Back in 2016, the Construction Industry Federation of Ireland formed a working group to analyse and report on the current state of the adoption of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) in Ireland. The committee consisted of central figures from the housing sector as well as experts from civil engineering, modular manufacturers, and general contracting companies.
Tasked with finding solutions to both the housing crisis and the pressures of climate change, the construction industry is increasingly turning to both MMC and offsite construction to meet targets and fulfill demand. Conducted over the course of four months from February to May 2021, the report consists of the insights and experiences from 40 key stakeholders regarding MMC’s use and adoption.
After analysis of both the qualitative and quantitative responses given by the stakeholders, the working group established the following key themes as most important to the future adoption and use of MMC in Irish construction:
1. A national infrastructure of testing facilities for acoustic, thermal, structural, fire, and moisture performance.
2. An independent technical advisory service to answer technical queries and provide guidance for public and private stakeholders.
3. A living laboratory where physical buildings can be used to demonstrate the modeling and examination of operational characteristics.
4. Advanced, industry-focused MMC education and training facilities to meet working requirements.
5. Encourage the “golden thread” concept of relevant, up-to-date asset records throughout its lifecycle.
6. Minimise waste to encourage decarbonisation.
7. Establish an open-source knowledge bank that can be freely accessed interoperably.
8. Allow the customer’s voice to be heard throughout.
9. Develop methods and technologies at “Technology Readiness Level 4-7”, encouraging commercialisation and mass adoption.
10. Integrate and align with the Construction Technology Innovation Centre (CITC) and Build Digital Project.
11. Establish certification and national standards to enable the scaling, growth, and repetition of typologies.
12. Encourage insurance, funding, audit, and other responsibility requirements to alleviate client and building user concerns.
13. Push forward with Supply Chain Optimized (SCO) logistics and “right-first-time” delivery standards.
14. Develop design, manufacture, installation, and management skills to meet construction demands.
15. Have the public sector lead by example.
Modern methods of construction in Ireland
One of the central aims of the report is to assist in the establishment of an MMC Demonstration Park and Construction Technology Innovation Centre. MMC is now crucial to the future of Irish construction, with modular and offsite manufacturing enabling higher quality standards of design, fabrication, testing, and certification.
MMC is described as an approach to construct buildings “quickly, reliably, and sustainably.”
With Modern Methods of Construction covering a broad range of systems, processes, and techniques, the report once again reiterates the benefits of establishing a Demonstration Park supported by a research and innovation centre (Construction Technology Innovation Centre.) Such a park would physically demonstrate the use and benefits of systems such as light-gauge steel framing, timber framing techniques, and precast concrete but also contribute to the dispersal of the employment and supply-chain ecosystem.
As outlined in the National Development Plan and the National Planning Framework, MMC can help grow employment in both urban and rural areas. By utilising modern connectivity, clients and design teams can collaborate early on, procuring optimally and delivering timely using road and rail networks.
An MMC Demonstration Park would highlight the cost benefits of such approaches to traditional contractors and stakeholders, realising the enhanced value and cycle-time costs. In conjunction with an innovation centre, the following benefits will be highlighted:
● Modular construction
● Remote inspection
● Robotics and data analytics
● Sustainable production
● Waste minimization
Offsite manufacturers in Ireland
The report details how the increased adoption of modular and offsite construction in Irish construction should result in at least a 45% reduction in material use and a 50% reduction in waste generation. The materials used in offsite production tend to also have a much lower carbon footprint with energy efficiencies made throughout the manufacturing process. In the case of modular systems, materials can also be more readily reused when compared to traditional brick and mortar construction.
There is currently a good regional distribution of offsite manufacturing providers across Ireland. This is a boon to the National Development Plan (NDP) 2040 and the National Planning Framework (NPF).
The largest concentration of these manufacturers tends to concentrate in the areas of Cavan, Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kildare, Limerick, Meath, and Tipperary. These offsite manufacturers are, therefore, generally located close to the larger cities or near motorway networks for easy transportation and delivery.
The report suggests that a national database may now be required to keep track of all OSM facilities and workshops. Hosted online, this database of both private and public sector clients would increase the awareness of the OSM ecosystem and the solutions it provides, particularly when meeting the sector’s demands in student accommodation and data centres, etc.
