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The Housing Innovation Map

Modern Construction Methods

With the increasing scale and complexity of new development projects and the demand for new homes on the rise, the house building sector is ripe for disruption. Enabled by technology advancement and innovation, a range of modern construction methods have emerged which are increasingly adopted by the sector. These have improved construction efficiency, lowered costs, and promoted sustainable development.

Driving forces

  • Productivity growth in the construction sector has been low and lagged behind the UK economy since 1995, which has limited the sector’s ability to deliver more, better homes;
  • By 2026, the construction industry could see a 20-25% decline in the workforce, according to Homes England;
  • 10% of the UK’s carbon emissions are directly associated with construction, according to UKGBC.

Modern construction methods in practice

Innovative construction techniques could transform or replace traditional house-building activities. These include off-site and robotic construction, and more besides.

Off-site construction is one of the most popular new modern construction methods in the housing sector, a typical example of which is modular homes. Built with the same materials and to the same building codes and architectural specifications as traditional construction, modular homes are pre-fabricated off-site as modules, that are then assembled on-site to form permanent or relocatable buildings. This approach could significantly reduce construction time and can be more sustainable with less waste generated. There’s also the possibility of re-using modules. Some modular home solutions even enable the design to be codified and customised to user needs. Modular units can be fully fitted out before being delivered to site for final construction.

Robotic construction has gained popularity in recent years. An example of this is 3D printing. Here, a mobile robotic arm, under pre-programmed instructions, controls a 3D printer to create construction components or even an entire building. By using computer-controlled sequential layering of materials to create three-dimensional shapes, 3D printing could enable more efficient and accurate construction of complex or bespoke items. There are also construction robots designed for tasks like bricklaying and masonry, and even robots that can lay an entire street at once. The adoption of robots in construction will dramatically improve the speed and quality of construction work. Furthermore, emerging AI technology could make robots smarter, allowing them to self-improve their capabilities, becoming more competent and efficient in handling complex construction tasks.

In parallel to the adoption of new construction techniques, the industry is gradually embracing digitisation as well. Innovations like Building Information Modelling (BIM), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and immersive applications are disrupting the way we manage and operate house building projects.

Benefits and impact

By moving part of the construction process off site, and allowing home units to be pre-fabricated or even fitted out in advance, the productivity and sustainability of the construction process can be significantly improved. With the support of different types of robots, we will be able to create more complex and customised homes faster.
 

Have you got any thoughts on modern construction methods?

If you have any ideas around how we can increase the uptake of modern construction methods, or want to work with us on this topic, please get in touch. For more information, and to find out about upcoming events around the future of housing, or simply to join the conversation, please email Bin Guan, City Planning Researcher, on bguan@futurecities.catapult.org.uk.

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