Feb 18, 2016

Shaping the future: The latest developments in offsite construction

With the Government setting a target of 400,000 new homes by 2020, Alex Goodfellow, group managing director of Stewart Milne Timber Systems, considers how offsite manufacture could help.

With such a high target, housebuilders are under pressure to find ways that enable them to build homes quickly, cost effectively and profitably – within prescriptive building and environmental regulations to meet the highest standards.

In short, offsite construction overcomes these challenges in three specific ways. It guarantees quality through precision engineering, modern and automated factory processes and robust ISO procedures to ensure the highest quality products are manufactured and transported to sites, 'just in time' ready to erect. Performance standards are guaranteed to meet a varied range from current building regs to BREAAM excellent.

With timber systems arriving on site, ready to erect by experienced erect teams, there is an opportunity to reduce site labour and supervision. The systems are erected efficiently and ready to hand over to follow on trades seamlessly.  A typical four-bedroom detached home can be erected wind and water tight within three to five days.

Waste is reduced also giving further cost savings in addition to pre lim savings. With early client engagement, projects can be valued engineered to design out cost in each phase of the project from manufacture through to construction.

Our factory in Witney is one of the most advanced facilities of its kind. Here, designers, technical teams and project management work in partnership with clients from the initial design concept and development through to manufacture, delivery and construction.

In response to rising enquiries from housebuilders on how timber systems works and how it can contribute to meeting market demand, Stewart Milne Timber Systems offer a range of workshops, seminars and factory tours to industry professionals.

The events are created to encourage house builders and their quantity surveyors, construction teams, technical and finance to understand the merits of timber systems and more importantly to understand how to drive the real benefits to the bottom line. It enables potential clients to get a first-hand look at the latest developments in offsite construction and how they can meet market demands. The automated facility in Witney Oxfordshire has recently opened a Centre of Excellence, a combination of learning and training that is available for clients and those with an interest in offsite manufacture or timber systems.

One example of a very successful offsite manufacture product is our Sigma II Build System which has been used in a number of our private and affordable housing projects as well as several BREAAM commercial projects.   

The Sigma II Build System is a fabric first solution that delivers an affordable, reliable and simple to install build system, promoting a “fit-and-forget” approach.

Designed as a flexible build system, Sigma II is tailored to maintain ultimate value and performance for each project while integrating it with the project’s design elements to achieve the architectural vision. It also offers the option of having more elements constructed offsite such as pre-fitted windows and doors, as well as insulated pre-wrapped floor cassettes.

An example of this was the UK’s first Eco town at Bicester, where as a partner with A2 Dominion and working with Wilmott Dixon, we delivered homes to meet Level 5 of the Code for Sustainable Homes.

Our role in the project was to provide the Sigma II Build System for 94 of the first 393 homes as part of the “Exemplar” phase of the project. It is an inspiring project to be part of, as it is a forward-thinking model of modern living, and fits so well with the Government’s vision of a sustainable future.

The use of off-site construction brought a number of benefits to the NW Bicester project. It meant reduced costs on preliminary site preparation, as well as reducing health and safety risks, avoiding weather interruptions and limiting defects.

Initial infrastructure work began in late April 2014, while the first homes were completed and ready for residents last year.

We expect to see more projects like these in future, and indeed we’re in discussions with key stakeholders in industry and government about how modern construction methods and cutting-edge technology can help to create more high quality homes, in less time, with exceptional environmental performance.

Homes For Scotland Home Builders Federation National House-Building Council Royal Institute of British Architects Structural Timber Association Timber Research and Development Association Constructionline British Board of Agrement Wood Campus Build Off Site Building Research Establishment WOOD FOR GOOD

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