Barry McCall speaks with some of the people setting out the roadmap for Irish contractors to integrate Modern Methods of Construction into their operations.
In 2019, The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) commissioned the KPMG/Future Analytics Report on ‘Productivity in the Irish Construction Industry’. This resulted in seven priority actions being identified as needing to be implemented in the context of delivering the next National Development Plan, initially costed at €116bn in 2018.
The Construction Sector Group (CSG) of Government and industry set up the Innovation and Digital Adoption Sub-Group to implement these seven actions of which Modern Methods of Construction (MMOC) is one action.
Martin Searson, MMOC Action Leader, and Quality & Lean Specialist, CJK Engineering.
The other six actions include the development of a new Digital Build Centre of Excellence under Department of Public Expenditure and Reform supervision, the development of a new Construction Technology Centre by Enterprise Ireland, the establishment of a Construction Research Forum by the CIF, and other innovations on construction technology and planning application digitisation.
The first report of the MMOC Working Group was completed recently, and the next phase of activity has just commenced.
“The draft report is finished”, says MMOC Action Leader Martin Searson, Quality & Lean Specialist, CJK Engineering. “That completes phase one of the qualitative work. We have shared the report with the different stakeholders, and we are now going out to subject matter experts to delve into it further to look at existing solutions and how they line up with new ones.”
Modern Methods of Construction Adoption
The need for the industry to adopt Modern Methods of Construction is clear, according to Martin Searson. “It includes modularisation, off-site fabrication, off-site design and manufacture and a range of other technologies and methodologies”, he says. “Modern Methods of Construction cuts down on labour, reduces costs and cycle time, and delivers value for clients.”
“The benefits are considerable”, agrees Sean Downey, Director, Specialist Contracting, Construction Industry Federation. “Apart from reducing costs, it can improve on-site health and safety, reduce build times, and improve quality control.”
The potential environmental benefits are also quite substantial.
PJ Rudden, Chairperson, CSG Innovation and Digital Adoption SubGroup.
“Modern Methods of Construction is meant to deliver the most efficient construction methods using Building Information Modelling (BIM) to increase levels of innovation and digital adoption with minimal wastage on circular economy principles”, explains PJ Rudden, Chairperson, CSG Innovation and Digital Adoption SubGroup, and former President, Engineers Ireland.”
“Despite these clear benefits, the industry in Ireland has been relatively slow to adopt MMOC and other advanced methodologies.
“Irish construction is relatively low tech to put it frankly”, says PJ Rudden. “The industry’s multinational clients are all-embracing Industry 4.0. There is quite a gap between that and where the construction sector is currently. Those clients expect the same approach from our larger construction firms who, in fairness, are starting to deliver at the higher end of the industry. At the same time, many of our firms are SMEs, and we need to assist them to also upskill to these levels of innovation and digital adoption.”
The Big Picture
“MMOC is part of a bigger picture of the needed transformation over the next three to five years”, PJ Rudden continues. “Productivity is not high enough if we are to compete internationally, and digital adoption is low. At the moment, we’re at about BIM Level 2D, but we need to progress to an integrated project management approach to include 4D on programme/ scheduling, 5D on costs/financial control, 6D on sustainability/ low carbon and 7D on lifecycle asset management. On modern buildings, only 20% of the whole life cost is construction. Unless you build in energy and low carbon efficiency into the future asset at the design stage, we will not be able to compete for and with international clients. We are near the bottom of the class, and we need to get up there to the top quite rapidly.”
Sean Downey, Director, Specialist Contracting, Construction Industry Federation.
Sean Downey points to a very positive picture around current developments in the Irish sector.
“Quite a number of Irish firms have already invested in off-site fabrication and different types of modular construction, such as pods and MEP modules”, Sean Downey says.
“Companies like John Sisk and Son are working with Vision Built, and others have integrated different aspects of modular construction. Castle Ceilings’ normal market is in plasterboard and internal linings, and so on. They have looked at the trends and the aspects of construction that came before and after them in the process.
“They have integrated those aspects into their own process and built a manufacturing operation in west Galway. It’s great to see companies outside the very big ones move into the space.”
“Mechanical and electrical contractors are leading the way”, Martin Searson adds. “Private sector clients have been driving its adoption. We have also seen MMOC being used on the Children’s Hospital project. It was used on Terminal 2 in Dublin Airport as far back as 2008.”
