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Should tried and tested construction methods make way for Modern Methods of Construction?

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In December 2020, the government issued its Construction Playbook which outlined its aspirations to deliver more streamlined, efficient and greener projects in the public sector as we emerge from the grips of the global pandemic. 

Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) along with other key principles have been identified as playing a significant part in how the delivery of public sector projects continue to evolve and become increasingly more sophisticated.  

MMC offer alternative solutions to traditional practices which are still very much drawn upon in the built environment sector. Modular methods, offsite construction, and digitalisation, such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) are all well documented examples of how construction methods have evolved and successfully been implemented into the delivery of major public projects such as HS2. 

In August 2020 HS2’s phase one enabling works contractor in the West Midlands, the Laing O’Rourke & JMurphy & Sons Limited joint venture (LMJV), successfully installed a new highways bridge over the M42. This was the first of four bridges to be installed as part of the enabling works in the HS2 Interchange Station area. 

Delivered by Expanded, a subsidiary of Laing O’Rourke, a Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) method was adopted. This meant that the various components of the bridge were fabricated entirely off site at Laing O’Rourke’s Explore Industrial Park based in Nottingham. Once manufactured, assembly took place alongside the M42 where the ‘2,750-tonne bridge structure was carried along the motorway on a self-propelled modular transporter…the transporter took just one hour and 45 minutes to move the bridge span 150 metres.’1 

Opting for a DfMA approach significantly reduced the impact on road users on what is a heavily utilised stretch of the country’s motorway network. The bridge installation and temporary closure of a section of the M42 was conducted over a single weekend as opposed to several weeks had more traditional construction methods been used. 

Whilst contractors acknowledge that MMC can revolutionise construction methods and are willing to subscribe to its increasing emergence, there is the adage that ‘cost is king’ to contend with. 

As our Construction Insight Report (to be published this week) highlights, lower profit margins registered among the top 100 contractors significantly impact on their ability to invest in innovative construction methods and solutions. In addition to this, where some MMC, such as modular, are quicker, they are not necessarily cheaper. 

One may argue that, if tried and tested methods of construction still work, why should we work towards an overhaul of existing practices in favour of MCC? 

Perhaps if these innovative methods were implemented where most cost effective and where they will significantly mitigate potential delays and impact to programmesthis could be more conducive in encouraging the uptake of MMC as opposed to the mandatory starting point for all projects. 

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