The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has endorsed the need for the building industry to drive innovation in offsite manufacturing (OSM) in the UK.
A 60-page report claims that at present, a number of obstacles are preventing this pioneering building technique from developing its full potential in the UK in order to boost housebuilding, concluding that a “radical overhaul” is required.
The committee’s findings were supported by the construction industry, which identified the fragmented business model and low margins as stumbling blocks currently impacting on contractors, designers and clients.
Optimising a project’s design
Geoff Fawkes, business development director at the OSM specialist McAvoy Group, said: “Early collaboration with the client right at the feasibility stage helps to optimise the design of a project. As a contractor, you get to understand what the client is trying to achieve, while the client is able to understand how the contractor would deliver it.”
Experts at UK Research and Innovation, which acts as an umbrella organisation for Innovate UK and Research England, together with seven research councils across the UK, raised a major issue to the committee within the construction industry, where “entrenched cultural practices and a reluctance to break away from existing networks of contracting bodies” was delaying the growth of OSM nationwide.
McAvoy Group’s Fawkes explains: “This report rightly picks up on the need for better information on the number and location of planned OSM projects, giving providers the confidence to invest in greater production.”
Need for immediate reform
All parties were in agreement that it was essential that the construction sector undertake some major changes in its approach. In November 2017, as part of its Industrial Strategy, the government produced a Construction Sector Deal, referenced and supported by the Lords committee’s report, stating that they hoped the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) would partner with the government to maximise the success of the sector deal. The report expressed a “presumption in favour” for adopting OSM from 2019 across the government departments: health, transport, education, justice and defence.
Head of strategic research and insight at Arcadis and a CLC member, Simon Rawlinson, said: “This report together with the sector deal make me confident that OSM will eventually thrive. It starts to create that momentum of more volume going through the system, more investment, more opportunity, so that gives me a lot of confidence.”
The overall view was that this new report succeeded in raising awareness and the need to progress with OSM, putting a spotlight on the elements that are key to making this sector flourish.