Inside Fgould podcast, Episode: Homes England MMC Research

Ella Sanders
Welcome back to Inside Fgould, a podcast where we provide you with insight into our culture, showcase our innovation and our people. In this episode, we explore Homes England’s 1,800 home Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) Research Commission.

This episode of Inside Fgould features Paul McGivern, Homes England MMC Lead, Dr. Vijay Pawar, from the Department of Computer Science at University College London, Matt Harrison, Project Manger from Atkins and Terry Stocks, Commission Director for Faithful+Gould. 

Our guests discuss why this study has been commissioned, how they have approached gathering this important and industry-changing data, and what the potential impacts this will have on the wider construction industry.  

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Transcript

Ella Sanders 

Welcome back to Inside Fgould, a podcast where we provide you with insight into our culture, showcase our innovation and our people. I'm your host Ella Sanders and today we are joined by 4 very special guests to discuss our work with Homes England. The UK's government transforming construction agenda is supporting industry to adopt new technologies that lead to buildings being constructed 50% faster33% cheaper and with half of the lifetime carbon. 

Nations sector productivity is at the heart of the challenges facing UK construction industry in the 21st century. Whilst UK industrial productivity has risen by some 25% and the automotive industry by around 45% over the last 20 years, construction productivity has virtually flatlined. 

Early last year Homes England commissioned the research team that are here with us today to look at the impact of MMC on the delivery of homes to begin responding to some of the well-known challenges before we kick off today, can I ask each of our guests to introduce themselves? 

Paul McGivern 

Hello I'm Paul McGivern. I'm the technical lead for modern methods, construction at Homes England and also the commissioning lead for the Research Commission of a background in sustainable construction and amateur completes here by profession. 

Matt Harrison 

Hi, my name is Matt Harrison and I'm a senior digital engineer within the Atkins Building design, Research and innovation team and I'm acting as project manager for the study and kind of my main challenge with this project is the changing nature of construction work and ensuring the research team have has the access to the data they need in a timely manner. 

Vijay Pawar  

Hi there, I'm Dr Vijay Pawar from the Department of Computer Science at University College London and one of the academic leads on the project, which includes Jackie Glass and Carol Jones from the Barber School. This construction project management. 

Terry Stocks 

Hi, I'm Terry stocks and I'm the Commission director for Faithful+Gould and Atkins. I am a chartered structural and civil engineer by background and have a long history in the development of MMC solutions. 

Ella Sanders 

Before we get started, it would be really good I think if we could provide our listeners with the definition of what modern methods of construction is and what do we mean when we refer to MMC? 

Terry Stocks 

Modern methods of construction or MMC is a widely used term and it embraces a range of off-site manufacturing and on site techniques that provide alternatives to traditional house building The Ministry of Housing and Local Government have introduced 7 MMC categories, which detail out a spectrum of various technologies and approaches making up the definition framework. This is following the UK government housing White paper called fixing our broken housing market. 

Ella Sanders 

Paul, why is it that Holmes Englander decided to Commission a study looking into monitoring and measuring the impact of MMC on the delivery of homes? 

Paul McGivern 

Well, as suggested by Terry, there are many challenges in the housing sector right now. The housing sector of course, shares the broader construction industry challenge at a time when UK housing requires a step change in output and the House of Commons Select Committee reported that MMC, Modern Methods of Construction, or also known as modular or off-site was produced in July 2019. It recognized that a significant proportion of homes must be built using more Modern Methods of Construction if we to meet the target of delivering 300,000 homes annually. While of the theoretical benefits of MMC in the housing sector appears strong, there is little comparable verifiable and partial data on which to provide greater confidence to the industry, its investors, insurers and customers to create the significant uptake in demand and supply that the sector needs. 

So, it's our intention that through this six-year research program we can provide evidence that is compatible against existing feature schemes. 

Ella Sanders 

As suggested by Paul there is is hope that this research is going to go somewhere into providing the evidence that's needed in the impact of MMC in deployment within the housing sector. This is going to be across 8 pilot sites if I'm correct in total and approximately 1800 homes, and this has led to the creation of the research team that we've got here today made up of Faithful+GouldAtkins, UCL University College London and BRE. 

So, what is it that we're really hoping that the outcomes of this study are going to be? And what are the key drivers for it? If I could direct that question to you, Paul? 

Paul McGivern 

OK, so whilst acknowledging the importance of the design and planning phases, the research itself will focus primarily on the effects of MCC use during the delivery or construction fears of the development process. So, the key drivers for research are to establish a robust data set on the construction of homes utilizing MMC to provide the housing industry with confidence in the use of MMC to deliver homes based on a verified body of data, to establish a benchmark approach to collecting data on MMC homes. So, this will hopefully signal our intent to other clients. 

