Apr 20, 2017

Major opportunities ahead for offsite construction in UK housing industry

Increasing adoption of offsite construction with timber systems will be critical to the UK achieving its housing targets as government drives an ambitious agenda of change in the new homes industry.

Offsite solutions offer opportunities to significantly improve project quality, deliver increased value, improve productivity and support a more sustainable industry at a time when a step change in housebuilding is required.

The longstanding challenge of achieving volume in the UK housing market is currently constrained by factors including skills shortages, the planning system, development finance, traditional building methods, land availability, low building rates and the decreasing number of smaller builders.

The UK government has set out its ambitious vision of reforms and plans to revolutionise the housing market and increase the supply of new homes. Its plans to “fix the broken housing market” and build more homes across England will require a significant shift away from traditional building methods towards industrial construction, with offsite construction using timber systems representing a proven and sustainable solution to industry’s needs.

Currently around 60% of new homes are built by just 10 companies and Westminster has promised action to help smaller, independent builders enter the market, supported by the £3 billion Home Building Fund. The fund will help to build more than 25,000 new homes this Parliament and up to 225,000 in the longer term by providing loans for SME builders, custom builders, offsite construction and essential infrastructure, creating thousands of new jobs in the process.

Within this context, we think that timber systems combined with offsite construction methods can make a real impact on the key issues of poor productivity, labour shortages, cost and scalability.

No other significant modern manufacturing industry operates in anything like the way that the traditional construction industry operates. There is a real alternative – and that alternative involves standardisation, design for manufacture and assembly, the application of lean principles and most significantly moving to a design and production system based on the assembly of increasingly significant offsite manufactured components.

This is the direction of travel for an increasing number of construction clients and leads to a reduction in the numbers of trade and general labour on site and a shift to small specialist installation teams to assemble the components of a building. This is particularly important for the industry, which continues to be dogged by skills shortages.

As a predominantly factory based manufacturing process the production of offsite components has the potential to benefit from levels of productivity, quality and value typical of a factory environment provided that the required levels of throughput are achieved.

The use of precision manufactured offsite components can also have a significant impact on the efficiency of the construction process and in ensuring the quality and performance in use of the completed project.

At Stewart Milne Timber Systems, offsite construction is at the heart of every project we complete. It is a mainstream and intelligent approach to building, tackling a number of modern construction challenges such as speed, energy efficiency and cost effectiveness. The durability of our systems is down to the way they are manufactured, using a fabric first approach constructed within factory conditions. From design to delivery, offsite construction ensures every step is a success.

Our factories in Aberdeen and Oxford can produce 10,000 units per year. Adopting the manufacturing speed and high quality that we provide more widely across the industry would have exponential benefit for the rate of house building. The performance designed into our products also results in a superior quality in the finished building.

We shouldn’t underestimate the challenge in front of us, but the alignment of market need and political will is clear and compelling, signalling a real opportunity for the adoption of offsite construction methods to drive change.

Homes For Scotland Home Builders Federation National House-Building Council Royal Institute of British Architects Structural Timber Association Constructionline British Board of Agrement Wood Campus Build Off Site Building Research Establishment WOOD FOR GOOD

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