Along with over 1000 other delegates, yesterday I attended the National Construction Expo in Milton Keynes. See below for my take on the day’s events.
An extremely hot topic this year – four talks which I attended focused on this issue, with another two referring to it in passing. Keep an eye out for a future blog on this subject, coming shortly.
In brief, the appeal of modular housing lies in the ability to construct in a controlled environment (a housing factory, as it were) a range of buildings which can be shipped to their location and installed in a matter of hours. One speaker claimed that his company was able to install six units per day (two units being a 2-bed house) and showed us a time lapse of two houses being installed in one day earlier this year.
Production techniques for these buildings are advancing at speed, with many speakers comparing their construction to a car production line, with all the associated labour saving (and ability to customise the product) which is inherent in a modern car factory.
Technology in Construction
One of the key developments on everyone’s lips. From virtual and augmented reality goggles to drones and EV’s, technology was (as is customary) very high on the agenda. However, the overarching tone of much of this coverage was the fact that much of the technology on show is already in use on some building sites, with the speakers on the day discussing real-life use rather than graphics and beautifully-rendered artist’s impressions.
Building Information Modelling
The panel discussion I attended focused mainly on BIM’s application to commercial buildings, and in particular to data extraction and the balance between running costs and build costs.
When applying BIM to a project, if parties are able to engage and decide what types and amounts of data they require at the front end of the process then the likelihood of the model becoming a useful tool rather than forgotten in a drawer increases dramatically.
When evaluating the “cost of a building project” employers need to consider the facilities management costs of the building far earlier and if possible in conjunction with the build cost. Mapping out the building as an economic process with a cost plan for the building throughout its lifespan will result in a plan for the building which will greatly inform the build.
A favoured topic for Construction-focused academics and policy-makers, collaborative working was again on the agenda.
The speakers I heard on this topic were (as with technology) here to discuss existing arrangements as much as suggestions for the future, with many Construction SME’s using partnership/consortium arrangements as a way of competing with larger businesses. The benefits of long-term supply chain relationships, such as profit forecasting and reliability of service, were also strongly advocated.
The elephant in the room at many an industry event of late, one speaker requested we avoid the “B-word” until the last 5 minutes of a 30-minute panel discussion. Once this bar was lifted the mood seemed uncertain but cautiously optimistic. Many parties present already are and will continue to trade with Europe throughout the process, those contracts already in place will need to continue with as little hindrance as possible for benefit of both parties.
One speaker made the point that, important as it is, “Brexit does not affect the laws of physics”. Whatever happens with Brexit, housebuilding will need to continue apace both here and in the EU. Expertise, plant and materials alike will need to be exchanged, using mechanisms which allow companies on either side of the Channel to work efficiently.