Excuses running thin not to embrace MMC

During the past few years the UK has heard every excuse in the book by some not to adopt Modern Methods of Construction. Partly a result of distinct lack of education, training and investment with only 8% of UK housing built using MMC.

Many large construction development firms conducting what they consider professional in-depth MMC reviews visiting factories in the UK (4-5 relatively small compared to overseas), perhaps 1-2 mega-plant OSM’s in Poland, and even perhaps one or two in Latvia is no way sufficient to understand the worldwide current market and how to operate/trade within it. The word ‘partner’ is overused in many sectors, particularly construction where suppliers can often be looked down upon which is unacceptable. Building trust, we all appreciate surely takes more than one’ red carpet’ visit.

It’s a sellers market, genuine partnerships are critical to ensure success

The past 3 years we, ACE Modular Construction, have visited 50 Off-Site Manufacturers, mostly overseas in Germany, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Asia etc multiple times, constantly impressed with highest levels of quality and ability to adapt to any countries specific regulations & standards. I personally decided to re-locate to the Baltic’s full time on the basis being on the doorstep of the finest OSM and better quality of life. Is it built to British standards we are asked? We say NO, it is better!

There is still total some confusion with terminology using the word ‘modular’ alone which can consist of either a multitude of panel types (including concrete, wood & steel) or 3D volumetric (which most consider as modular) which is built up to around 95% complete modules in the factory or even bathroom & kitchen pods installed in to traditional build to help speed up the process – what we call a hybrid solution. (See my previous blogs that go in to significant detail)

We prefer to use the word MMC which incorporates OSM which can include Modular as a potential solution.

Key issues

  • The word ‘Prefabrication’ is reminiscent of Post WW2 cheap housing built to last 10 years introduced by Sir Winston Churchill 75 years ago. The polar opposite in 2020 including quality and valid warranties. In a recent blog posting I experienced “we have houses that are 600 years old in the UK with modular you cannot do that” – a ridiculous comment for a multitude of reasons. With a dire shortage of 3.4million homes in the UK we do not need to build houses that last 600 years. We work with a German OSM that has been in business for 115 successful years that build robust concrete modules which will last a very long time put it that way. Warranties are not an issue.
  • Albeit a significant increase of late with more factories opening there are only 4-5 substantial factories in the UK, due to serious lack of investment previously by government in particular. Despite more serious government commitment more recently it’s too late to be able to help solve the UK Housing Crisis alone, overseas OSM’s are plenty, highly more experienced for the past few decades when the UK was still building using bricks. Significant uptake in Scandinavia, Germany and other countries has given the Baltic States alone an advantage to upscale, cash in and perfect their delivery. Whilst it is fantastic news the UK are increasing production they haven’t experienced mass scale delivery in housing. It’s not easy to get a factory fully operational and the huge risks attached are not for the faint hearted. I commend those that have created impressive factories in the UK and genuinely want Britain to succeed and adopt whole heartedly the merits of MMC, let alone job creation. We have failed miserably with modern day apprenticeships and now is time to change that. We have huge potential with a hardworking British nation.
  • Contractors, architects and costs consultants not all aware of the current condition of the OSM market, what’s available and in particular production capacity. The key issue is that most overseas OSM’s are very nervous of the UK and can make more profit working in Norway & Sweden etc. We convinced some to come to the UK but it’s a case of creating mutual trust and embracing UK delivery partners such as Modular Connexions.
  • Modular construction is predominantly no cheaper that traditional construction, time saved with prelims is where the cost efficiencies can improve ROI by saving time. Wild statements from some OSM’s claiming time savings of 50% are totally misleading, possibly products from leaving the factory to delivery on site counts as 50% but generally the time you can shave off is closer to around 25% in reality. That to an investor is very attractive let alone far better quality built in warm factory conditions not cold and wet, and also Health & Safety is a major issue.
  • Lenders out of touch, albeit it appears pockets of self education have improved the past year slowly. Lack of published information hasn’t helped on the basis of little use of MMC in the UK. Below’s article gives us hope for mass improvement and some very interesting yet shocking statistics.

The solution

  • More investment (in the right places) not just from government but investors creating more OSM facilities in the UK, consideration for expansion from overseas firms to part produce in Britain where possible. We questions decisions made by Homes England previously.
  • Collaboration with overseas OSM’s utilising highly experienced European trained UK delivery partners – working together utilising each others strengths.
  • Consideration for many techniques using MMC, blended solutions from panels, light gauge steel frame to 3D Volumetric.
  • Readily available factual information for all, including addressing lender concerns and promoting training, including visits to UK and overseas OSM’s.
  • Open minds, collaborative and honest approach to providing best solutions for housing.
  • Adopt highest measures of Health & Safety ensuring best quality conditions for workers.

“The greater the level of detailed information available on MMC homes, the greater the confidence we can have in them as valuers, addressing any lender concerns. In time, as MMC becomes more accepted, MMC homes will be able to play their full part in boosting affordable housing delivery” reports Catherine Smith, Director at Savills

“There has been significant progress in recent weeks regarding the use of homes built using modern methods of construction (MMC) as loan security. Does this mean greater financial capacity is being unlocked in housing associations? Potentially. So, what is going on here and what valuation pointers are there for housing providers keen to increase the number of MMC homes they build?

She points out that “MMC homes to allow more affordable homes to be built more quickly and cost-effectively, the total number of MMC homes built each year remains relatively low.

“around 15,000 factory-built homes completed in the UK each year. This is around 7-8% of the roughly 200,000 homes that are built annual in the UK”

See ourĀ MMC Procurement Solution Executive Summary. For the full version inbox me.

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