Prefabs could solve construction productivity problem

3 April 2018

A House of Lords committee will look into whether prefabricated buildings can solve the construction sector’s productivity problem.

An inquiry by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee will explore the potential benefits and obstacles to more widespread use of prefabrication, also know as off-site manufacturing (OSM). It will also consider how policy, particularly public procurement policy, might need to change in order to increase use of the building method.

The UK construction sector was worth £100bn to the UK in 2016, but suffers from poor productivity and has not enjoyed the improvements seen in other sectors, the committee said.

Committee chair Lord Narendra Patel said: “The construction industry is vital to solving some of the pressing problems facing the UK, such as a lack of affordable housing and replacing ageing infrastructure.

“Whilst off-site manufacturing is not a new idea, the level of technology now available means it is much more viable as a modern method of construction than it might have been in the past.”

Prefabrication is a construction technique where generic components or modules of a building are manufactured in a factory before being shipped to the construction site for assembly. The process is most known for being used during the 1960s to rebuild homes quickly and at low cost after the war.

Last year a committee of the London Assembly called for a new procurement framework for prefabricated homes, saying they could be the answer to the city’s housing shortage. It estimated that a modern prefabricated house can be built in half the time of a standard construction.

OSM can also bring other benefits including reducing disturbances at construction sites and providing turn-key solutions and to developers.

The Lords inquiry will ask:

  • What are the opportunities and drawbacks of OSM?
  • What factors are likely influence clients, architects, contractors and the supply chain into using OSM?
  • What benefits can come from standardised manufacturing of housing components?
  • What research and development is needed?
  • What changes could be made to public procurement to make construction more sustainable and facilitate OSM?

The inquiry is taking submissions until 26 April 2018.

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