HDR is bringing this key topic to the fore, as the discussion established that agents for change are needed for the benefits of MMC to be realised


Leading independent multidisciplinary engineering consultancy HDR recently lead a conversation on Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), with the discussion centering around the barriers preventing the Built Environment from advancing in this area. Despite the knowhow around Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) among industry professionals, the question is why aren’t they used more? This is especially pertinent when MMC clearly have so many advantages, among them quality, sustainability and labour efficiencies.

The roundtable comprised a team of industry specialists; from HDR was Director Richard Papworth, alongside Leigh Burnett, Asset Manager at Ergo Real Estate, Andrew Allbon, Associate Director at Concert, Mike Easton, Director at Structure Tone, and Trevor Bonnage, Operations Director at Mace.

MMC can refer to a number of processes including volumetric or offsite manufacturing, the production of offsite panelised systems and offsite hybrid systems. Implemented in the right place during the most appropriate projects, they can deliver on budget and programme. It’s the initial perception of how much a bespoke built solution for a particular requirement is going to cost as you’re in effect paying for research and development at that point. But the end result could yield dividends far beyond the life of that particular project.

Among the issues discussed was the implication of cost. Richard Papworth set the tone for the discussion by saying that “it’s about changing people’s mindsets. Used in the right place, with the right projects, MMC can deliver on budget and programme.”

Part of the discussion centred around standardisation and to what extent the industry can start to accept this, while not losing that ability to create a building that is bespoke and special. The panel agreed that it’s about getting the balance between 80% of the functionality from your standard details but then having the rest of the operation dealt with in a different, more customised way.

Another issue with MMC becoming more mainstream is the perception of risk. But the reality is that there’s risk in a number of construction elements, from the prototype being the finished design, down to the availability of labour and supply of correct tools to site. Even unpredictable weather can hinder construction.

There needs to be an agent for change, whether that’s government legislation or proving to our peers in the construction sector of the advantages of this way of doing things. Hopefully over the next few years, we will start to see more factories being established to enable MMC to become more available on a greater number of projects.

MMC can achieve a greater speed of construction by delivering the product to site in a more managed way. Parts or modules can be prefabricated in the factory, requiring less on-site labour. Certainly, with the cost of materials going up, any efficiency gains have to be welcomed.

So, if less labour is required on site, MMC may also help to address the labour and skills shortage in the construction sector. But this can’t happen without a mindset change from the reliance on subcontracting and casual labour associated with the traditional methods of construction.

MMC also offer a more sustainable approach to construction. If you create something in a factory, it’s going to be more design efficient and you can work with the various stakeholders towards zero carbon goals. MMC can also play a key part in retrofitting old buildings, saving on embodied carbon and making them fit for purpose again.

There are many reasons to continue the drive towards standardised products and modern methods of construction. But to see real change, we’ve got to change mindsets. This will require everyone from the funder to the contractor to become better educated.