Modern methods of construction Contents

3Defining MMC

17.One of the main difficulties when discussing MMC is defining what the term means and deciding which methods should be included under the banner of “modern methods of construction”. Much of the written evidence submitted to this inquiry referred to forms of off-site manufacture for construction, including modular and panellised systems, and timber or steel framed homes. However, others put more emphasis on the role of digitalisation in modern construction and the precision finishing that digital technology can help to deliver.

What do “modern methods of construction” encompass?

18.During our oral evidence session with representatives from homebuilders Barratt Developments and Taylor Wimpey, they told us they were trialling a number of different MMC techniques to take advantage of the benefits of MMC, most pressingly to overcome the skills shortage in traditional trades. Barratt Developments is currently building 19% of its new homes using timber frames and aims to increase this to 20% by 2020.35 However, Chairman of the Local Government Association, Lord Porter of Spalding CBE did not agree that these types of homes should be included in the definition of MMC:

First of all, you should clear up what MMC is. Based on the session I have just listened to, it is about as modern as—I do not know. We have been building timber-frame houses since Elizabethan times, so it is not really that modern. I do not think MMC is applicable.36

This view is not unique, written evidence submitted by Stonewater made a similar point:

Stop classing traditional construction techniques, including timber frame, as an MMC product. MMC should be using cutting edge technology that makes real use of innovation.37

To take advantage of the benefits of MMC outlined in this report, it is crucial homebuilders make use of innovative materials, precision manufacturing techniques and digital working and do not just shift their traditional construction methods off-site.

19.To benefit from the predicted advantages of MMC, such as better-quality finishes from precision manufacturing and developing a high-tech industry that is more appealing for potential employees to be employed in, homebuilders should use more digital technology such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) in their processes and not simply move construction off-site.

The MMC definition framework

20.To overcome the confusion around new and innovative techniques and increase understanding of what MMC involves, the Government asked the MHCLG Joint Industry Working Group on MMC, launched in January 2018 and led by Mark Farmer, CEO of Cast Consultancy to develop a definitional framework into which all modern construction techniques can be categorised.

21.The framework published in March 2019 includes a spectrum of seven broad categories, of which the first five relate to forms of pre-manufacturing, the sixth includes innovation in materials—such as systems where pieces slot together to make construction simpler, in comparison with traditional techniques. The seventh category encapsulates other forms of site-based improvements that can improve productivity, including Building Information Modelling (BIM), digital augmentation, robotics and drones.38

Box 1: Overview of MMC definitional framework39

Category 1–Pre-Manufacturing - 3D primary structural systems

Category 2–Pre-Manufacturing - 2D primary structural systems

Category 3–Pre-Manufacturing - Non systemised structural components

Category 4–Pre-Manufacturing - Additive Manufacturing

Category 5–Pre-Manufacturing–Non-structural assemblies and sub-assemblies

Category 6–Traditional building product led site labour reduction/productivity improvements

Category 7–Site process led labour reduction/productivity improvements

22.The framework covers a wide variety of construction techniques and should help to provide clarity about the range of construction methods that homebuilders may choose to use. Charlie Blagbrough from the Building Societies Association told us that using these typologies will help financial service providers such as mortgage lenders to embed and capture the data they need to better engage with MMC buildings.40

23.The definitional framework for MMC developed by the MHCLG Joint Industry Working Group on MMC enables the categorisation of all forms of MMC and will help industry actors to understand the different types of construction that could be used in the residential sector. This framework is designed to help insurers, mortgage lenders and other industry actors to engage with MMC developments and provide them with the relevant financial products; so they should take this opportunity to make use of the framework and increase their involvement with the MMC sector.

24.It is equally important that MMC is explained clearly to consumers and the benefits and disadvantages are understood by the wider public.

37 Stonewater [MMC0031]

38 Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Modern Methods of Construction working group: developing a definition framework, March 2019

39 Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Modern Methods of Construction working group: developing a definition framework, March 2019

Published: 3 July 2019