Thursday, April 28, 2005


“The key challenge is between using MMC and traditional methods of construction and not which material is used”. I am totally agreed with this statement. The obvious difference between MMC and traditional methods of construction lies on one being made off site and one being made on site. However, what if a particular site has a factory located far away? isn’t it better to construct the whole thing on site? How much time and cost can be saved to produce a wall, for example, off-site rather than on site?

“Modern Methods of Construction are not generic solutions that can be applied as effectively everywhere in the country or indeed internationally. Modern Methods of Construction may not be as cost-effective in developing countries where labour is cheap and plentiful. They are particularly effective in Japan where land and labour costs are extremely high”. I am trying to see it from the different angle here. From my point of view, I will say that Modern Methods of Construction is actually a quite generic and flexible solution that can be applied as effectively everywhere in the country or indeed internationally. It can be made better by ‘tailor made’ the whole Modern Methods of Construction to suit a particular country. In developing countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, MMC can be tailor made to create more job opportunities in the pre-assembly factory hence improving the economy of the developing countries. In Japan or developed countries such as UK, however, MMC can be implemented but while land and labour costs must be extremely high, AUTOMATION and/or ROBOTISATION and/or MECHANISATION can be incorporated into the whole production method. For the definition of those mentioned techniques given above, please refer to my previous post “The Definition” on 19th April 2005.

INTEGER has stated in their key outcomes that “it is important to remember that the building process is simply a means to an end. The end product is more important than the process employed. The long term viability of the building is more significant than the building process employed”. A statement that unfortunately I am not really agreed with. From my point of view, the end product is as important as (not more than) the process employed. We must bear in mind that MMC is used because of its faster construction time and also to reduce CO2 emissions as well as wastes generated on site. Therefore, we must also taking into the consideration that volumetric modules used to construct a particular house, for example, might require a more frequent transportation to and from the site and factory (a queries I had made to one of the prefabricated housing manufacture has stated that a lorry apparently has only been able to transport about two modules in one go) hence creating a higher fuel consumption which can incur a higher cost at the end product. If a non volumetric pre-assembly that being used to construct a particular house, for example, its weight is the one that need to be taken into consideration, the heavier the weight of the wall panels be, the higher the fuel consumption will be as well. Sometimes, decision to use modules, for example, will lie entirely on the site location. My interview with one of a local architect has put me in the alert of the horrendous difficulty that can occur if MMC has not been thought through since the beginning of the design stage. Apparently, the modules delivered to the particular site has to be craned on top of the neighbouring houses and poor old people in the neighbourhood need to be ushered away for a ‘cup of coffee’ while they craned the modules pass their roofs, which resulting in a bigger risk in health and safety and might also means that it incur higher cost at the end product.

“There is a need to ensure that the buildings are used properly”. In my opinion, this can mean thousands of interpretation. It might means that the particular buildings need to be designed based on their needs (for example, you wouldn’t want to design a particular building near shore or beach, such as Brighton, in steel construction that can easily get rusty due to the ‘salty’ air around beach area). But it can also be interpreted as “you can ONLY use a particular building designed for a particular purposes!” which I am entirely opposed to. To me, sustainability means that a particular building should fit as much function as possible to prevent unnecessary changes and demolition. This means that a building to be designed with, for example, easily removable internal partition or, in conclusion, as flexible as possible for future change of use.

“MMC is still seen as more expensive than traditional options. The guarantees that can be assumed with traditional structures are simply not there. Therefore RSLs are not keen to change the way they build”. Unfortunately, I found this as quite a pessimistic gesture. I am not promising anything but I have noticed that this means there is still not many research has been undergone to make MMC process better. It will be good to do a research on how sustainable MMC can be maybe, for example, by implementing and establishing the life cycle assessment of not only each particular materials but also as a ‘whole’ end product. By doing this, there can be an improvement that hopefully can be made when you are comparing the traditional construction and pre-assembly construction.


At the end of the seminar held by INTEGER on 21st April 2005 on MMC, Alan Kell- the managing director of i&i Limited- had run a quick sessions with all the attenders on what each person's think they have learned from the seminar and what action can be taken from then on (apparently, Alan has reminded all attenders for the second time before the last presentation that he will be going around asking people of their opinion and how shocked and gobsmacked I was to later realised that almost 1/3rd of the attenders slowly 'running away' quietly one by one. Thank you to my supervisor, Professor Andrew Miller, who was there giving me a 'support smile' when I was looking at him in horror! he might not be realising how bad I wanted to 'run away' as well! However, I am glad he was there giving me no excuse at all to 'show myself the way out' as it actually gives me much much more confidence in speaking out in public and letting my opinion heard by other professionals! I owe him many thanks!)

