Govt appoints firms to ‘standardise’ MMC for housebuilding

Government plans to standardise modern methods of construction (MMC) would remove barriers to innovation, one of the participants in a new initiative has told Construction News.

Plans to establish a sector-wide standard for the construction industry would also encourage the wider use of modern building materials, equipment and techniques, said Tim Limberger, director of project management company Limberger Associates, which is part of a consortium leading the “Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) Standardisation Research and Kit of Parts” project.

Run by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), the project will engage the industry to examine ways to make MMC more accessible to the industry.

As well as Limberger Associates, the consortium is made up of Buro Happold, London-based HLM Architects and lead partner of the consortium consultancy Akerlof.

“The objective is to reduce limitations which might be supplier-specific or housing-development-specific,” Limberger told CN. “We are looking for a solution that opens up the supply chain to more players and that opens up more choices for housebuilders.”

Such a move could help protect companies involved in MMC, expand the sector and speed up research of MMC’s potential, he added.

The DLUHC is holding a session with members from the sector today (12 May) to discuss the ways in which MMC could be standardised to help its deeper integration into the industry. At the moment it is not clear which “standardisations” could be pursued, but Limberger said they could range from common language around the topic to practical applications.

“If someone needs a wall panel for a two-storey low-rise house, for example, there could be common criteria which makes it easier for the MMC process to take place.” That could be especially helpful if multiple firms were producing modular parts for the same project.

The department hopes to develop a standardisation platform that could be available in its initial form by the end of March next year. At the moment, it is not clear whether firms will need to pay for access to the platform.

A number of firms involved in the modular space have struggled, with Legal & General announcing earlier this month that it would stop producing modular homes at its factory after the venture failed to become profitable. Urban Splash’s modular spin-off entered administration in May 2022, citing operating issues at its factory in Alfreton.

But Limberger said: “By delivering something that encourages greater standardisation and wider takeup, the barriers to entry would be reduced, and the choices increased.”

He also pointed out that while some firms had struggled with modular work, others had seen some success. In 2019, for instance, Barratt Homes purchased Oregon Timber Frame, which manufactures modular, structural timber frames complete with insulated wall panels. In March, Barratt revealed plans to develop a new MMC factory in Derby.

“Although we are seeing some struggles, various organisations are evaluating what works and what doesn’t in terms of modular,” Limberger said.

By “learning collectively”, the sector should be able to grasp exactly where the right opportunities are for MMC, he added.

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