Keeping London at the forefront of global business
working with and for the whole UK
Has Covid-19 allowed MMC to come of age?
17 June 2020
The term ‘Modern Methods of Construction’ (MMC) in UK construction and development parlance has been around for decades. It gained renewed interest following influential Government commissioned reports into challenges inherent with our construction industry headed by Sir Michael Latham, (1994), which argued for greater collaboration, and Sir John Egan (1998) which went further and urged construction to take notice of other industries, notably car manufacturing. But what is MMC?
MMC is just designing and building differently. Getting away from building from scratch unique buildings on every site, designing out the same interface issues, reducing the effects of weather during construction, improving quality through standardisation and quality management processes and decreasing build times. A more efficient and consistently better product. A new guide ‘MMC for Affordable Housing Developers’ published in September 2019 outlines seven categories from fully factory produced plots (category 1) to improved products site assembled (category 7), but makes it clear that a new mindset is required to reap the rewards.
For specialist airspace developer Apex Airspace, MMC means a category 1 approach — building a flat, including external walls of light gauge steel framing, windows, internal walls, kitchen, bathroom, wall and floor finishes in a factory and craning a finished ‘module’ into position on top of an existing building. This is a type of MMC called ‘volumetric modular’, providing affordable homes quickly for London Boroughs and Housing Associations and increasing asset values for private blocks of flat owners.
Order volume and degree of repetition (layout and products) are key to the economies of scale for volumetric modular construction. Regulation and guidance are creating opportunities for the emergence of MMC and there are several major impending Building Regulations changes. The thermal and ventilation requirements to meet the ‘Future Homes Standard’ of energy efficiency are an opportunity to extol the airtightness quality facets of factory built units, but also a challenge due to the inherent lack of thermal mass of light-gauged steel construction compared to site built brick and block cavity walls. The changes to fire standards shouldn’t be an issue in terms of combustibility, but the requirement for sprinklers in buildings over 11m will add further cost to an already slightly more expensive form of construction. And then came Covid-19.
A survey last month found that 44% of Contractors had no sites open and 42% only had some sites open. The effect on peoples financial and mental wellbeing is profound, the effect on the economy, staggering. The Construction Leadership Council’s ‘Site Operating Procedures’ published last month offered welcomed guidance to get us building again. But the procedures are hard to manage, costs will rise and efficiency will inevitably reduce. How long such measures will be required for is unknown.
So the benefits of building in a factory, where such safety procedures can be efficiently managed and become a new norm, are obvious. Could the insidious Covid-19 unwittingly finally lead the UK construction industry and clients to make the leap of faith some require to embrace the purest form of MMC? Enabling us, at long last, to finally get close to the 300,000 homes per year by 2025 the UK Government has targeted, when we are barely building half that number now.
Become a member
Our members include over 200 of the capital’s leading employers across a wide range of sectors, with a common commitment to our capital.