The global construction industry has an enormous amount of work to do over the coming decades: decarbonising the built environment, delivering the infrastructure of a net zero world, building climate-resilient homes for a growing population and healthcare facilities for an ageing one. We need renewable energy, data centres, lithium battery factories, high-speed rail – the list goes on.
To do all of this, it is essential that we resolve the industry’s longstanding issues with productivity, efficiency and recruitment. Rising construction costs are partly due to higher material prices and tight labour markets, but they also highlight the sector’s inefficiency and failure to modernise. According to investment bank ING, prices in the EU construction sector almost doubled between 1995 and 2020, while those in manufacturing increased by less than 20%. In contrast, labour productivity has almost doubled in manufacturing over the last 25 years, but increased by only 20% in construction.
This is where modern methods of construction (MMC) hold the key to both radically improving the productivity of the construction industry, and driving out embodied carbon and waste. Traditionally, construction has involved transporting many thousands of individual components to site to be assembled. Much of this work could be carried out in a factory environment instead, improving quality, safety, collaboration and productivity while reducing waste. MMC encompasses a wide range of new materials, methodologies and technologies. This ranges from fully furnished modules that can simply be connected together on site, to elements that are assembled as a kit of parts, to on-site 3D printing or a digital twin that contains detailed information about every single component of a built asset. Many of these ideas have been around for a while – even decades – but with advances in digital technology we are now able to realise their full potential.