2018 Modular Matters

A Time for Confidence & Progression

The Modular Matters event at the Birmingham NEC on 30 October 2018, saw a sold out audience hear in expert detail how volumetric modular technology is being used across a range of vertical construction markets and creating huge interest in offsite technology.

The event focused on the latest developments, innovations and investments being made in the volumetric modular offsite sector and outlined many of the reasons why the offsite supply chain is appealing to designers, specifiers, engineers and ground-breaking clients. The programme featured 14 high profile speakers who shared their in-depth knowledge with nearly 150 delegates.


Rory Bergin, Partner, Sustainable Futures, HTA Design LLP and Michael Hough, Director, MJH Structural Engineers, started the day by outlining some key overriding messages about the strengths of offsite manufacture and how it is competing with the traditional building sector that is now close to being 'maxed out' with capacity issues. It is time for bigger factory-based businesses to think about collaborating and working together and consider making building systems compatible. Both discussed the award-winning, landmark projects at Mapleton Crescent and Apex House and explained why the concept of 'modularisation' of building design is so important to future offsite developments. As Rory Bergin said: "Whatever you do - do it good."


Patrick Hayes, Head of Structures & Offsite Construction, Meinhardt UK and Stuart Marshall, Sales and Development, Elements Europe, spoke of essential early engagement of the modular supplier into the building design process to maximise the benefits of modular integration. "Key to success is interface management," said Stuart Marshall. "We want to offer a range of modular options then take this template design to integrate into your design process."

Patrick from Meinhardt spoke on the Essential Living Greenwich Scheme and again emphasised the continuing importance of identifying interface management and using a DfMA approach. "It is important when designing the module to understand everything that touches the module including MEP and then designing in efficiencies."


Ewelina Woźniak-Szpakiewicz, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, DMD Modular, provided a European perspective and talked about the developing offsite market in Poland. Poland has one of the fastest growing economies in the EU and Ewelina outlined how the company being part of Black Red White - one of the biggest furniture groups in Europe - has taken some of the expertise behind component design and manufacture and used it to inform the detailing, quality and design of the volumetric units. DMD Modular is currently involved with the world's tallest modular hotel - the AC Marriot Sixth Avenue, New York - and are also in the process of developing a prototype student accommodation unit for the UK market.


Michael Swiszczowski, Associate Director, Chapman Taylor presented a case study on Holiday Inn Express, Trafford City, Manchester, that challenges some of the perceptions of what offsite actually means and is "a building that is not obviously modular". Important for future developments he laid out the need for better 'elevation treatments' such as brick slips and curtain walling and how these can be applied to modular developments. He finished by saying about offsite construction: "It feels like that we are genuinely at a different point and looking at a new wave of developments."


Ben Drake, Associate, Peter Dann Consulting Engineers and James Walsh, Partner, Studio Anyo both spoke about the standardised and stackable approach to hotel design and how offsite manufacture is a perfect application with "less headaches and more certainty." The stackable method inherent to volumetric modular is delivering complex buildings in a 'simple' way with the addition of zonal design allowing further flexibility of systems across the supply chain.


Andy Smith, Head of Business Development, Caledonian Modular sees an exciting future ahead for volumetric construction and spoke on the success story behind Hinkley Point C Bridgwater Campus and a: "consistent repeatable process with lean manufacture techniques, a DfMA approach with additional smart construction making it all work successfully." A fuller report on this project can be found on page 50.


Grabbing many industry headlines in recent months, ilke Homes are providing a new generation of modular affordable housing in the UK. They have ambitious plans, capacity and process capabilities to disrupt the housing market. Paul Mason, Business Development Manager talked about a 'scale solution to the affordable housing crisis' and the ilke factory in Flaxby set to produce 2,000 homes a year, with the base intention to add 'additional volume' to traditional build programmes.


John Bedford, Senior Consultant, CHIC and Ian Astley, Regional Director, Premier Modular, stressed the importance of collaborative team work and spoke about the BuildSmart framework and how it is helping to deliver a fully managed service with unique factory-finished homes - adding a range of options to a base model. One aspect of modular and offsite design that should not be underestimated are the environmental benefits and huge savings on CO2.


Zoe Powell, Business Development Director, Elliott Group and Mark Hargreaves, Associate Director, DLA Design, discussed the journey into standardisation and use across the McDonalds restaurant chain as an example of excellent standardised design. They build 20-25 restaurants a year with 75% standardised and completed offsite across three building types. The process takes the "construction to burger in three weeks."


Chris Dale, Head of MMC for the Department for Education, spoke plainly about the value of offsite and the fantastic innovation and access to wider markets it brings. But for the public sector there is still a central requirement to see reduced costs, better quality manufacture and certainty of delivery. The department is committed to DfMA, refining modular plans and developing pipeline, but more data and evidence is required to support wider offsite adoption.


Emily King, Education Specialist at Portakabin, gave a passionate presentation on the benefits of volumetric modular and why "modular does really matter." The modular route can provide effective school buildings reducing disruption to the staff and students and showed how modular can respond well to the demands of school footprints via a flexible approach where units can be relocated, re-used and re-imagined for developing school needs and requirements.


Lorraine McMorrow, Digital Construction Manager, at the McAvoy Group talked about the exciting new opportunities offered by digital construction and how technology such as immersive virtual and augmented reality are pushing the construction sector into territory never seen before to inform client decisions. The big challenge is to upscale the workforce to create a new generation of multi-skilled and digitally minded teams that think about buildings in a different way.


The day finished with a thought provoking and mind-expanding presentation from Derek Thomson, Programme Director: Commercial Management and Quantity Surveying, Loughborough University, who discussed the need for through-life performance and design configurability within building component and system design, together with a focus on reducing inefficiency and introducing "economies of scope as well as economies of scale," He left the audience with the comment "think platforms - think mutual alliances."

After an intensive day of discussion there was an overwhelmingly positive atmosphere about what offsite construction and volumetric modular systems can do. "The more industrialised we can become the more value we can deliver," was at the centre of many of the presentations and discussions, alongside much talk about early engagement, developing long term relationships between clients and manufacturers to improve project pipelines. Certainly the need to educate and engage better with clients, supply chain members and contractors is vitally important within an integrated interoperable approach. After all: "The competition is traditional construction, not other offsite and modular suppliers."

After the main event finished, the Modular & Portable Building Association (MPBA) held an 80th anniversary drinks reception that saw the launch of the specialist MPBA Volumetric Housing Working Group.

Click here to check out the photo gallery