How technology in modular building is improving productivity

Modular construction is increasing its market share in the UK and this trend is likely to continue and accelerate in the coming years, particularly with the need to find solutions to the housing crisis. Off-site manufacturers already incorporate advanced technology into their products, and with a growing market, further new innovations are inevitable.

Technology used in modular building

The modular construction sector is effective in combining the use of traditional materials, such as timber and steel, with modern technology to create light-weight but strong units that can be produced quickly and efficiently.

Timber and light-gauge steel frames are frequently used, often in association with other materials. Cross-laminated timber (CLT) is used to form wall, floor and roof panels and formed of 3-7 layers of softwood laid at 90° to each other, they have good structural properties.

Structural insulated panels (SIPS) are formed from two layers of oriented strand board or cement particle board separated by a rigid core of polyurethane foam. They don’t need to have any further structural support and provide high levels of insulation. One company have taken this idea further and incorporated mechanical, electrical and plumbing services between the panels. The cavity is filled using a 3D injection system to pump in carbon fibre reinforced polyurethane foam.

Some manufacturers are opting to produce large panels, rather than assembled modules, which are shipped flat-packed and assembled on site. This is a much more efficient form of transportation than moving fully constructed modules, which are largely empty space.

Ways in which it is helping

At the design stage, virtual and augmented reality are being used to model entire projects before they start. This allows clients to view the finished product and also gives designers the opportunity to view potential issues from a different perspective. It will help to improve efficiency and productivity.

Technological innovations are helping reduce production costs and speed up delivery times making modular construction an increasingly more attractive option.

Future of technology in modular building

Modular construction is still in its infancy, but its potential is huge. Its benefits include reduced programme times, improved quality and better sustainability.

Investment in off-site construction facilities is increasing. New factories are planned, each capable of producing thousands of units per year. These will take advantage of the latest in manufacturing technology to increase output. Companies producing modular homes are adopting technology from the automotive and aerospace industries. This is likely to increase automation and speed up the production process.

SEISMIC, a UK based consortium working in the school sector, is developing a production system based on standardised components. The intention is that off-site construction specialists will be able to use the components and achieve greater economies of scale and efficiency. Standardisation would speed up the design process and allow the use of components from multiple suppliers.

Standardised components, increased automation and the development of production lines for modules allow the production of larger volumes. This could be the key to solving the UK’s housing crisis.

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