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Last updateThu, 14 May 2020 1pm

Cut project time with modular buildings

Save 50% time + 20% Costs

Modular construction could transform the construction market, offering possible savings of up to 20% while significantly reducing the construction time by up to 50%. The process would involve part of the building process being shifted to factories, offering the ability to create precision parts that offer a range of quality related benefit to overall project outcomes – including energy efficiency gains and better site safety.

UK 'Modcell' Project

Disruptive Technology

While various market trends have disrupted industries, some appear to be immune to changes. One such industry is the construction sector, which is facing considerable challenges, with projects often overrunning, while the number of projects is booming. McKinsey & Company has released a new analysis into the industry.

Greater Customisability

The study found that one of the new trends that could create disruption in some of its segments is modular construction. Factor-developed products that can be slotted together onsite offer quickly scaled production, while for projects, the possibility of creating modules that are in need now with the possibility of adding additional capacity delivers greater customisability potential.

Bridges & Pavements

Modular construction technologies are currently being considered by a growing number of clients due to their time and money saving potential. Polymer modular bridges have been developed for the rapid roll-out of infrastructure in developing nations, while building workers in the UK have also turned to the innovative measure to help install make-shift pavements during road works.

Modular Reactors

Small modular reactors are even becoming a technology of choice among those who favour nuclear power. The controversial power supply's proponents have argued modular technology can deliver nuclear energy at a lower cost and risk than large reactors, particularly in the construction phase that has dogged many large projects.

Residential Offers Biggest Gains

The research from McKinsey supports this, finding that modular construction techniques could see total construction time be reduced by 50%, while total costs could come down by 20%. The firm looked at the total expenditure on US construction in 2017, which stood at $1 trillion, of which around $135 billion was addressable via modular construction techniques. Total savings of around $22 billion which would be shaved off current costs, with residential seeing the most in terms of absolute savings according to this model.

3D & Off-Site Solutions

A number of areas were highlighted for potential time savings over traditional production techniques. 3D design could see increased initial time, but long-term savings as designs are repeated. Offsite production would begin while the foundations are laid, and the offsite manufacture would be around 20-50% faster than the traditional production process. Assembly by well-trained staff would be relatively straightforward – particularly if manufacture and onsite assembly can be timed correctly.

Gains & Losses

While the paper points to reduction in costs, McKinsey notes that there are variables that could create risks that may see some projects run higher – even if project cycle time savings are still achieved. One of the major variables is on-site labour, which could see cost reductions of between -10% to -25%. Offsite labour would be 5-15% more expensive. At the same time, the logistics of transporting the material to the site adds an additional 2-10% to total costs.

Lifecycle Benefits + Reduced Redesign

Redesign costs are projected to fall between 5-8%, while financing costs could be 1-5% lower. Adding all the variables together produces the -20 to +10% costs range. In addition, the research found that there is more to factory-produced buildings than fast build times and potentially lower costs. The total life-cycle benefits include additional social benefits, such as significantly improved energy efficiencies due to precision construction; improved build quality; and reduced exposure to the elements during construction.

Boost to H&S + Productivity

The analysts concluded that the shift would also significantly boost the productivity of the sector, even if it may lead to some job losses – some of which would be soaked up by increased scale possibilities in a number of markets. Additionally, the firm found that there could be improved onsite safety and better overall working conditions for industry staff.

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Professional Collaboration Needed

As Design & Timber Engineers we recognise the importance of working closely with all other professionals engaged in a construction project from the earliest possible stage. Not only do we enjoy the challenges, we enjoy working with other professionals to produce both workable and attractive solutions. Specifying any system is an important step for engineers, architects and all who strive for improved, lower cost, more environmentally sustainable construction, but timber still seems to offer all the benefits with few of the disadvantages. 

Appropriate Technology

In our drive to turn concepts into factory built components for on-site assembly, we focus on timber. In this respect we believe we are at the forefront of making DfMA (Design for Manufacture & Assembly) a reality. It begins with the way we design, specify and incorporate 'appropriate' technology into all buildings. It also draws together concepts from over 50 years interest in sustainable development.  

DfMA at the forefront

As Off-Site construction matures into Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) it is clearly at the forefront as an enabler for such delivery. New homes will very soon be 'Smart' in numerous ways, including full incorporation of energy saving and TIoT (the internet of things) to deliver major components. This is something that 'Off-Site'. DfMA (Design for Manufacture & Assembly) will need to seriously consider as the industry moves forward. 

Collaborative Partnering

Greater collaborative 'partnering' between architects, builders and  manufacturers is needed to accomplish this The greater speed, accuracy and quality that can result from manufacturing components in a dry, controlled factory environment, together with the ability to incorporate (yet to be invented) 'Smart Ware' gives home builders perhaps the only way of achieving this, together with improved on-site build quality AND controlling costs.

Resistance Disappearing

While resistance to the change to DfMA has been the norm, the wish of most UK Builders to deliver excellent customer service and top-notch homes is now driving an increasing number to choose Off-Site for their developments. Also, as 'OffSite Hub' note, architects and designers are moving toward DfMA, something we have been encouraging for over 20 years. The emergence of LA Developers will only speed up this process.

Easy Timber Frame

To assist them in doing so our "Easy Timber Frame" now offers standard size modular timber frame elements for them to use as a design base, cutting down on technical design and engineering to produce win-win results.

Better all-round Savings

Our specialist services and CUSTOM homes division deliver the best value and protect the interests of landowners, house-builder developers, professionals and private individuals seeking to build their dream home. Our off-site construction systems also reduce the amount of material that gets wasted on site, helping to avoid landfill, hazardous waste separation, and handling. They also deliver better value for you and your customers.


Call us to arrange a factory visit and discuss your ideas and needs with our in-house team of professionals for your next project. You'll be glad you did!

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