The impetus towards wide-scale endorsement of offsite manufacturing continues to intensify.
While interest in this area as a potential silver bullet for the industry’s woes is nothing new, the focus on OSM has escalated since the Farmer Review in 2016.
In Modernise or Die, Mark Farmer recommended that the government promote “the use of pre-manufactured solutions through policy measures”. The government responded that it would incorporate Farmer’s recommendations into future policy development, but also suggested the sector itself had to up its game.
Since the review was published, the government demonstrated further commitment to OSM in 2017’s Autumn Budget and through the £420m construction sector deal announced earlier this month.
Last week the House of Lords’ science and technology select committee published a report into whether OSM can improve productivity. The committee held 10 evidence sessions and received 81 written submissions. It also visited Laing O’Rourke’s Explore Industrial Park factory to hear presentations on OSM and check out prototype ‘precision-manufactured’ apartments.
The Lords’ committee found “clear and tangible benefits” from OSM that made a “compelling” case for its widespread use. While none of these perceived benefits are revelationary, read together they are convincing.
Aside from the obvious potential upsides in terms of productivity, speed and quality, other notable benefits the committee identified include the potential to create regional jobs away from large conurbations and, critically, health and safety improvements for the sector.
“A crucial factor in successful uptake of OSM is ensuring the right skills and training are in place”
The question now is: how can the government drive the uptake of OSM?
The Lords’ report made various recommendations. Some related to high-level strategic planning – for example, stressing the importance of the government working together with the Construction Leadership Council to make the sector deal a success.
Others were on a more practical level, such as suggesting government set out the information that companies need in order to comply with the BIM Level 2 mandate (BIM being a key enabler of OSM).
Back to basics
As the committee recognised, a crucial factor in successful uptake of OSM is ensuring the right skills and training are in place. This isn’t only a matter of post-school training provision; it is also about ensuring secondary schools provide the basic skills to facilitate more specialist training later on.
The Lords’ report pointed out that perceptions of the careers available in the sector are based on the skills needed for onsite work; attracting the younger generation means showcasing the high-tech aspects of modern construction methods.
While OSM has had its detractors in the past, the report not only outlines its benefits clearly and emphatically, but also makes tangible suggestions for its successful implementation going forward.
It’s now up to the government and the sector itself to take up the recommendations – the sooner the better.
Matthew Bool is a partner in the construction team at Ashurst