Why modular building systems are more valuable than ever

At a time of soaring energy costs and global supply chain issues, the value of using pre-fabricated modular building systems has never been clearer. Alan Green, Managing Director of Neaco Ltd, explains their many advantages.

The term modular building is commonly used to describe a self-contained structure or unit – sometimes for temporary use – but another important definition relates to architectural solutions assembled from a range of standardised modular components which are individually manufactured to a finished state at a factory.

Finished components are delivered and assembled on site to form an installation, usually connected with a fixing standardised system which uses dry works rather than hot works. Modular construction represents an alternative to traditional methods in which materials are fabricated and finished on site, rather than in a factory.

With components already manufactured and finished, modular systems dramatically reduce the time required on site in comparison to using traditional construction methods. The precise combination of components, angles and dimensions required for a scheme is either a standardised, off-the-shelf design or defined and specified through consultation between the architect/designer and the manufacturer’s technical support. This means that survey, assembly and installation is the only time spent on site.

Carrying out fabrication in factory conditions avoids exposure to delays on-site caused by adverse weather. The shorter construction period allows a quicker return on investment for the client, and reduced overheads. Time efficiency is an especially valuable advantage in where build schedules are subject to time constraints.
In comparison, solutions fabricated on-site involve much more noise, dust, and light pollution. Off-site manufacture of complete modular solutions means that all materials arrive on site in a single delivery in contrast to traditional construction methods, which often require multiple separate deliveries. For example, a modular balcony is supplied pre-engineered and pre-assembled in a completed state, ready to be fixed in position on delivery.

In contrast, a balcony fabricated on site will often rely on different suppliers for the decking, glass and rails/stanchions. If just one of these suppliers is delayed, the completed installation is pushed back, which could have a knock-on impact on the rest of the construction schedule.
Carrying out construction in safer, more controlled factory conditions enables better risk management. In contrast, solutions fabricated on site increase on-site activity and therefore increase risk, especially if they involve hot works such as welding.
Pre-engineering components in a factory environment enables higher degree of quality control with testing, prototyping and checking for uniform standards. Solutions fabricated on site are much more variable in quality, largely determined by the individuals involved in carrying out the work. Without the shelter of a factory, exposure to the British climate often presents working conditions which adversely affect quality.

Manufacturing in a factory allows far better management of the waste stream. Standardised finished components mean minimal or zero off-cuts and waste materials. Any waste or off-cuts that occur in a factory can be more easily collected and reused or recycled. Managing waste at factory stages reduces financial and carbon costs of waste disposal on site.

Dry works consume less energy and involve far less noise and atmospheric pollution than hot works. Modular construction involves less on-site activity, reducing the environmental impact on the locality and reducing carbon footprint from lighter site traffic.

The importance of energy savings has further increased amid a global energy crisis. Global supply chain problems are impacting a huge range of sectors. Companies relying on products and raw materials from overseas are suffering sharp increases in import costs and lead times. Pre-fabricated modular systems can be held as stock, bypassing supply chain delays and enabling faster lead times. Neaco source all our raw materials from UK suppliers, which means we can avoid international supply chain obstacles and supply domestic projects with maximum speed and efficiency.

Modular systems perform better in every key category, from sustainability, site impact and energy consumption to speed, safety and quality control. Where possible, the construction industry should opt for modular solutions to improve the quality, efficiency and carbon savings of each project.