Off-site manufacturing - key takeaways from the forum

8 Jul 21

The key to successfully implementing modern methods of construction (MMC) is identifying where traditional process no longer fit, and rapidly updating the way we plan and deliver projects to match the demands of the new technologies. This was a key conclusion of GIRI’s recent forum exploring the impact of MMC on error, which also highlighted the particular challenges that arise where projects combine both traditional and modern methods. 

You can watch the recording of the forum on our Youtube channel.

While the root causes of error remain much the same, the likelihood and impact of different risks change markedly between off-site and traditional methods of construction. Participants were asked to consider the root causes of error as identified by GIRI research and how these would be impacted by MMC. Time and commercial pressures were overwhelmingly identified as the factors most likely to lead to error when implementing MMC, while early planning and a clear focus on buildability were identified as priorities. 

The project lifecycle will change

Programme and commercial models change significantly when projects adopt MMC, because these new methods fundamentally change the project lifecycle. The traditional waterfall model no longer applies when off-site construction is involved. Design, for example, must be completely finalised before manufacture can start, which happens before work starts on site. And not only does the order in which decisions are made and the sequence of work change, but there are completely new parties involved – the manufacturer and the factory – that must be factored into the project lifecycle model.

Expertise is required earlier in projects

The change in the project lifecycle impacts the way project teams work and the point at which input is required by different parties. If employing modular construction, it is no longer possible to build up the design over several stages. Instead, more clarity is required earlier in the project. For traditional construction, client requirements can gradually evolve as the design develops, however, MMC can rip away this safety net. Design has to be completed at the start of the project, and there is no flexibility to resolve issues once the project gets to site. On the one hand this eliminates the possibility of late design changes – a leading root cause of error – but on the other, if mistakes have been made in the original scope or the design, it is far harder to put these right.

Traditional models of project finance no longer apply

The cash flow profile for projects is different when off-site manufacturing is involved, typically requiring more money to be committed at an early stage of the project. This up-front funding model can be a major obstacle for clients. It may also be necessary to decide who to work with before knowing how much a project will cost, which impacts traditional ways of tendering for work. Lowest cost procurement is unlikely to provide the best outcomes when adopting MMC, but it is recognised that higher up-front costs and trusting a high calibre supply chain can lead to reduced overall project costs. 

Be aware of new interfaces

MMC such as volumetric modular construction can hugely increase the number of interfaces in a project. Modular construction will completely change the way work is packaged, moving many interfaces off-site into a controllable factory environment, but it will also introduce a host of new interfaces when myriad separate elements come together on site. The GIRI ‘Interfaces Triangle’ of Space, Time and People is even more relevant for projects incorporating off-site fabrication, and should be used as a key tool to identify and manage interfaces. 

GIRI training is just as relevant

Identifying and managing the new interfaces is just one of the GIRI approaches that will be vital if the construction industry is to embrace the benefits of MMC. Participants identified that the adoption of MMC diminishes the flexibility of traditional construction, and agreed that this makes appropriate behaviours and effective communication even more important. The GIRI suite of training focuses on behaviours, processes and communication and can help organisations realise the benefits of MMC and avoid costly errors. 

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