One of the main drivers this study is also to create consistency in the measurement of the impact of MMC across the sector, rather than unnecessarily reinventing a new approach. Meaning the first stage of the research looked at existing areas of extradition. We looked at range of methodologies and research programs, including recent research from CIRIA and industry agreed metrics from the Construction Leadership Council. We have subsequently incorporated aspects into our research commission. 

Ella Sanders 

So are you able to give an overview of faithful and Gold's role in this study please? And then maybe you could touch on the scope of the research as well. 

Terry Stocks 

F+G are working very much in a Commission lead role. Alongside Atkins, there's a real requirement for collaborative working between ourselves, our client and our academic and industry team members. 

Each of us bring in expertise to ensure that the final report is going to be really robust and accurate F+G will be specifically adding expertise around the cost and the evaluation of social value elements of the research. In terms of the scope, the scope of this study itself. The research has been broken down into 8 themes. Each theme has a multiple data point collection, so we can make sure that the evidence is robust and provides a really strong end report. 

The themes if I can touch on them very briefly, as pace and cost to build. So, in that we're sort of looking at time on site and time in the factory metrics around planning, so trying to surface any issues within the town and country planning attitudes towards an MMC approach safety performance. So, there's less people on site and factory control conditions is the accident rate reduced from traditional approaches? So that's something we're looking at construction, logistics and wastage. This will be a fact-based narrative and look at the levels of waste produced on site and in factories and look at the number of delivery movements, energy efficiency, and life cycle. So, looking at energy ratings achieved by the designs and the future adaptability of the design solutions the ability and likely cost levels to maintain sales performance. So do the MMC units. Do they market well? Do they does the added attraction or being able to get structured insurance bolster lending? That's a key area to look at. Economic rationale, given all the measures and metrics that we are, we are looking at with through the study. What's the profile of the benefits? And last but not least, social value and well being so looking at the impacts of sort of local noise and dust and vehicle movements, but also a wider look to understand if social value frameworks are being deployed. 

Vijay Pawar  

Against each of these themes, we have defined metrics which build upon on existing working e.g. the CLC Smart Construction Dashboard. 

To meet the brief, these metrics were then carefully scoped to the project objectives; in the first instance focusing on on-site delivery. For factory-based data, these are still included in other metric categories to maintain a separation in the activities being captured.  

A complete list of the metrics being explored in this study are available for others to use. And it will be exciting to see how these recommendations being to be used more broadly across the industry. 

Ella Sanders 

Paul would you mind expanding on what we just said there? And when you mind explaining how these metrics were arrived at? 

Paul McGivern 

So, Homes England were often have been party to other work undertaken by various working groups and research programs and the review team have looked at to include these and to make sure we benefit these too. We've had to ensure our approach is comparable to these previous studies, so that basically we have consistency. 

We didn't start with a blank piece of paper. We have used previous work by others and aligned where possible. However, our metrics have to work for us and support Homes England business activity, but it's important to highlight they weren't created in a silo. 

Vijay Pawar  

Building upon those comments when designing, how we measure these proposed metrics, you know it was really important that the proposals were compatible to the existing work primarily set. Then start developing a baseline set of information and then second to that to then extend the work further and really sort of show the value of the study. We then broke this down into a series of fundamental data points and these are kind of presented over 40 plus points that helps us to measure metrics in a variety of different ways and also provide an element of redundancy if we start to spot errors being captured. 

Another additional benefit of taking this approach was to kind of make sure our request to developers collecting the data was focused and then to ensure a consistent way in which data is being captured. Ultimately, it then starts to reinforce practices that lead to robust datasets being connected which you can rely on throughout the course of the project.  

As a result, for each data point, a common scope boundary and unit analysis were defined so that this can be used across each of the sites. This information has been captured in in a series of metric factsheets available for each of the team and to then start using within their own sites. 

Ella Sanders 

It was touched on there by you Vijay about data capture and of course, that's imperative for any research program. Matt, what data collection platform is being used for the study? 

Matt Harrison 

So for this research study, we developed a custom data collection platform based on the Atkins Assist. This allows us for collecting all of the data points required for the study within a single unified web-based console. This kind of custom data collection platform can then be linked to existing tools such as breeze smart waste, where the developer teams are using them already and this prevents any duplication in data collection. The platform also allows us to conduct quality assurance and checking within the console, which allows the research team to very quickly validate the data input by the developer teams. 

The nature of this platform also ensures the security of any data entered by the developers. This was a really key concern for several of them, as we were asking some quite, you know, asking for some quite commercially sensitive data relating to the materials and some of the costs of their construction types. 

