An approach whose time has come

Last month we looked at the pressures bearing down on the construction and building services industry. We concluded that, after a period of almost meteoric growth, the new realities required a fresh approach to technology and that most challenging of resources – the human factor and skills.

One of the most striking trends over the past decade has been the emergence of off-site manufacture. Demand for off-site assembled modules for building services projects has been growing rapidly year-on-year. Given the challenging new environment in which the industry finds itself today, I believe the signs are that this trend will not only continue but perhaps accelerate.

The reasons for this are not hard to identify. A combination of corporate social responsibilities, environmental and sustainability issues, alongside tough health and safety requirements on-site and, not least, the need to deliver high quality fast-track projects, have and continue to be powerful drivers.

Add to this the sharp economic realities accompanying the present slow-down, and it is not hard to see why the industry has not been slow to grasp the benefits offered by off-site manufacture.

Wolseley is convinced of the value and attractions of the off-site approach, and recently launched its own modular engineering facility as part of its Pipe Center business.

Why do we believe modular solutions are an approach whose time has come? For a start, modularised systems can include all building services, such as pre-insulated heating, chilled and domestic water systems, electrical containment, ventilation ductwork, fire safety systems and so on, encapsulated in modular units that are assembled and tested in factory controlled conditions.

When complete, modules are transported to site and positioned in their pre-designated locations. The pre-engineered modules are then simply connected up, to create a complete and pre tested system.

Key to the success is the latest 3D design software, linked directly to the project information received electronically. This enables engineers to work from original drawings to design a complete system within a building structure. The software analyses the modular solution and automatically produces manufacturing information and calculates the exact amount of materials and number of components required, reducing wastage and eliminating ordering inefficiencies.

Beyond cost and health and safety pressures, the rise of the sustainability and environmental agenda is perhaps the single most important driver influencing choices in the industry today.

Because of the precision of materials and component specification, modularisation is a brilliant way of keeping the use of raw materials to a minimum, saving cost and minimising the environmental impact of a construction project.

For all these reasons, after a period of experimentation and evaluation, I believe the industry will now decisively turn to off-site fabrication – as an approach that delivers in all critical areas.

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