Anyway, the key outcomes are as follows:

  • The key challenge is between using MMC and traditional methods of construction and not which material is used.
  • It is important to remember that the building process is simply a means to an end. The end product is more important than the process employed. The long term viability of the building is more significant than the building process employed.
  • When using MMC communication and consultation within the design team is essential.
  • MMC requires much more planning and up-front effort before work starts on site. One of the challenges is whether MMC are flexible enough to respond to site-specific differences and challenges.
  • Using MMC means getting the contractor and the manufacturer involved at an earlier stage in the design process than on conventional projects. The contractor can then advise on what MMC options are feasible.
  • Contractors are in an excellent position to advice on what MMC options will enhance effective delivery and what will cause problems.
  • Modern Methods of Construction are often used ineffectively because the guidance is overlooked and site processes are not used properly.
  • Cladding systems is one area where MMC can offer significant benefits however there are concerns over the limited lifespan of cladding materials.
  • The question of tolerances (designed and delivered), and potential mismatches, is extremely important when using MMC.
  • There is a need to ensure that the buildings are used properly.
  • Sustainability is an area that the MMC sector has often overlooked. However, MMC has the potential to offer significant sustainability benefits which have not as yet been quantified. These includes:
    • Minimising waste - considerable waste is produced on building sites where unwanted materials are often simply thrown in skips and sent for landfill. MMC offers the opportunity to re-use unwanted materials and to design buildings which use standardised components. Factories can also store materials in covered areas and so are unlikely to be damaged by adverse weather or vandalism. Unite Group were able to reduce their waste down to 0.6% material waste by value, compared with 10-12% on a conventional building project.
    • Quality control - fewer defects as work is carried out in a controlled environment and components are cut to an exact size. this also reduces the chances of cost over-runs.
    • Speed of construction - quicker construction times lead to less disruotion for local communities and the enable the property to be put in use earlier.
    • Improved health and safety on site.
    • Transportation - the number of small vehicles to the site is limited as there are fewer individual tradespeople travelling long distances to reach the site.
    • MMC offer the opportunity to overcome the skills deficit currently affecting the UK construction industry. The average bricklayer in the UK is over 50 years old. The opportunity of working in a controlled, safer, cleaner and more stable environment has the potential to attract more workers into the construction industry.
  • More quantification is required of the actual and potential sustainability benefits of using MMC. Little convincing evidence currently exists.
  • Some of the major challenges MMC must overcome include:
    • building market confidence
    • convince insurers of their resilience and reparability
    • convince lenders of their longevity and durability
    • convince surveyors that the building will hold its value
    • changing public perceptions
    • the perception that it is more expensive than traditional build
    • standardisation versus customisation
  • There is a need to co-ordinate the generic business benefits of using MMC
  • The benefits of MMC need to be quantified more effectively. BRE would encourage the MMC industry to work with them to achieve this.
  • The lifetime costs and benefits of MMC need to be clearly defined and widely publicised.
  • Build Offsite is an umbrella organisation which encourages industry to work together to enhance the profile of MMC. Sustainability needs to be included in this agenda.
  • The industry is facing similar challenges now to those faced in the 1950s and 1960s. In terms of housing there is a requirement to create places that people want to live.
  • Modern Methods of Construction are not generic solutions that can be applied as effectively everywhere in the country or indeed internationally. Modern MEthods of Construction may not be as cost-effective in developing countries where labour is cheap and plentiful. They are particularly effective in Japan where land and labour costs are extremely high.
  • There is a requirement to look at the supply chain in a regional context, looking at local materials. The concept of "near site" construction.
  • RSLs are being required by Housing Corporation to deliver both MMC and sustainability. RSLs are looking at ways to incorporate MMC into their design briefs.
  • MMC is still seen as more expensive than traditional options. The guarantees that can be assumed with traditional structures are simply not there. Therefore RSLs are not keen to change the way they build.
  • The Housing Forum is establishing a working group on MMC which will de-mystify some of the anecdotal evidence.
  • Should requirements specifications include use of MMC? Should clients be specifying off-site manufacturing? Client specifications should be performance based rather than technical.
  • Clients need assurances that they will be able to carry out maintenance easily and will not be tied to a single maintenance provider.


