Case-story: Future of where we live - AIMCH
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Building more homes at similar cost and with the same skilled workforce.
Led by Stewart Milne Group, and together with SME Forster Group, Barratt Homes, the collaborative set out to gather data on modern methods of construction at scale on real housing sites. The Advanced Industrialised Methods for the Construction of Homes initiative (AIMCH) provide comparative data on new manufacturing approaches versus traditional methods as key insight for industry. Meeting Government housing targets is currently limited by the availability of skilled workers, and so requires innovation in build methods. Through offsite / on the ground build methods and greater collaborative working with the supply chain, the partnership was able to capture data on real sites that show 125,000 more homes could be built each year with the same workforce across the UK. The new methods were considerably safer for employees and showed significant improvements in productivity, efficiency, speed and cost.
Lead, innovative constructor Stewart Milne Group and key supply chain SME Forster Group are working together to change the build process for Barratt Homes (the UK’s largest housebuilder) and L&Q (the second biggest social housing provider in the UK). With the scale (35,000 homes p.a.) and diversity these two bring, wider change to the housebuilding sector will be fast and robust.
The industry currently isn't building enough high-quality, high-performing affordable housing at scale to meet Government goals and customer needs. This is caused by a fragmented, risk-averse industry; an ageing workforce with no new skilled workers entering the industry; poor productivity and inefficiencies through the supply chain; and building costs remaining high. So, unless things change, these partners can only commit to delivering around 10% of the 300,000 target homes each year.
By embracing improved digital systems, efficient scheduling and standardised design and supply chain processes throughout the build, more houses can go up in half the time, using the same skilled workforce. These improvements will make home construction more productive at scale, safer for workers, and ultimately better quality and more affordable for the end user.
UK Government calls to build more homes (300,000 a year, from current ~220,000) cannot be met with the current skilled workforce we have. The ambition of this project - Advanced Industrialised Methods for the Construction of Homes (AIMCH) - is to transform how we build homes, solving this challenge for good. With robust comparative data the consortium can make the business case to industrialise the housing sector and position themselves as leaders in delivering what the UK needs.
Stewart Milne Group, Barratt Homes, L&Q and Forster Group needed firm data on the wider cost impacts of adopting a manufacturing approach to building homes. To do this they committed to trial a mixture of approaches on live, real-world sites, side by side with traditional methods to directly compare. The site data is being used to build a persuasive business case for using such approaches at scale in place of traditional block and brick.
The housebuilding sector has been unconvinced of the need to industrialise. Instead it has continued to build houses using traditional methods of construction, that can’t deliver on volume targets and continue to fall short of quality standards. This has been compounded with the demands being put on the existing workforce due to a growing skills shortage.
The methods trialled on real sites alongside traditional block and brick construction employ process approaches common in manufacturing. Parts are prepared in factories to high standards then assembled on-site in a schedule that maximises the time of the skilled labour. An example is that roof tiling is done on the ground and then the roof system lifted into place, a first for Barratt Homes. This limits the use and cost of scaffolding; the inside fit can continue while the outside brick layer is completed without scaffolding getting in the way; it is significantly safer for site workers as they are not working at height; and the building can be watertight in a day. Building a house in parts brings quality improvements but also increased productivity - similar hours are logged but done to more efficient scheduling in parallel with each other, and the skilled workforce benefit from improved processes.
AIMCH is exploring how design standardisation (keeping key dimensions the same across different house types) can also deliver greater volume with configurability, so more homes can be built using an industrialised approach - similar to the car industry.
The project has developed a report on how the housebuilding sector can monitor and evaluate productivity to compare different methods and demonstrate value. 66 metrics were reviewed and data on all is being collected for the project, including benchmarking of current methods. This includes collecting smart data from sites. Close collaboration and a strong spirit of innovation between the partners is driving the development of a digital system that will manage the manufacturing elements of a build, from design to completion and, in doing so, speed up the process.
Design and specification choices can affect the whole-life costs of running and maintaining a house. This is particularly important for L&Q managing a stock of homes for tenants. In updating design guides, these factors have been taken into account and form part of the cost analysis.
Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) offered expert advice on altering processes to make use of manufacturing best practice and innovation support around business models, products and service models. Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) offered advice, funding, industry engagement, facilitation and access to cutting edge equipment and expertise, improving Scotland’s global competitiveness and delivering social, environmental and economic impact.
Advanced Industrialised Methods for the Construction of Homes (AIMCH) builds on a previously successful project with a similar consortium called AIMC4 which sought to improve processes for housebuilding so carbon emission targets could be met. The consortium consulted with Innovate UK before submitting the proposal, which was larger than the limits of the competition. Given the commitment to share results across the sector, an exception was made to allow the project to be assessed. It was successful and received £3,938,448 of funding over 36 months, up until March 2022.
- Assurance: AIMCH aims to produce a single seamless digital system (an Enterprise Resource Planning or ERP system) that will allow businesses to process offsite manufacturing from concept design to completion. This will demonstrate an increase in efficiency, quality and a reduction in lead-time, downtime and processing time.
- Collaboration: There are a wide network of companies and stakeholders engaged in AIMCH offering a powerful opportunity to show the benefits of collaboration to industry stakeholders, so the whole sector comes with them. This is being profiled on the AIMCH website, social media and through engagement events.
- Cost: If AIMCH learnings can be extended across all housebuilding, 125,000 more homes could be built in the UK each year with the same skilled workforce.
- Productivity: Early indications suggest house builders could build 30% more homes with the same workforce.
- Regional Balance: In comparing costs across different sites in different regions it has been confirmed by the project that every region currently has a significantly different cost benchmark due to variations in the cost of labour, materials and subcontractors. These benchmarks will be developed to incorporate actual onsite costs and provide a true benchmark for analysis between the current standard house construction and modern methods of construction.
- Safety: Homes constructed with factory-made frames and roofs tiled on the ground remove the need for scaffolding and in doing so improve the safety of the workforce. Better scheduling and planning also prevent accidents and defects.
- Time: The project has calculated a 52% faster build than 'brick and block' (14 vs 29 weeks) and even this seems conservative compared with Stewart Milne targets of 6-8 week builds.
- Uptake: The consortium delivers 35,000 homes a year between them. Impacts would be scaled up rapidly once demonstrated.
- Whole-life value: More homes, more quickly for less cost which will meet society's need for affordable, quality housing.