Strong data gathering from live sites is demonstrating the value of smart construction

Stewart Dalgarno, Director of Product Development at Stewart Milne Timber Systems, discusses how Advanced Industrialised Methods for the Construction of Homes (AIMCH) is delivering key data that’s informing better decision-making and supporting change and investment

When considering the scale of the UK housing shortage and seeking viable solutions, it’s vital that innovation is placed at the centre of the country’s approach.

The National Housing Federation believes that England alone needs 340,000 new homes every year, including 145,000 social homes. With that in mind, the continued lack of supply requires radical ideas and a real step change in thinking.

The most urgent shortage is in the provision of affordable homes, and it’s increasingly clear that the rate at which additional homes need to be built cannot be reached solely through traditional construction methods.

A more considered, forward-thinking approach is therefore required to transform and modernise how tomorrow’s homes are built. Finding methods that combine speed, quality and efficiency in order to build affordable, high-quality and low carbon, efficient homes is a huge priority.

Among the most viable solutions is the flagship three-year housing innovation project Advanced Industrialised Methods for the Construction of Homes (AIMCH) which aims to combat the UK housing crisis through a significant collaborative effort across a number of industry leaders.

This project involves major private, public and academic partners and the goal is to transform how the construction industry builds homes. It is being managed by Limberger Associates, and includes Stewart Milne Group, Barratt Developments PLC, London Quadrant Housing Trust Ltd, the Manufacturing Technology Centre, the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre and Forster Roofing Services Ltd.

Through the increasingly popular methodology of offsite construction, digital working and lean site assembly, we collectively believe that the sustainable, highly integrated construction approach offered by AIMCH represents a strong alternative to traditional construction methods.

It’s about thinking differently and embracing fresh concepts that can be quickly scaled up in order to effectively respond to demand for homes, skills shortages in the building industry, and heightened environmental considerations.

Key among these concepts is offsite construction which emphasises sustainability. Indeed, its ability to significantly increase the speed at which a home’s structure can be created reduces wastage and risk in a significantly more efficient and cost-effective manner.

The Innovation-led consortium AIMCH is dedicated to a specific aim, however – of identifying and honing the industrialised offsite panelised methods that will help to meaningfully meet current and future housebuilding demands. These solutions are set to be trialled with the most successful being taken forward, commercialised, and then brought to market.

With that in mind, data is currently being gathered from live construction sites in order to provide better insights, more informed decision-making, and to aid business cases for change and investment across the industry.

Indeed, a research report has just been published by AIMCH – the project’s first output – which examines construction productivity measurement and protocols. The aim is to establish a new, more effective way for businesses of all sizes to use data that demonstrates the value of MMC.

The research, carried out by the University of Dundee in association with Whole Life Consultants and managed by Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC), is thought to be one of the most comprehensive the industry has undertaken.

The report considers a total of 66 metrics across safety, productivity, quality, cost, time and material waste, all of which are in turn aligned to the published Smart Construction Dashboard.

It’s thought that aligning these metrics across the housing sector will enable small, medium and large supply chain businesses to demonstrate the value of smart construction and respond consistently to future demands.

Fundamentally, it means supporting the faster delivery of high-quality homes, more reliably and at the same cost as masonry-built homes.

Furthermore, we believe this enhanced understanding of the current measurement landscape now has the potential to deliver tangible benefits to the wider construction industry and other sectors such as transport and infrastructure.

Fresh research and development from the AIMCH project is planned over the next three years. The research will be trialled on live housing projects, with successful new methods then being commercialised and brought to market in volume.

Indeed, as part of the AIMCH project, SMTS has been working on some advanced timber frame trials with Barratt on their site at Pewterspear, near Warrington. On two of the plots pre-tiled roofs were assembled on the floor slabs on site – increasing health and safety as no-one was having to work from height.

The next stage will be to complete the commercial analysis of the trials along with Barratt and the wider AIMCH team to identify the product development ideas trialled which can be taken forward for construction’s future strategy.

AIMCH seeks to advance digitally integrated solutions in design standardisation, design for manufacture, supply chain integration, enhanced offsite panelised systems and lean construction processes. This is expected to further streamline the process.

Taking an offsite panelised construction approach means there is also less reliance on on-site supervision during the key superstructure construction process. The faster build of the main structures meanwhile serves to de-risk the process.

If we are to navigate the UK’s housing shortage by successfully introducing lasting sustainable solutions, then innovation frameworks such as AIMCH must be considered among the country’s strongest strategies.