The second half of the day continued with a presentation given by Mike Braband from Unite Group, looking from the client's perspective. He claimed that volumetric construction will make the whole construction process 40-50% quicker than traditional method. He also claimed that MMC will give lower preliminary cost and earlier revenue generation for end user.

In term of answering public's "pesimistic" about the long life expectancy, Mike has given a good news that galvanised steels structures, for example, has a design life in excess of 100 years. Mike also stated that Unite is trying to reduce the weight of the modules and panels they designed. However, unfortunately, he has not really been thinking of the impact that it may caused by this action. Reducing weight might means lower thermal mass, hence- as being pointed out by Professor Miller- will actually gained heat loss during winter, resulting in higher space heating costs.

Maybe, this implications can be solved by injecting a Warmcell or recycled newspaper insulation on-site rather than inserting/constructing an insulation in the factory this weight still can be reduced and house still achieving higher thermal comfort value. It might also be interesting to find out whether implementing underfloor heating system will create better thermal comfort than radiator.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

INTEGER SEMINAR 21/04/05 on MMC, Part I

One of the very professional bodies, INTEGER had run a Seminar which was being held in BRE, Watford, particularly located in one of their famous building, the Building 16 Conference Room (how it still fresh in my mind that I chose this particular building for a specific module in my final year undergraduate study - Environmental Performance- and done a presentation about it), known for its sustainable mixed mode ventilation. However, little I know that experiencing it first hand doesn't always be the same as hearing it nor learning it from text books..which I will mention about it a bit later (probably in my next post). Now, back to the point..

The seminar, which last for about 6 hours (from 10am to 4pm with a coffee break and a lunch break in the middle) has been divided into several presentations from various different professional bodies, being opened and introduced by Alan Kell, the Managing Director of i&i Limited (INTEGER Intelligent and Green Ltd). Professional bodies taking part as the speakers includes Jaya Skandamoorthy from BRE, Damian Bree from Bree Day Partnership, Andy Parkman from Fabermaunsell, Mike Braband from Unite Group, Tom de Saulles from The Concrete Centre, Dr Michael Sansom from The Steel Construction Institute, and Darren Richards from MTech Group. Unfortunately, the key person that I had been looking forward to hear wasn't turning up and that is Paul Newman from TRADA Technology. Hopefully I will be able to meet him on the other time.

First presentation by Mr Skandamoorthy from BRE has outlined the definition, policies and need for modern methods of construction and the importance of its sustainability for future development.

The first session of the seminar then continued with the Design Perspective given by Mr Bree from Bree Day Partnership which underlined the key drivers of MMC, the outline advantages of MMC and Bree Day's Alpine Close case study designed and cosntructed using prefabricated timber frame wall panels (closed panel wall construction), timber floor cassettes, and Pods. Mr Bree also mentioned a very interesting example of prefabricated housing from Japan, called Misawa Homes, which provided by Toyota as Japan's 3rd largest single family homebuilder offering quality orientated homes. However, it's very unfortunate that when I visited the website, apparently they were not providing the English translation and without my Japanese best friend, Mari- whom unfortunately is away on holiday at the moment- I need to settled and 'just be happy' by looking at their high tech and well presented pictures...

Back to the point then, after the coffee break, Andy Parkman from the Fabermaunsell had presented the MMC through the engineer's perspective. Andy had quickly run through Fabermaunsell's recent practical experience in the South West area which includes Livarot Walk, RNLI Headquarters Poole, Bristol School, Cornwall and Plymouth, lift Frameworks, Unite Accommodation, Heathrow Travel Inn and Future Inns, all of which being built with sustainable design and construction in mind. Varies type of MMC has been put into practice in the above mentioned project. Livarot walk, for example, has incorporated solar water heating system while RNLI Headquarters has been using hybrid structure. Fabermaunsell had also worked in collaboration with Unite to design an accommodation built on several generated modules. Prefabrication also being embraced for their Heathrow Travel Inn project by using volumetric modular timber construction with cassettes type services.

In conclusion, Fabermaunsell advised that to get the best from modern methods, contractor and specialist subcontractor must been involved as early stage as possible. It is also best to incorporate design from outside in instead of vice versa. Andy also mentioned the possibility of encouraging supply chain to take wider responsibilities hence creating a better communication chain for everybody involved in the particular project.