Ella Sanders 

Terry if you wouldn’t mind here I'd like to talk about where we are on the delivery road map with this program now. 

Terry Stocks 

The global pandemic has hit all industries hard and obviously the shutdown of building sites posed difficulties for this commission. Despite this the research team have made good progress with the study. As mentioned earlier we have undertaken a thorough review and validation of the research metrics and methodology and we have now tested the metrics and methodology with the industry. 

We are now progressing into Service 2 and 3 of the project, which focuses primarily on the data collection. The research team is now working through the detailed methodology with the specific developer teams and their supply chains to ensure the project’s data collection runs as smoothly as possible. 

Going forward, the data collection across the 8 sites will take place in a staggered approach that reflects the timings of construction programmes on each site. 

Matt Harrison 

Yes, so far the research team have been really focused on making our processes of you know, introducing this scheme to developers and setting up the data collection as smooth as they possibly can and this is going to allow us to spend our time focusing on ensuring the data sets that we collect are consistent and verifiable. So far we come as translated. Two we've commenced data collection on two sites, and that that is all the sites that have started so far. And we've engaged with all but two of the developers so far. 

Ella Sanders 

So, at this point, developers has obviously been mentioned several times. Paul, how important has it been to engage with the HE development partners? 

Paul McGivern 

Developers are key part of making sure we get uptake of MMC because they’ll ensure we collect the data in a timely manner and accurately, ensuring it is robust.  

This enables the team to produce a report with that information that informs the narrative around the research. We are not waiting until the end of the research to report it all – we will be submitting data periodically and ideally an annual report pulling together the research from all the sites (achieved at each point in time). This enables early uptake of findings and implement any learnings and best practice at future sites rather than waiting. 

So, developer engagement has been critical. If we had come up with a series of metrics and we haven’t tested and continually consulted developers on the process then we would not be able to achieve what we have set out to achieve. 

Matt Harrison 

We did this by running individual workshops with all the developers to explain the rational for each of the research metrics, and go through any concerns. This allowed us to form a consistent approach for all developers and has been crucial for us to investigate how the developers currently collect data and how they are using it. On the whole we found that most developers are already collecting the data in question, and were excited about seeing what insights the study finds. 

Whilst we are bound to hit some speed bumps on the way with people collecting data in different ways, the online Assist platform allows us to painlessly collect the data and manage its consistency. 

Ella Sanders 

If we could, I'd just like to go to each of you now to share how you believe that this research Program is going to have the biggest impact on the construction industry as a whole, really. 

Vijay Pawar  

For me, what is exciting about this project is how it will help the industry to use data and different forms of data to make better decisions. 

We already know from other manufacturing sectors these types of approaches are having a big impact, not just in terms of productivity, but also encouraging a cultural change for industry to be better and have confidence to do things differently going forward. You know other personal interest in seeing how emerging technologies can be applied within this context. 

So it's really interesting to see and explore what would be the potential new opportunities to create value and then to bring together new stakeholders. 

Terry Stocks 

Brilliant, just following on from Vijay’s points I think for me I think MMC's got the ability to sort of drive bigger changes within the industry. For me, I really hope that this study does create that bigger take up of MMCWhich I believe will drive a better sort of implementation of equality, diversity and inclusion across industry, which is what we're lacking at the moment. Looking at sort of traditional way of doing things. 

Paul McGivern 

Well, I would fully endorse what both Terry and Jeff said, so but I would hope that this research will provide us with a robust data set that will. 

Help drive up the industry productivity and therefore help us meet our new build targets. I also think it will support home scenes, wider strategic objectives to deliver better and more sustainable homes. 

Matt Harrison 

And on that note, sustainabilityI think that you're collecting this data will allow us to get a much clearer picture of the carbon usage of our homes and help us identify ways of improving our construction types and processesOn our journey to net zero Carbon and the study should be able to support on the the next step as well, the future homes stand at the future building standards and these standards will go towards assuring the homes of the future and more energy efficient than ever enabling us to get closer and closer to the net zero ambition. 

Ella Sanders 

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts on that there. I'd just like to wrap up by saying that I think it's clear to see from the discussions that we've had and then closing comments from each of yourselves that MMC has far reaching implications that go broader than the traditional benefits we consider on construction schemes. Being time, cost and quality and what Terry said there, I really, genuinely agree with that, there's an opportunity to drive societal change and that the construction industry has got a key part to play. As it is, what creates the places that we live where I can play. So finally, I'd like to thank all our guests for joining us here today on Inside F Gold and thank everybody that's listening. We'll see you next time. 

 

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