Modern Methods of Construction
A Research Perspective
I recently completed a research project on behalf of a tier-one construction contractor examining Modern Methods of Construction (MMC). Getting to grips with a new research niche is both challenging and rewarding as a 'deep-dive' can be taken into a subject in a short space of time. The information gathered offers both the client and myself a good 'snapshot' at the state of the industry from a talent and knowledge perspective. This article shares some of the insights I have gained from a sample of industry professionals that I spoke with.
One thing I quickly learned was the polarising views surrounding definitions of MMC, particularly in off-site construction. On the one hand, some speak of a contribution to the construction sector in the same way as 4.0 has in the automotive sector, others point towards the use of timber frames as a nothing new, a throwback to the Elizabethan Era. My view is that the sector as a whole is going through a complex and subtle set of challenges, and it will take a similar amount of complex and subtle innovations to continue moving forward.
MMC, where are we now?
From a design and manufacturing perspective, it seems to be the case that we are on the precipice from MMC being adopted to the extent that the term will be made redundant. As in recent decades with advances in BIM and pre-construction technology, it will soon be the case that the question is asked: "why wouldn't you build like this?".
Speaking with the Head of Project Design and Engineering at Portakabin, Lee Connolly, he said: "My company and some of our competitors have been around for a long time. It is tried and tested. The benefits are proven. However, in the UK, it is now “starting” to become in-vogue. That’s not to say it is fashionable, but the days of sticking bricks together with large swarms of labourers on-site are closing in. The digital age or Industry 4.0 as it is more frequently referred to has the potential to transform the MMC sector".
Lee went on to highlight that there are still huge barriers to entry into the market place and that with more available systems and software solutions to choose from:
"There has never been a greater need for the industry to adopt a common approach, or at least set a standard to work from"
Lee added: "Car manufacturers have shown the way to what is possible. It is mass customisation applied to the built environment. And it will come, soon, in many forms and no doubt to varying degrees of quality. And all this in a time with such political turmoil, that will have unquantifiable consequences on the state of industry, manufacturing, our economy etc. it is not easy to predict the future, but I will be bold enough to say it will be significantly more innovative than it has been for the past century - I think we’ll surpass the evolution of the sector within the past 100 years in the next 20! "
Gary Connolly, Managing Director and Owner of GEConsult in Manchester had this to say:
"Despite all the headlines "early engagement, Design, DfMA" and other iterations the real message in modern methods of construction, are just innovated from industry and manipulated to advantage to our basic silo approach to building. Stop Prevaricating and start sharing basic poka-yoke methods."
Why have I not seen anyone building a new car on their path? Is it a stupid idea? Yes, because you can buy one complete, no matter which model you go for.
"Shared thoughts need a much more dynamic approach to modern building methodology. Great things are happening but more brilliant minds need to work together. Get your construction minds out of gaining a short term advantage and collaborate to gain great long term benefits before it is too late."
Where can I find out more about MMC?
I contacted Jamie Parr, Director of BD Solutions, a bespoke MMC Offsite Construction Consultancy based in London. After an insightful chat, he directed me to a great knowledge resource for MMC, which can be found at Buildoffsite.com. They have lots of publications available to download, such as these two which were particularly helpful:
- Modern Methods of Construction – Introducing the MMC Definition Framework
- The role of Standards in offsite construction - A review of existing practice and future need
I also spoke with Associate Professor, Dr Ricardo Codinhoto, ‘Director of Studies’ for the MSc Modern Building Design regarding MMC. He has recommended enrolling on the University of Bath’s free online course (3 weeks 2 hours per week). This course will “give a framework and a good starting point for those operating in MMC”.
Finally, Dr Keerthan Poologanathan, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Engineering & Environment at Northumbria University, very kindly directed me to some interesting academic literature, such as:
- New advancements, challenges and opportunities of multi-storey modular buildings – A state-of-the-art review
- Steel concrete composite systems for modular construction of high-rise buildings
Dr Keerthan Poologanathan has a strong research team specialising in Offsite Construction, Steel Structures and Fire Safety of Buildings. With over £1.2m of UK research grants in the last 15 months, 12 PhD students and two post-doctoral researchers, Keerthan and the team at Northumbria University will undoubtedly have up-to-date subject matter expertise in MMC. He welcomes Knowledge Transfer Partnerships so why not get in touch?
Keerthan and his colleagues will be presenting a paper entitled Modular Building Design: Post-Brexit Housing at the Nordic Steel Construction Conference (Sept 18-20, Copenhagen, Denmark).
What's on in the next few months?
A couple of events are taking place over the next couple of months that those interested in MMC might want to take part.
- Nordic Steel Construction Conference 2019 - 18-20 Sept | Copenhagen
- Offsite Expo 2019 - 24 - 25 Sept 2019 | Coventry
- UK Construction Week 2019 8-10 Oct 2019 | Birmingham
- Modular Matters Conference 2019 - 22 Oct 2019 | Birmingham
- London Build EXPO 2019 - 27-28 Nov 2019 | London
A big thank you to those who took the time to speak with me during the research for this article; I learned an enormous amount! If you'd like to get in touch and share something new or see how we can help with your research needs why not send me a message?
See the original linkedIn article here for reactions and comments.
"It's great to speak with the subject matter experts in order to gain their perspectives on a given topic. They're the practitioners and are at the forefront of knowledge and experience, so having a quick coffee or phone call makes all the difference when finding out something new and or understanding what is working. Often there is shared value in the conversation as I can understand their challenges and help with knowledge exchange. It's a win-win relationship.
I've since attended the OFFSITE EXPO 2019 and "built" upon this knowledge after having the chance to speak to some of the industry's leading lights. What's clear from my follow-up conversations is the compelling evidence supporting the benefits of the offsite manufacturing revolution that is taking place. All that's needed is the right balance of top down and grass roots collaboration to maintain the momentum".
Henry | Head of Research, Hybrid Search