To create a sustainable building, one must bear in mind that a lot of aspect need to be taken into consideration that MMC as a sustainable option need to be tailored to suit the project and client's situation and prerequisite to create the best sustainable solution for a particular project.

THE DEBATE: MMC might be proven to reduce the amount of waste on site, BUT, isn't it an additional energy consumption to transport the prefabricated part to the site (also to bear in mind that modules means that more transport needed since a lorry will only be able to transport about 2 modules in one go).

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Most of the publication I had encountered (with the most specific one from Gibb, 1999, Richard, 2004 and CIRIA, 1999) during my literature review had divided pre-assembly techniques into four category as follows:

1. Pre-assemble components and subassemblies
This type of pre-assembly is very commonand usually in the shape of component manufacture such as bricks, tiles, door furniture and window frame. This type of sub-assembly usually consist of items that are made in a factory and never considered for on-site production.

2. Volumetric pre-assembly (also called the Hybrid by Roger-Bruno Richard in his 2004 publication and Modularisation in CIRIA, 1999)
Volumetric pre-assembly are pre-assembled units that create usable space and are usually fully factory finished internally, installed within, or onto an independent structural frame. Plant rooms, toilet pods and shower rooms are included in this category. Examplease of materials used in volumetric pre-assembly units include dry-lined lightweight steel frames and pre-cast concrete.

3. Non-volumetric pre-assembly (also known as Meccano or Site Intensive Kit-of-Parts) on the other hand, consists of pre-assembled units which do not create usable space. This type of units can be in the form of skeletal (structural frames), planar (cladding and wall panels) or complex units (bridge units, services, etc). Material examples include steel, pre-cast concrete, timber, aluminium and advanced composites such as an integrated post and beam which can be opened vertically and horizontally.

4. Modular Building
A modular building comprises a number of volumetric units. There may be additional on-site works (such as an external brick skin or tiled roof) depending upon the specific project requirements. The modular units can be constructed in steel frames, stressed skin plywood, precast concrete or other various cladding amterials. Modular units are often use for high rise housing construction. It is either constructed as a self supporting structure or designed to rest on separate structural supports. Advantages include a better organised control of the entire building on site. However, modular unit construction does require a well-organised production line with relatively high capital investment, high shipping cost will also limit the marketing to a relatively small regions of a particular country only.

The Definition

Before I go any further, let's go back to see the extensive definition of the modern methods of construction used in the UK construction industry and its brief driving force..

Modern methods of construction (also known as MMC) - a term created by Jeff Rooker, John Prescott's former housing minister - defined as a method used for construction buildings that embraces a range of technologies involving various forms of prefabrication and/or off-site assembly (also known as pre-assembly and industrialisation). MMC is increasingly regarded as a realistic means of improving quality, reducing time spent on site, improving on-site safety and addressing skills shortages in the construction of UK housing.

In the UK construction industry, lots of definition and names have been used to describe this modern type of construction where part or all of the building component/unit are being built in a factory/off-site to create a better working environment and to speed up the whole construction process. Most common words use to describe this new method of construction are prefabrication or pre-assembly.

Prefabrication itself can be defined as a manufacturing process (as stated in Tatum et al 1986), generally taking place at a specialised facility, in which various materials are joined to form a component part of the final installation. Pre-assembly (literally "to assemble before") has been described especially by CIRIA in their 1999 publication as "referring to the manufacture and assembly of building or parts of buildings ahead of the time that they would traditionally be made on-site". CIRIA also mentioned that this usually take place at a manufacturing facility remote from the site.

Prefabrication and pre-assembly can be standardised to improve the quality and quantity of product being produced as well as to provide a faster production and construction time. Certain standardisation can be established if there is an extensive use of a particular components, methods or processes in which there is regularity repetition and a background of successful practice. It can be based on existing standard components and systems as well as project-specific, using repeat elements that are unique to a particular project.

Gibb has mentioned in his publication (Gibb, 1999) that there are four types of pre-assembly construction, established as component manufacture/sub-assembly, volumetric pre-assembly, non-volumetric pre-assembly and modular building. All this will be clarified further on my next post.

