“If we are to deliver homes at the scale, pace and quality the country needs, we have to seriously shake up how we build our homes. This means embracing new technologies like modern offsite methods of construction, which has proven our homes can be built more efficiently and sustainably. Meaningful collaboration between all stakeholders, public and private, backed up with government commitments to hard targets on the use of offsite construction solutions, matching the ambitions of the Government, will drive the investment needed to allow the innovation and adoption happen in the sector.” Mark McGreevy, COO Sisk Group and Chair of PII’s Construction Innovation Policy Group, speaking at the report launch 

Earlier this month Property Industry Ireland, or PII, a part of business lobbying organisation Ibec, launched ‘Innovation Increasing Supply’, a new report on how offsite construction can help support the housing delivery ambitions of the Government, as set out under the Housing For All strategy and the National Development Plan

The report provides an overview of what offsite construction, as a modern methods of construction, or MMC, technique (see annex 5 from the report, below), actually entails:

“The manufacture and pre-assembly of construction components, elements, or modules, in a factory before being fully assembled onsite. There are four main categories: panelised systems, modular or volumetric systems, sub-assemblies and components, and hybrid systems (which combine different categories).

Offsite construction is a delivery method that adds substantial value to a product and process due to being manufactured and assembled in a controlled and highly automated environment. Part or all of the construction process is completed in a location other than where the final building is going to be situated. The objective is to deliver elements of the project

to the construction site at an advanced state of completion. This can range from individual building elements that are completed and transported to the building site for assembly, to full modular construction in a factory setting. This removes site activity from the construction process. While there is not a fixed metric, offsite construction is where the construction value added offsite is at least 55% of the final construction value at completion.”

The report also outlines some of the benefits of offsite construction, namely:

  • Speed of construction – typically 50%-60% reduction in project delivery times 
  • Economies of scale 
  • Additional capacity to deliver on housing need
  • Consistently high quality
  • Reduced waste
  • Environmental benefits – Energy efficiency and overall reduced carbon footprint 
  • Regional employment and skills diversity

Critically, the report notes that while many of the above benefits are already being enjoyed through the delivery of some offsite construction projects in Ireland, government commitment to increase the scale of offsite construction is required in order to fully maximise the potential benefits. 

Known challenges to increased use of offsite construction: 

  • Pipeline uncertainty 
  • Lack of design standardisation and need to  design for manufacture
  • Procurement model for public projects
  • Materials supply constraints

Significantly, the report gives policy recommendations to help realise the benefits from offsite construction, as follows:  

1. Providing a continuous and stable pipeline – Government needs to commit to a house building programme using offsite construction methods, which will necessitate a reform of current procurement methods. Such certainty of demand will allow companies to invest and scale-up while also allowing the government to take advantage of the economies of scale available at higher volumes of production.

2. Minimum offsite construction requirement – By mandating that a proposed portion of 30% (starting point, increasing to 50%-70%) of future social and affordable housing be completed using offsite and MMC, the government will encourage more businesses to invest in offsite manufacturing and to commit to increasing the speed of delivery. 

3. Determination of current offsite capacity – Collaboration is needed between MMC companies and the Government to ascertain the current output capacity of the sector.

4. Establish a Modern Methods of Construction Forum – Government and industry stakeholders need to come together at this stage to establish an MMC Forum to share best practice relating to manufacturing and commonality at design stage. 

5. Public procurement engages at the pre-tender phase – Delivery of homes by offsite construction requires a different approach to public procurement so there needs to be engagement with the sector at pre-tender phase to fully understand the different MMC technologies. 

6. Development of labour force’s offsite construction skills – Further use of offsite construction will lead to increased levels of manufacturing output, which will increase the demand for specialist manufacturing skills and resources, as well as some traditional construction skills. According to the report, companies in the offsite construction sector are keen to liaise with the education sector to develop new and innovative upskilling programmes in line with Future Jobs Ireland

7. Review of height restrictions –  It is recommended that Part B of the Building Regulations, which limits the use of certain materials in multi-storey construction, be reviewed.

The Ibec/PII report can be accessed in full here: https://www.ibec.ie/connect-and-learn/media/2021/10/05/new-report-outlines-role-of-offsite-construction-in-addressing-the-housing

About Horizon Offsite

Horizon Offsite Ltd is one of Europe’s leading players in Offsite Construction and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), providing a fully accredited structural light gauge steel system to the residential, industrial, commercial, healthcare and educational sectors. Contact the Horizon Offsite team at https://horizonoffsite.ie