John Leitch is bid manager at Hull-based modular buildings specialist M-AR Ltd and has used Access ConQuest for more than 27 years. As demand for housing, particularly affordable homes, soars, he explains how offsite construction can provide greater cost certainty and faster delivery times

Hitting housing targets is an ongoing challenge for many local authorities, which is why growing numbers are supplementing traditional building projects with Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), or modular buildings – not just for new homes but schools too.

One of the main reasons, of course, is speed. A modular construction project can be completed up to 40% faster than conventional ones because most of the work is completed and approved off-site.

Clients, whether they be councils or commercial developers, benefit from cost certainty due to less waste and fewer delays, as well as faster ROI because the building is occupied sooner. Modular allows us to increase capacity across the construction industry too, incentivising spend, creating employment and ensuring valuable trade skills are targeted in the right areas.

The government clearly sees MMC will help it meet its target of building 300,000 homes a year over the next few years. Responding to a report by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee back in 2019, the housing minister urged housebuilders to ‘embrace MMC’ and ‘take advantage of new technologies to deliver good-quality new-build homes quickly.’

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Modular construction is highly efficient because manufacturing takes place in a controlled factory environment, running concurrently with site works. Offsite fabrication and “just in time” delivery allows us to deliver buildings exactly when they are needed, helping to avoid storage costs and reduce the space needed on-site. By avoiding multiple handling, we reduce the chance of waste through damage too.

Quality assured

By the time they reach site, the modules are 70 to 80% complete – including the full fit-out of all fixtures, fittings, and MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing). The build can then progress smoothly because everything leaves our site having undergone rigorous quality checks.

We are proud to hold the Build Offsite Property Assurance Scheme accreditation (BOPAS), which offers durability and maintenance carried out by Building Life Plans Ltd (BLP) with the process accreditation carried out by Lloyds Register. This also reassures mortgage providers, in much the same way as the NHBC does with traditional construction.

Good communication with supply chain partners is key to the success of any construction project and MMC is geared up for this. We engage with our suppliers early on, providing them with the M-AR BOPAS-accredited standard construction details.

There are procurement agreements are in place for supply chain ‘call off’ for the standard material, sheet materials, insulation, structural frames, roof, floor and wall beams. Other materials, for example kitchen installations, are specific to the project, though the supply chain can accommodate these requirements.

We are able to work effectively with subcontractors too since most projects are a ‘design and build’. As soon as the project is designed to the point where we can obtain competitive tenders, we’ll partner with a subcontractor to complete the design of the project to meet the employers’ requirements.

Costs and variations

Since our quality control involves several hold points, we can make sure all buildings are handed over with zero defects. Quality is continually monitored and signed off at various stages in the production facility with an emphasis on achieving zero defects on completion.

The design is costed and approved – or frozen – before manufacturing begins, giving the client certainty but there’s still flexibility, and any changes to the layout can be accommodated and cost accordingly. Key dates are provided with the contract programmes to indicate the latest dates for changes and keep the project on track.

Digital tools

We use Access ConQuest construction management software, setting up projects in exactly the same way you would for a traditional building project with costs entered for preliminaries, design fees, manufacturing and so on.

Once a contract is secured, the construction team receives a detailed analysis, demonstrating the build-up of the estimate. Additionally, if there is a two-stage tender and we are required to demonstrate market testing, we’ll use the system to analyse, compare and summarise subcontractor tenders on a like-for-like basis in the build-up of the contract sum.

Looking ahead

We have recently moved into a purpose-built facility that lends itself to ‘end-to-end’ manufacturing and enables us to work even more efficiently.

Our team is also enthusiastic, positive, and proactive – they work well together while having defined roles and responsibilities. We have significant experience of delivering turnkey projects and are currently working with several local authorities on schools and affordable housing schemes.

The future of modular construction is encouraging because we can respond quickly to demand for buildings when time is of the essence. Last year, we completed four contemporary homes for Sheffield City Council within 12 weeks, adding to its social housing stock. As the appetite for modular grows further, we are looking forward to completing more projects across the UK.

To find out more about Access ConQuest estimating software, click here.

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