The legitimate point of having prefabricated housing is at the thought of its ability to be 'tailor made' to suit a particular country's needs (in terms of its economic, politic and environmental consideration). Prefabrication can be done either with the help of mechanisation (where motorised tooling are present to ease the work of the manual labour), automation (where the tooling is taking over the tasks performed by the manual labour whereas the foreman is still around), robotisation (where tools are taking control of the entire production line) or reproduction (where Research and Development - R&D- of an innovative technology capable of simplifying the production and avoiding long sequential operations thus achieving more substantial economies than mechanising, automating or roboting around the traditional construction methods).

Friday, April 15, 2005


Here is a very interesting poetry I had found to get you going when things get tough:

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all up hill,
When funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must - but don't you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns
As everyone of us sometimes learns
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Dont give up, though the pace seems slow -
You might succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than
it seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor's cup.
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out -
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt -
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar;
So, stick to the fight when you're hardest hit -
It's when things seem worst that you musn't quit.


cited in Cryer, 1996.

Long Tough Months..

For those that has been bugging me the entire time as I hardly updated my blog for the past few months, please accept my apologies as I had to settle quite a lot of personal stuff lately :) This unfortunately includes finding new place to stay, and 'fighting' with my travel agent besides my normal day to day work in finding and reading my literature reviews..

Mind you, I had stayed for about four years in my current house, shared with the landlord and his spanish girlfriend plus two other tenants that come and go. Alas, instead of having all the facilities getting better each year (with the room rent being increased each year) it has, unfortunately, gets worse; greywater from shower and bath that leaks down to the kitchen, hot water boiler that never work properly, despite the landlord's promise since December 2004 that they are going to install a new boiler in new year, up till today 15th April 2005, I see no improvement with the old boiler let alone having a new one. When being challenged on the 'prospective' of getting a new boiler, he mentioned that he already spoken to the boiler man and that they are 'measuring up' the empty space in the kitchen now since the new boiler is apparently bigger than the old one...hmm..and so, as I 'waited', days gone by, weeks turned to month and then three months has passed by, still I see nothing new!! am I gobsmacked? apparently nope... These problems combined with his lack of self control (read: banging and trying to get into people's room 3 o'clock in the morning- thank God I always remember to lock my door every night before i snooze off -lucky enough, I am the only tenant that able to get a key for her room-that is, after a long and painful whinging for a year-, abusive and trying to get into fight with passers-by outside the house..) during most of his drunken night with the other two tenants and the state of the whole house especially where you can see slugs wandering around the kitchen floor, table and chairs in liberal, I decided to pack my stuff and say 'cheers!'

Other obstacle I had encountered was the difficulty to get my airline ticket from the Emerald Travel Agent (words of advice: NEVER EVER PURCHASeD YOUR TICKET FROM EMERALD TRAVEL AGENT NO MATTER HOW CHEAP THEY ARE!). I had booked my airline ticket in January for travelling back home in March. Being informed that the ticket will be issued a week after my payment in January, I find it strange when it did not arrived two weeks after that. Calling their office was a real pain in the arse as well since they refused to co-operate and keep asking me to wait and wait and wait. Two weeks before my departure in March, I decided that I had enough and so had fiercely calling and bombarding them with emails until the woman dealing with my itinenary, Ms Natalie Koycheva replied to my email stating that a new ticket will be issued BUT I am liable to pay £40.00 to re-issue the ticket!! For the love of God!! There is no need to be a scientist to know that the fault does not lie in me as I never received the ticket and that the ticket apparently stated to be lost in post! No matter how I argued with her, she refused to settle the problem and said that there is nothing she can do about it as the order came from her 'manager'! Furious and overwhelmed with anger, I decided to call my airline network (Emirates), they agreed that the Emerald travel agent is the one responsible for the charges and ..guess's actually cost £35.00 not £40.00...hmm... Tired of the whole situation, I decided to write a complain letter to the manager of the Emerald Travel Agent (Janet xx) and ABTA. The next working day, I decided to call them again to settle the 'unfinished fight' and glad enough to know that only this time they admit that the charges to be paid by themselves and that new ticket will only be issued one week before my travel. No apologies (especially for trying to overcharged me), nothing.. Even at this stage, each person has different explanation..some says that the ticket will be issued and sent straight to the issue desks in the airport but some says that the ticket will be issued and sent to my home address..

Anyway, yes, after a long and painful fight..I managed to go home and yes, here I am now back for my research :)