January 17, 2022

Offsite – A view from the Construction Summit

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and the need to strengthen the response is now high on everyone’s global conscience. With this in mind, the construction industry needs to identify new strategies to drive progress and, for its part, the offsite sector has an increasingly important role to play, as Zoe Kennedy, Head of Communications at Modularize OBO of the Offsite Alliance, outlines here in this timely article.

Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive, Constructing Excellence Midlands

Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive, Constructing Excellence Midlands, says: “The construction industry is one of the biggest polluters of carbon emissions, and in order to combat climate change we must go beyond operational emissions and address their full life cycle. Having just attended COP26 the two biggest concerns are embodied carbon and our existing building stock.”

In order to mitigate climate change, carbon reduction considerations need to be assessed at the beginning of a project and therefore the key concepts of embodied and whole life carbon are very important to understand. This also includes a better understanding of smart construction by using digital technologies and industrialised manufacturing techniques to improve productivity, minimise whole life cycle costs, improve sustainability and maximise user benefits.

Be Smart with Smart Construction

Offsite construction techniques and Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) approaches certainly make for a smarter way of building by creating leaner, greener, safer and cleaner environments. Lack of knowledge and the resistance to change have historically slowed the uptake of offsite construction but through collaboration the industry is working hard to solve some of these challenges.

For example, the new DfMA overlay to the RIBA Plan of Works this year has been hugely instrumental in helping architects and construction professionals understand what they need to do differently at each stage of the project lifecycle to successfully adopt offsite processes. This has been revolutionary, in many ways, because for the first time ever it is advocating the need for early collaboration amongst our project stakeholders. This means our architects will be working alongside MMC and energy consultants and this is how we will truly drive sustainable design and construction.

Also the development of the Construction Innovation Hub’s Value Toolkit has also been influential in driving change. The government backed initiative designed to change the way the construction industry thinks about and measures value, gives project stakeholders the ability to make value-based decisions across the investment lifecycle of a project, programme and portfolio in order to deliver better outcomes and create a more sustainable built environment.

Of course utilising technology such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) allows all information about that project to flow freely between everybody involved to enable more productive, open working relationships to be developed meaning that the project should flow more smoothly. But the use of BIM also enables information about the project to be embedded in the design – such as materials and the energy efficiency of a building to help achieve even better and more accurate designs.

Data Collection Transforming the Way we Build

The data used in BIM is stored in a product data management (PDM) system and allows identification of every part of every building and its specific location including computer-aided design (CAD) data, models, parts information, manufacturing instructions, requirements, notes and documents. As an industry there is a real need to start collecting this data because this is how we will transform the way we build for the better.

The evolution of this is a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system which allows changes to a products design to be managed with full traceability, identifying which designs are deployed in which locations and making sure any design improvements are rolled out in future generations of a product. This includes collecting and managing data such as actual energy in use to understand how buildings are performing in operation, as well as facilities management data to ensure the replacement and maintenance of products used during the lifecycle of the building. This is not only useful for managing building information for individual buildings but also for major regeneration schemes and masterplans to create a digital twin environment and predict how a product or process or whole smart city will perform.

Project teams that use BIM have the ability to link their models to a mass of data to improve the accuracy and quality of the information produced in order to create buildings that are more economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. For more information on the implementation of BIM, PDM and PLM visit Modularize –  the offsite pioneers.

The Future of Housing Construction is Bright

Whilst BIM is proving itself to be a valuable mechanism for connecting information and ideas between different stakeholders, its aim to link the design and asset management phases of a project has not yet been capitalised and therefore, as an industry, we are missing out on the opportunity to demonstrate its value throughout the building lifecycle. Now, it’s time for forward-thinking leaders to evolve their BIM outputs beyond design and construction and find new ways of deepening the use of collaborative data models in operational strategies through digital twin adoption.

If we all start to deliver projects differently with a more system thinking and process mindset, utilising offsite construction and digitalisation technologies, we can overcome many of the challenges we are facing. We can’t do this working in the usual construction silos, it will only be through collaboration that we will drive the sector forward. The Offsite Alliance welcomes all who are driven to collaborate to challenge the norm, do things differently and strive for better. Through collaboration and action we will deliver the transformation the Construction industry needs to build better quality, more sustainable houses faster. The future of housing construction is bright, the future is the Offsite Alliance.

To find out more visit the Offsite Alliance.