Anybody who likes to keep abreast of construction trends will know that prefabrication, or off-site manufacturing, is widely regarded as the answer to most of the problems currently afflicting UK construction.For those who have managed to avoid the blandishments of the off-site lobby for the past couple of decades, here are the benefits in brief:
‘Off-site’ usually means ‘in a factory’, with all the benefits of a production line – speed, efficiency, quality, minimal waste and repeatability.
Off-site is safer: less work at height, no exposure to the elements and only a handful of people on site to install the finished building.
Off-site doesn’t rely on traditional crafts – forget the skills shortage; offsite manufacturing can even do it with robots.
So why is the volumetric house-building sector in crisis (see News, page 6).
Investors have poured millions into off-site house-building factories in recent years. But in May, Legal & General announced that it was shutting up shop and getting out of house-building and last month Ilke Homes closed its factory and put itself up for sale.
The problem seems to be that, in order to succeed, factory production needs a steady throughput and the UK housing market is too volatile. Off-site is the right answer to the wrong problem.
So is off-site manufacture doomed to failure? Not necessarily. As we report on page 22, HS2 is currently building the UK’s first prefabricated railway bridge. Maybe infrastructure, not housing, is where off-site can deliver its many benefits.