Regulating Modern Methods of Construction

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Rob Norton, UK Director at PlanRadar, looks at offsetting risks in offsite construction with digital technology

Offsite manufacturing accounts for 7% of the UK construction market, providing a means to build good quality homes faster and more sustainably.

Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), like modular building, are incredibly valuable on paper.

With robust protocols and standards to ensure quality is maintained, this value can be realised in the field, and the initial higher setup costs can yield substantial rewards.

However, MMC comes with its own challenges. The industry is working to overcome a lack of historic performance data and better understand how new safety legislation will affect its implementation.

How can MMC be used effectively to ensure homes of the future are fire safe?

Developers are now being supported by new standards and digital quality assurance technology can help to make these more attainable by professionals across the entire supply chain.

Through robust record management, digital platforms can provide assurances that safety is kept front of mind and investments are protected. Let’s look at how.

Regulating Modern Methods of Construction (MMC)

The construction industry is laser-focused on occupational building safety and has laid down the law with new regulations to ensure quality standards are met.

Developers must now generate comprehensive information about how designs align with regulations like the Building Safety Act (BSA) and maintain a digital record of how they follow through on site.

This includes details of the materials and products that go into builds and certification for the approval process.

While this currently only applies to high-risk buildings and those over 18m in height, with secondary legislation due in October, it is likely that all buildings will eventually come under this scrutiny.

Flowing with the tide

Offsite manufacturing is not immune to these changing tides, yet with the right quality assurance processes in place, it can lend itself well to new regulations.

The new building safety regime addresses fire and structural safety from the outset of a project.

With an emphasis on using tested and certified materials, coupled with the goal of minimal design changes, offsite manufacturing has a role to play in the new landscape as designs are set in stone before manufacturing.

Of course, developers must get approval from the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) at Gateway 1 of the BSA before work begins on the factory floor.

Despite being perceived to be laborious, this can actually be beneficial, as fixing structural and material design decisions will also mitigate delays from changes that are more common with traditional construction methods.

Leaning on tech

MMC offers less margin for error, and digital technology supports the implementation of robust inspection regimes.

Vitally, this ensure no defects with manufactured products, preventing safety or quality issues down the line that could cripple a project if or endanger lives if left unchecked.

Digitalising record management means information is safer and easily shareable across the entire project supply chain, minimising the need for additional inspections that could lead to unnecessary and costly delays.

Developers can also use digital platforms to establish a framework for compliance with safety regulations and fire safety management.

Important documentation, such as material certifications, approvals and design changes can be accessible at the click of a button and easily shared to demonstrate the increasingly pertinent digital ‘Golden Thread of Information’.

What’s needed can also be passed onto the BSR at the BSA’s different gateways, of which 2 and 3 came into force in October.

A new framework

Emerging industry-wide standards are helping to realise the latent potential of MMC.

The Building Safety Institution’s (BSI) BS 8644, for example, lays out recommendations for the digital management of fire safety information.

Standardising and digitalising record keeping helps to ensure valuable details aren’t overlooked, and that anything captured is accurate, consistent and can be shared promptly, including where the golden thread is required.

More change is also coming since BSI was commissioned by the Government earlier this year to develop a new Publicly Available Specification (PAS) for homes built using MMC.

The aim is to implement technical standards and clarify quality assurance and compliance processes.

Aligning with the modular construction theme, this consistency provides an extra layer of security for the sector.

Standards like this can help to assure all project teams that they are using high-quality and safe materials that have been approved.

Going digital also means that programs can implement common language, criteria and protocols set out by standards.

Onwards and upwards

Manufacturing in a factory environment offers speed and quality that traditional construction methods struggle to compete with.

New standards and digital technology are syncing up fragmented information across project phases, and providing greater quality assurances from design through to occupation.

Thanks to cloud management capabilities, online platforms enable better cross-team collaboration as project teams can seamlessly communicate information and have it handy for safety inspections.

The Government is taking a hard and fast approach to safety, and to see the potential of MMC realised, robust record management is a must.

We’ve got the tech to do it, the laws are coming into effect, and now contractors need to find the right digital tools to comply and grow.

This article was originally published in the January 2024 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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