Public sector leading by example
Ireland’s “Housing for All” strategy argues that “everyone in the State should have access to a home to purchase or rent at an affordable price, built to a high standard and in the right place, offering a high quality of life.”
The report suggests the current system is failing at achieving this goal and is not meeting the needs of the Irish people.
In order to achieve the housing construction targets of 2030 and beyond, a collaboration between the industry and whole-of-government is necessary. The establishment of the Construction Technology Innovation Centre will help support innovation in this regard, underscoring the benefits of MMC, digital and offsite manufacturing.
Thus far, the public sector is leading the way in demonstrating the benefits of MMC. Local authorities across Ireland have, to date, completed 752 dwellings across 30 projects. There are another 627 dwellings across a further 15 projects still under construction. Encouragingly, there are also 756 dwellings across 22 projects now in the design and planning stage.
The CTIC’s role will be to proactively promote the benefits of innovative processes, supporting small and medium-sized enterprises in adopting MMC and Building Information Modelling (BIM.)
This can be aided by the creation of a government construction website that promotes such initiatives in construction, as well as the publication of exemplar case studies.
Aiding in this is the development of Key Performance Indicators for MMC and Cost of Construction, which will begin to be reported quarterly. The hope is that the cost and sustainability benefits speak for themselves.
MMC definition framework
The MMC definition framework is a newly established seven-category framework that aims to standardise the terminology and understanding of MMC. Relying on the UK’s MMOC Definition Framework document, the MMC definition framework was created by the Construction Industry Federation’s MMC Working group.
The definitional framework encompasses all types of pre-manufacturing, process innovations, and site-based materials. With a unified language, the hope is that the industry can better communicate and collaborate on projects in the future.
The Definitions refer specifically to:
● Modern materials
● Modular construction
● Modular and sub-assemblies
● Design for manufacturing assembly
● Offsite manufacturing
● Offsite fabrication
Sustainability considerations and challenges
In the Climate Action Plan, published November 2021, it is stated that “construction of new homes, offices, and infrastructure has significant environmental impacts and in particular the production of clinker to make cement – used in concrete – is extremely carbon-intensive.
With cement responsible for 4% of Ireland’s total national emissions, adapting its use is a high priority, according to the report.
In order for such changes to happen, there needs to be an increase in sustainability awareness. The report stresses that during the stakeholder interviews, the generation of sustainable construction materials was an area that saw a poor response rate, suggesting a lack of awareness regarding the issue.
One of the biggest challenges is tackling embodied carbon. Embodied carbon is the largest single contributor to emissions in the Built Environment. Taking into account the carbon footprint of an asset from material production to demolition and disposal is not easy. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 has established there needs to be a 50% reduction in embodied carbon to meet 2030 targets.
In order to deliver on this 50% reduction in embodied carbon, a swifter move towards MMC is needed. In addition, an immediate change in procurement methodology is necessary, led at the client level to “ensure consistency with specification and project deliverables.”
Waste generation is also a challenge. Construction and demolition waste from building works and development represents a significant problem for the industry, with huge amounts of soil, stone, rubble, plastics, glass, and metal being generated.
The Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy (2020) was published by the Department of the Environment, Climate Action, and Communications to introduce a €5 per tonne levy on waste to incentivize material recovery. Currently, however, the majority of construction waste is exempt from this levy as it is used as landfill cover.
Instead, the report suggests the industry needs to “design out waste” in the planning stages, making good use of streamlined End-of-Waste and By-Product waste streams.
The stakeholder interviews established that while modern methods of construction are now actively being used in Irish construction, collaboration is needed in order to progress and develop things further. Establishing an overall MMC framework will help meet housing and sustainability targets, with the following tasks considered the next steps:
● Maintaining an offsite manufacturing and fabrication database
● Scoping and costing exercise for the proposed MMC Demonstration Park.
● Further engagement with working groups on sustainability and adoption of MMC.
● More level 3 MMC skill courses.
● Explore material technology solutions within the CTIC and MMC Demonstration Park.
● Establish a certified and dedicated testing facility for structural, fire, acoustic, thermal, and modular assemblies to meet sector needs.
● Conduct a review on the re-use and repurposing of material streams, encouraging a circular economy for MMC.
● Workshops with stakeholders to further discuss the future of MMC.