Barriers To Adoption
Catching up isn’t as easy as some might suggest.
PJ Rudden notes that the sector needs to advance to more off-site manufacturing and slotting pieces together like Lego, but the right projects need to be in place.
“Construction firms need a steady pipeline of projects for this to be financially viable”, he comments. “There needs to be a continuous systems approach to off-site construction. It’s not a one-off. You absolutely need BIM for on-site clash detection. There are several major challenges to its adoption.”
Martin Searson explains some of those challenges.
“There is the insurance issue”, he notes. “Contractors can find that they are taking on additional liability. Off-site building also has funding and risk implications. You need to have funding in place in advance, and the current procurement model doesn’t lend itself to that. There is also a regulatory aspect. The products manufactured have to comply with Irish Building Regulations. They have to meet certain technical standards and get product certification. In many cases it is a CE Mark, that is required. They also need to be tested for fire rating integrity. There is a whole range of issues, but they are not insurmountable. Other companies have done it and can deliver high-end products in a short space of time. We need to work with them and other stakeholders to learn how to do it.”
Overcoming the barriers is as much a question of mindset as anything else, according to Sean Downey.
“The bigger companies who have already dipped their toes in the water have had to deal with these already”, he says. “For example, it can be challenging in terms of finance. As one firm in the space has pointed out to me, you can no longer think of yourself as a contractor; you have to see yourself as a manufacturer.”
That switch from contractor to manufacturer completely alters the financial model. Instead of being paid by the clients at certain stages, contractors are paid on certain terms following delivery.
The Modern Methods of Construction definition framework is a new seven category definition framework that enables a full and future-proofed range of Modern Methods of Construction used in homebuilding to be better understood with regularised terminology developed by the UK Ministry of Housing,
Communities & Local Government.
Alignment With Other Contractors
Another issue is alignment with the other contractors on the project.
“Will they be ready to receive the modules?” Sean Downey asks. “There’s no point in delivering sophisticated re-fabricated modules if they are not going to be used immediately. Will there be clashes or conflicts with what has already been built? All these things have to be lined up in advance. Otherwise, you will lose the benefits. You need an integrated approach to the management of the project, and the on-site team have to be clued into MMOC. But, there is a deeper strategic piece. MMOC demands the support of a project team working in a digital delivery framework.
Otherwise, how can an entire industry move to a new mode of delivery? That will require a big culture shift.” Overcoming those barriers and challenges is the key task being undertaken by the MMOC Working Group. Its approach has seen the issue being scoped out thoroughly and the groundwork being laid for the preparation of a route map for the industry to adopt the new methods and technologies.
“We carried out a baseline analysis by looking at international best practice across different sectors from housing up to semiconductor manufacturing”, Martin Searson explains. “We put those into a matrix, and we used that to identify the gaps in where we are at the moment. After that, we identified the risks associated with the adoption of MMOC. There are a lot more barriers than drivers at the moment, and we have been speaking to people who have done it before and asking them how they overcame those barriers.”
Construction Centre Of Excellence
The outputs from that work will feed into the development of the Construction Centre of Excellence.
“It will be part of the structure and framework of the Centre of Excellence”, Martin Searson continues. “The industry will need research assistance and technical support to overcome the barriers and further adopt MMOC; that’s where the Centre of Excellence will come in. It will support the wider sector and help test and certify products. We plan to benchmark the Irish industry against best in class in the UK, USA, Australia and Europe, and the Centre of Excellence will play a key role in that.”
The plan is to develop guidance on off-site methods of construction that are both sustainable and can be adopted by all strands of the industry.
“We want to make sure it fits in with the circular economy”, Martin Searson adds. “That can be difficult due to existing technical specifications, but that’s where the innovation comes in. We will work with others, including the education sector, to get that done. We want to come up with standardised methods and processes that can be adopted by the whole industry, including smaller contractors. Ultimately, we will be able to export that knowledge and expertise. That’s going to take a big collective effort.”
The next phase will see the working group report on how MMOC can be executed.
“We will hopefully have that completed early in the second quarter of next year. That will feed into the Centre of Excellence. When the Centre of Excellence is up and running, we will be able to make a big push to get the industry to adopt MMOC. I would hope that will happen within the next 24 months,” Martin Searson concludes.