Why use Modern Methods of Construction?

Mark Chicken
Modern Methods of Construction is being discussed more and more in our industry, but what is Modern Methods of Construction (MMC)?

Why should we use it? Isn’t it just temporary portacabin solution? The Quality is not the same as traditional construction? Won't it fall down after a number of years? The concept of MMC has many questions which if not answered and understood, can leave a negative image of the possibilities that MMC offer.

In 2016, Mark Farmer published ‘Modernise or Die’, an independent review into the UK construction industries labour model. Within the report it was identified that ‘a combination of the failure to replace retiring workers and low productivity means construction faces "inexorable decline" unless it embraces modern methods of construction (MMC).’

When reviewing the Construction industry against other UK industries, Mark Farmer noted ‘If you buy a new car, you expect it to have been built in a factory to exacting standards, to be delivered on time, to an agreed price and to a predetermined quality.’ There are many comparisons in the construction industry and the car industry so why is MMC and more specifically, off-site manufacturing not being used more often?

In January 2020, Faithful+Gould was appointed to design, tender and construct a six-classroom teaching block on an existing swimming pool site. The works had to be completed by the return of the school year in September 2020. How were we going to design the project, tender the works, obtain planning permission and construct in nine months – the only answer was Modern Methods of Construction.

Design and Tendering

Construction

Works commenced on demolishing the existing swimming pool within the live school site on 15th June 2020, with the groundworks programmed to be finished by 3rd August 2020. That was the key milestone with 18 modules being installed on the site over the next two day period. By Wednesday 5th August the school had a watertight, two-storey, six classroom teaching block installed. That left the contractor just under four weeks to complete all internal finishes and handover the completed turnkey solution. We are delighted that this ambitious programme was achieved. On 1st September 2020, the project reached Practical Completion and was handed over to the school.

Given the timescales of the project, would this be possible if it was constructed traditionally? In comparison, on the same school site, the Department for Education constructed an identical six classroom extension, using similar design and materials, which in total took 8 months to construct. That is construction only, and does not include the design and tender periods.

In those same 8 months, the Faithful+Gould team design, tendered and delivered the teaching space. That is despite overcoming the challenges of ‘lockdown’ and a pause in the project of almost two months. Our client was delighted with the outcome and their operational team have fully accepted the new facility onto their estates.

So what about the Quality of MMC, it can’t be the same as traditional many people suggest? But why not, in fact why can’t it be better? Mark Farmer identified in his report ‘If you buy a new car, you expect it to have been built in a factory to exacting standards, to be delivered on time, to an agreed price and to a predetermined quality.’

 There are in fact some clear advantages of MMC which point to a higher quality:

  • An easier method of compliance to building standards.
  • The ability to achieve high standards, including high thermal and acoustic performance.
  • A reduction in waste materials, with a larger incentive for suppliers to reduce waste.
  • A controlled environment leading to a higher quality construction in finish with fewer defects.
  • Construction that is less effected by inclement weather during the build.
  • Improved traceability of components enabling improvements to maintenance regimes.

And it doesn’t end there. From greater certainty in the cost of delivery (again that controlled environment), the opportunity to create pockets of skilled labour, to a reduction in the environmental impact of the construction activities, the benefits are easy to identify.

Therefore, we must ask ourselves; why is the uptake of MMC not being driven harder in the industry? Is it confidence in the product? Lack of awareness? Blinkered thinking? Lack of capacity in the industry? The reasons are endless but from our experience on this project, our Faithful+Gould team suspect that the benefits are going to start outweighing them and we are going to see increased momentum for MMC in the coming years.

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