, “We want to encourage innovation, both in the kind of homes that are built and the way they are delivered. Projects you might need funding for could include…off-site manufacturing…” https://www.gov.uk/guidance/home-building-fund
This fund is also intended to encourage these homebuilders with the Accelerated Construction Scheme, devised for the purpose of increasing the number of construction companies that will adopt time-saving technologies for homebuilding. Further UK government help includes promoting offsite manufacturing via various government departments favouring this technology when deciding on funding, if it accords with best value for the taxpayer.
To conclude, it’s not difficult to see how useful and how much potential this construction technology has in helping the UK deal with its house building crises. As funding mechanisms improve and more lenders enter the market, we are likely to see the proliferation of offsite manufacturing throughout the UK construction sector.