Is MMC the answer to better building?
- Credit: Superstructures
Sue Wilcock speaks to Superstructures director Mark Hayward to find out more about modern construction methods.
The rallying cry from Boris Johnson to ‘build, build, build’ sent out the message that the Government is putting jobs and infrastructure at the centre of its economic growth strategy.
Yet, how will this be achieved when the construction industry already faces challenges with skills shortages and reduced productivity levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
The answer may well lie with modern construction methods (MMC), something that structural engineering and design business Superstructures is already well-versed in.
As director Mark Hayward explains: “Traditionally, in England, we have built onsite using bricks and mortar, a process that can be protracted, labour intensive and inefficient.
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“MMC is considered mainly as the pre-manufacture offsite of building elements such as walls, floors, rooms, cladding, and foundations, which are then delivered to site complete.
“We have been working with manufacturers for a few years, providing structural design services for domestic and commercial projects being built using MMC, especially timber frame and SIPs (structural insulated panels).
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“There are several advantages to offsite fabrication. With the proper planning and design, using MMC, not only makes the onsite construction quicker and less labour intensive, but the overall project cost is reduced, as processes that normally have to follow on from each other can be done simultaneously.
“Yes, the design fees may increase, as we need to be more heavily involved at a much earlier stage developing the design, but the overall cost saving made when it comes to the build more than makes up for it. And, if you add the extra benefits of a higher quality product, reduced wastage, and the enhanced green credentials due to the products being better insulated and more thermally efficient, then MMC may definitely be the answer to some of the issues faced by the industry. Although unusual in England, MMC aren’t new to other parts of the world, with the majority of houses in the USA and Australia, for instance, being erected in less than a week using a timber frame and SIPs.”
Mr Hayward continued: “MMC is ideal for mass housing where the layouts are the same, and larger projects such as hotels, where rooms such as the bathroom can be completely assembled offsite as pods.”
Superstructures has assisted in the structural design of a multitude of projects all over the country, but there is one that has caused particular excitement amongst the team recently.
“Due to our broad knowledge and experience of MMC, we were appointed to carry out the structural design for six, zero energy/net zero carbon houses being built in Halesworth, Suffolk. The first in the UK for our client, the homes will be fully timber framed using MMC, and features will include solar PV, air source heat pumps and electric vehicle charging points.”
However, as well as the extended design time and having to get the structural design team involved at a much earlier stage, it would be wrong to assume that it is going to be easy to get MMC adopted as standard in the industry.
“There are challenges,” says Mr Hayward. “These include limitations around mass production and getting buildings to look different, gaining government support to enable businesses to adopt and invest in their technology infrastructure, and changing the British mindset that not everything needs to be built using brick and mortar.
“Yet, from a structural design perspective, the upsides are that you have more input into designing something that is economical and efficient, and you have more control in the way things are built. Using MMC means that structural design is a more critical element in the construction process, as we need to be able to give advice and solutions on what can and can’t be done to the building, therefore reducing the risk of the project’s unfeasibility.
“Looking to the future, new MMC are coming on stream. These include converting shipping containers, prefabricating steel frames, and ‘reuse rather than rebuild’; instead of demolishing existing buildings, reconfiguring their internal space for alternative uses.
“For the Superstructures team, it is exciting to be involved in MMC. Pre COVID-19 pandemic, we had already invested in the most up to date technology and design software and this has meant that we can not only be innovative when advising clients, but use our ability to research and develop other ways of building things.”
This story is in association with Superstructures.