Innovate UK has awarded £6.5m to a cross-industry consortium researching advanced manufacturing techniques for the offsite residential sector.
Advanced Industrialised Methods for the Construction of Homes (AIMCH) is a three-year programme that will be piloting new technology on live housing projects.
The consortium’s ultimate goal is to deliver 120,000 houses a year at the same, or lower, cost than traditional on-site methods, shaving 30% off delivery times and reducing defects by 50%. The most successful methods will be commercialised and scaled up for the UK housing market.
The consortium says the project has the potential to have an impact on roughly 35,000 homes that its consortium partners deliver annually.
Stewart Dalgarno, AIMCH project director and director of product development at Stewart Milne Group, said:
“AIMCH’s ambition is to use industrialisation to transform how we build our homes in the UK, leading to more homes that can be built quickly and viably. We believe it will be the catalyst the housing sector needs to move towards advanced digital integrated manufacturing, whilst overcoming the challenges that stand between the sector today and where it needs to go in the future.”
Aside from Stewart Milne Group, other industry partners include Barratt Developments, London & Quadrant Housing Trust, Tarmac Trading and SME partner Forster Roofing Services. The Manufacturing Technology Centre is the lead research partner and the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre is the project’s research and dissemination partner. The programme is being managed by Limberger Associates.
Braintree centre streamlines logistics
Weston Logistics, part of volume housebuilder Weston Group, has opened a vast new distribution and build-offsite complex at Braintree in Essex.
The new logistics centre, which incorporates a high-tech control centre and design offices, uses GPS to track how suppliers around the world are freighting raw materials, components and goods into the facility. Weston says that bulk deliveries can now be unloaded, computer coded and stored in 15 minutes, compared to a previous average of three hours.
Goods are stored in an 8m-high pallet racking complex with 27 aisles, which can hold more than 8,000 pallets.
The facility also includes a manufacturing, assembly and quality control workshop. Here, raw materials are precision-cut and assembled into items such as built-in wardrobes and vanity units. The workshop runs tests on taps and kitchen and bathroom basins, checking for water leaks, flow and temperature control. Finished products are barcoded once they have been checked and approved.
Weston Group says that the complex can supply up to 60 housing plots per day at maximum capacity. But long-term plans are
to support the delivery of 5,000 new homes per annum.
The £12m warehouse and manufacturing complex took 18 months to construct and currently employs 40 staff, including former aeronautical engineers.
Bob Weston, chief executive of Weston Group, says: “Within the next 10 years technology will allow for new homes to be fully manufactured offsite by robots and computer-assisted engineering tools.”
He says that customer specification choices will be fully automated with factory-made components then built on site using machines “like a highly advanced Lego system”.
“This step change will help enhance site safety, quality control and automotive-like precision. Our blue-chip factory at Braintree is another pioneering part of the process,” added Weston.
This article was first published in the April 2019 issue of The Construction Index magazine