The shift towards modular technology

With the Department for Education announcing that the new School Building Programme will focus on modern methods of construction – the shift towards innovative, factory-based building methods has been verified, writes Jackie Maginnis, chief executive of the Modular and Portable Building Association

The government and the wider public sector are the largest clients of the construction industry. Evidence shows that they are major influencers and play an important role in encouraging and facilitating the uptake of offsite building technologies.     
Here Jackie Maginnis, chief executive of the Modular and Portable Building Association (MPBA), considers the benefits of volumetric modular methods for the education sector.
With the department for education just announcing that the new School Building Programme will focus on modern methods of construction – the shift towards innovative factory-based building methods has been verified. The firms which have secured spots on its £3bn offsite framework have been confirmed, which I’m delighted to report includes members of the MPBA.
The levels of confidence in the sector in respect of the long-term viability of offsite technology is greater than previously witnessed and is underpinned now by the consistent and joined-up messages from government. Around 30 schools a year will be built over the next four years and volumetric modular technology will play a major role in achieving the education department’s latest school building programme.

Ideal learning environments

Delivering benefits that will have a huge positive impact on cost, programme, quality and safety – volumetric modular technology brings the longstanding traditional practices of developing new schools, colleges and universities – up to date.
Modular buildings within the education sector have come a long way since the cabins of old and are now considered an ideal learning environment for students. Advances in volumetric modular design and finish, combined with contract specifications that are often limited in terms of timescales and budget, have boosted the demand for this technology and offsite techniques.

Design options for volumetric modular buildings now include popular turnkey finishes, enabling education authorities to create ready-made classrooms tailored to the specific needs of the school. With this ready-to-go option, modular buildings provide an instant advantage to those who need a cost-effective and bespoke solution to utilise all the space available effectively. In contrast to traditional building methods, the versatility of modules means that they can be used as a temporary or permanent structure, together with extending existing facilities. In some cases, this provides options for fully functional school buildings to be removed and reused elsewhere if required.
The extended lifecycle of modular units means that they are now available to buy new or recycled and can be designed to fit into even the most logistically difficult locations.

The optimum technology: volumetric modular construction

Offsite manufacture encompasses a variety of panelised and volumetric modular methods of construction. At the forefront of offsite techniques, modular building has had a remarkable impact on reducing costs while increasing quality and safety measures. Having gained considerable momentum over the past few years, modular construction makes up 60-70 per cent of offsite manufacture and reduces build times by an impressive 50-60 per cent.
The demand for customisation, particularly in the education sector, has led the modular manufacturing industry to develop methods for adaptation during mass production while meeting individual customer needs.

Volumetric modular practices augment the construction industry with a multitude of benefits that span from greener, healthier environments to maximised sustainability, heavily reduced costs and quick build times.
Volumetric technology allows providers to customise any modular building to meet exacting needs and blend in with surroundings. Each individual material can be selected specifically for its performance characteristics, tailoring every inch of a modular build. Eco-friendly materials are often specified, and waste is recycled for future projects wherever possible. Not only this, but components are also available in a range of sizes for expansions whenever necessary.
As units are factory manufactured, stringent quality control processes can be undertaken within these well-managed environments. These conditions also prevent weather from inhibiting the manufacturing process, guaranteeing efficiency. On top of this, modular construction enables site work and building processes to be completed simultaneously, reducing labour costs and build times.
Though the benefits of volumetric modular building have been known for decades, critical success factors and large-scale enablers for optimal industrial modularisation have only recently underlined the need for engineering, procurement and construction project delivery systems to be developed for the optimum use of modular technology.

Smart alternatives

As a smart alternative to traditional building methods, modular construction offers numerous unrivalled benefits to the education sector, including a faster return on investment as site work and building processes can be completed simultaneously.
Manufacturing in factory-controlled environments mitigates the constraints of weather dependency and the risk of moisture becoming trapped in structures.
Achieving minimal waste and environmentally friendly construction processes, modular building is a sustainable step towards combatting climate change and air pollution.
Another benefit is that modular units can be easily transported, providing rapid solutions for required premises.
Modular buildings can be easily disassembled and relocated, and refurbishments can be easily facilitated, making them ideal for temporary and permanent applications.
What’s more, components are available in a range of sizes and can be customised to meet exacting requirements for internal and external finishes.
Increasing capacity

With the school-age population set to increase by 5.5 per cent in the next two years, these advantages enable urgent education buildings to be delivered faster and importantly, achieving minimum disruption and permitting education providers to continue delivering vital services by remaining largely operational.
By promoting increased efficiency, frameworks also lower wastage across the construction lifecycle. Increased regulation of waste has led to education frameworks seeking progressively sustainable solutions to minimise CO2 emissions, reduce or even eliminate waste and make use of recyclable materials. Modular building techniques reduce waste on site, as the majority of the build can take place offsite, where it is easier to control and recycle materials.
Once considered the budget option for low cost hotels, modular technology is now considered to be the optimum solution to deliver high quality, energy efficient education builds and student accommodation – on time and within budget.

About MPBA

As the single recognised voice, the MPBA plays a key role in the connecting of sectors in the modular and portable building industry. These can be designed and manufactured from timber, concrete and steel, in any size and shape to meet individual client needs while ensuring full compliance with building regulations.

With MPBA’s assistance, offsite construction companies remain ever competitive in the modular and portable building industry. The association is represented on committees for BSI, LPCB-Expert Group D and works with BRE, LABC, CLG, NHS, Cskills-CITB, Carbon Trust, NHS and many more to represent the industry.
The association collaborates with specialist technical advisors to enhance innovation in the design and manufacture of modular buildings. To discover how modular technology can benefit education developments, visit the website below.