Offsite manufacture, including volumetric construction, pods and panelised systems could provide solutions to the challenges faced by the construction industry. These pre-manufactured solutions could be the solution to the skills shortage, providing innovative construction techniques, speeding construction, whilst maintaining or improving standards. In this blog we review the case for offsite manufacture and the opportunities it provides, whilst also considering the challenges.

The recent Farmer Review “challenges us to do things differently – to reduce the reliance on building in the same way that we have for decades if not centuries, with its heavy demand for on-site labour.” And the government report, Fixing our broken housing market references modern methods of construction as the way to boost productivity and build homes faster.
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Offsite manufacture is by no means a new approach for construction. At various times the UK government has attempted to influence the use of offsite manufacture for residential construction, with little effect, with the exception of the post-war prefabricated ‘Bevan Home’.

Since the 1980s, demand for housing in England has increased. Housebuilding, however, has not kept pace with demand. The recent report Tackling the under-supply of housing in England mentions that “mass produced modular components are a feature of commercial building, but are less regularly used in house building in the UK. These methods speed up the time required to build houses and require less manpower. They also help to ensure standardised levels of quality and durability.”

Offsite manufacture for non-residential has been more successful. With volumetric or modular techniques utilised by hotels, student accommodation, education, healthcare and some retail. Use of ‘flying factories’ by Skanska and Costain for phase one of the Battersea Power Station redevelopment resulted in 44 per cent cut in cost, 73 per cent less rework and a 60 per cent reduction in time. Laing O’Rourke meanwhile says that 80 per cent of the Leadenhall Building was constructed offsite, resulting in a 50 per cent reduction in deliveries to site, as was Vinci’s Circle Health building in Reading, resulting in a 20 per cent programme reduction and a 28 per cent cost saving.

Some of the main advantages of offsite construction include:

  • Speed
  • Lower assembly cost
  • Higher quality and sustainability
  • Shorter assembly time
  • Increased reliability
  • Improved Health & Safety
  • Less disruption to the site’s neighbourhood

Yet Denise Chevin, editor of Construction Manager warns that those that follow the Farmer vision don’t always reap the benefits, saying “It’s all very well pushing technology and new methods of working, but more evidence of efficiencies and impact on the bottom line is needed before we can expect widespread acceptance.” And Kenny Ingram, global industry director of construction at IFS echoes this saying “For businesses who have traditionally built everything on site, the move to modular requires a different business model and a new skillset. They are, in effect, no longer construction companies – but a hybrid of construction and manufacturing.”

Yet Jane Duncan, RIBA President, says “If there are construction methods that are faster, cheaper, safer and better for the environment we should be embracing them.”  Last September The Designing for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) Overlay to the RIBA Plan of Work was published.  This was developed with the help of Offsite Management School, Build Offsite and UK Green Building Council. Rob Francis, Chair, Offsite Management School, talks of Offsite saying “As well as delivering projects faster, lowering costs and improving quality, the use of DfMA techniques will also result in better operational and in-use outcomes.”


The objective of offsite manufacture is to deliver elements to the construction site that are in an advanced state of completion, reducing construction activity on site. This technique also offers a solution to the increasing labour shortages faced by the construction sector. In summary, offsite manufacture for construction promises to deliver greater build efficiencies in the areas of: costs; build standards and sustainability; reliability; health and safety; labour and speed of construction.

With so many advantages it would be a shame to see offsite manufacture passed over again. Surely, as with adopting any new approach, careful consideration is required. With thorough understanding of the marketplace it is possible to plan a resilient strategy.

Often a tipping point is referred to when adopting new techniques, a point when it makes more sense to adopt the method in question and adapt, rather than remain. Surely now is the tipping point for the adoption of mainstream offsite manufacture, or as the Farmer Review would say now is to time to ‘Modernise or Die’.

Further information

Competitive Advantage Consultancy are conducting research into the offsite market sector. The purpose of the report is to provide manufacturers and other suppliers with an understanding of the Offsite Manufacture construction market and the background information in a marketing plan format.

Qualitative and quantitative data provides a comprehensive review of Offsite Manufacture, identifying market influences, market size, sector trends and lists the key members of the decision making unit. The report aims to help inform business strategy for construction manufacturers seeking to establish or grow their business in this sector.

This research is due for release on 14th March 2017 at a cost of £500 + VAT.

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