A. Proctor Group | Escaping the ghosts of the past: the rise of the UK’s offsite sector

A. Proctor Group | Escaping the ghosts of the past: the rise of the UK’s offsite sector

Offsite construction in the UK is so much more than post-war prefab and struggling MMC housebuilders. But the sector’s many successes struggle to get their story told. Adam Salt, Business Development Manager for A. Proctor Group, looks at the bigger picture and explains why it’s important to make sure the positives don’t get forgotten when we think about modular and offsite.

The offsite sector has undoubtedly faced issues recently — specifically in the housing sector, with a number of high-profile manufacturers ceasing operations in 2023. Specific factors played their part in each individual case, though it’s possible to draw some broad conclusions.

Delivering traditional housing developments using modern methods of construction (MMC) required organisations to plan for, and finance, a scale of production that isn’t yet there. Those financial risks were compounded by delays in purchasing land and securing planning permissions.

Yet the speed and quality made possible by MMC is demonstrated every day in the delivery of other buildings. Whether it’s high-rise residential, schools, hospitals, warehouses or prisons, there is real momentum to turn MMC into BAU (business as usual).

UK construction is setting an example that others want to follow
My colleagues and I talk to people all over the world about modular and offsite construction methods. Those conversations have made one thing particularly clear: the UK is pretty good at this!

Some construction companies in the United States, for example, are just grasping the potential. They see the UK almost like pioneers, but that picture isn’t necessarily reflected here at home. When failures in MMC-delivered housing are reported in the wider media, they link modern housing to the flawed prefab and non-traditional housing of yesteryear. Rather than being elevated by success stories, the sector is instead weighed down by continual comparisons to past failures.

Encouraging positive change from the top down
Arguably the biggest success story is that the wider construction industry has collaborated with the UK Government to try and affect positive change. And perhaps the most significant result of that collaboration is the Construction Playbook, published at the end of 2020.

The playbook sets how government will work with industry to deliver public projects more efficiently, with a particular focus on getting projects and programmes “right from the start”. Not only is this a positive in itself, but, changes and improvements evidenced in public procurement usually start to become the norm throughout construction.

Promoting the adoption of construction platforms
A key goal of the Construction Playbook is to procure more projects using construction platforms. These are “standardised and interoperable components and assemblies”, where manufacturers can offer a ‘kit of parts’ for use with a common structural solution.

As shorthand, platform construction is often compared to the modern automotive assembly techniques used on car production lines. One of the earliest examples of a fully realised construction platform is Seismic. We supplied our Wraptite external air barrier system to the Northampton School for Boys Multi-Academy Trust, which was a Department for Education-funded project that used Seismic’s technology.

A key advantage of Seismic, and platforms generally, is the speed and efficiency with which buildings can be ‘assembled’ (rather than ‘constructed’) thanks to the repeatability offered by the system design.

Products specified for use with such systems need to work within that environment, rather than risk slowing things down. The self-adhered nature of the Wraptite membrane did just that, providing vapour permeability and airtightness in a single layer. It saved on labour and material costs, and contributed to the building’s performance requirements.

Supporting panelised and volumetric offsite solutions
Product platforms represent an exciting future for the construction industry, and are backed by government procurement guidance. Of course, modular solutions like panels and volumetric systems remain an important part of the landscape. Indeed, they are often still the first thing people think of when talking about modular, offsite or MMC. While the offsite/modular sector is delivering exciting schemes across the country, it is still grappling with two particular challenges: storage and transport.

When panels are completed in the factory, they are typically shrink-wrapped. The materials used to make the panel naturally contain moisture, but rather than being able to dry out during storage, the wrapping traps moisture within the system.

Here again, Wraptite offers a significant benefit. Its vapour permeability allows moisture out of the construction, helping the panel to dry out. And the self-adhered nature of Wraptite protects finished products during transportation too.

The majority of membrane solutions are taped, meaning they are not fully bonded to the substrate. During transport, lateral air movement across the surface pulls at the membrane, tearing it and potentially damaging the panel. That doesn’t happen when Wraptite is used.

Working with the offsite sector to offer bespoke solutions
These are all important features of a single product in the A. Proctor Group range, and they can be taken advantage of by any project using offsite or modular solutions. Where we really work best, however, is engaging with project teams to find the best product, or combination of products, to deliver a building’s performance goals.

This approach mimics how we also work with individual offsite and modular manufacturers to find ways in which we can help to improve their processes. Collaboratively, we look at the manufacturing, storage and transport stages to find the right solution for any given system. This collaboration — at both manufacturer and project level — is what gives us such optimism in the offsite sector, because we’re seeing positive outcomes every day. Our Wraptite membrane might be the right solution for you, but it is not our only solution.

In A. Proctor Group’s latest sponsored column for LABM, Sales Director John Johnston discussed how retrofit projects could benefit from aerogel insulation. You can read the article here.

Related posts