Pioneering research programme aims to shape the future of housebuilding

Published on 14/06/2020

Could a digital toolkit save the UK construction sector over £7 billion per year, whilst helping to tackle the housing crisis?

The COLAB consortium, a partnership led by L&Q alongside Virtual Viewing, Hawkins\Brown and HTA Design, certainly think so. The group has kickstarted a new project that has the potential to transform the way homes are designed and built in the UK.

Funded by Innovate UK under the recently awarded Transforming UK Construction Round 2: MMC, Digital and Whole-Life Performance competition, the team has set out to develop a digital ‘Design for Manufacture and Assembly’ (DfMA) toolkit.

Off-site manufactured technologies are increasingly seen as the future of housebuilding in the UK, speeding up construction times whilst enabling the delivery of consistently high-quality homes. However, barriers still exist that are delaying the transition from traditional to modern methods of construction.

Housebuilders have typically struggled to deliver off-site manufactured homes at volume and scale. The DfMA software will make this easier, by creating a central database within which off-site components can be stored and selected for use in new homes. It also has the potential to allow developers to source materials directly from suppliers.

The toolkit will display information about sustainability and waste, helping housebuilders find solutions for building cleaner and greener homes.

It’s estimated that this programme, believed to be the first of its kind in the UK, could speed up design and construction programmes by 30%, providing total savings of around 25% to housebuilders. 

And if adopted more widely, it could result in an average saving of £7.6 billion per year to the housebuilding sector – based on an average industry spend of £36.5 billion (as of 2016/17).

The team are aiming to have the project completed by June 2021, and partner with housing associations, local authorities and housebuilders to roll it out. 

Wayne Hill, Production Strategy Director at L&Q said, “On average, the UK has built around 155,000 homes per year over the last 30 years. The government estimates that we need 300,000 homes to tackle the housing crisis. It’s clear that as a sector, we need to find smarter ways of working.”

“L&Q was founded in 1963, and our fundamental social mission – to help tackle the housing crisis and provide homes for those who need them – has stayed the same. But that doesn’t mean we’re standing still. We’re delighted to have secured Innovate UK funding alongside our partners to research this project, which has exciting implications for how we build homes in the future.”

Stewart Bailey, Managing Director at Virtual Viewing said, “Our industry faces a range of challenges, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Sustainability, skilled labour shortages, the Hackitt Report, COVID 19 and the impending recession all combine to be a truly steep mountain to climb.  However, in 2020 we have the opportunity to leverage technology, to use applied technology on real world challenges and present real-world solutions – this is what the DfMA Toolkit from the COLAB consortium will bring. We are delighted to be a part of such a great partnering of businesses and are truly excited about the benefits we will bring to the industry.”

Rory Bergin, Partner, Sustainable Futures at HTA said, “To help the manufacturing sector to grow, designers have a responsibility to create buildings that can be manufactured. We need to create a pipeline of projects that will enable the continued transformation of our sector into a safe, clean, sustainable, and productive one. This toolkit is intended to support that drive for L&Q, and our ambition is to help to deliver it and then expand its use throughout the wider industry.”

Nigel Ostime, Delivery Director at Hawkins\Brown said, “The urgent need for housing remains as high as it was before the lockdown. With social distancing likely in place for some time to come, meeting the government’s housing targets of 300,000 new homes each year will be a challenge. The toolkit will help guide decision-makers in their journey to adopt MMC, which will ultimately accelerate the housebuilder’s capacity to deliver more high-quality homes while reducing both the cost and the volume of waste produced by their projects.”

Model of an off site manufactured home

Off site manufactured homes

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