Comment: Homes of the future can solve our current crisis

An offsite timber frame house under construction - one of the innovative techniques AIMCH is investigating. Picture: Contributed
An offsite timber frame house under construction - one of the innovative techniques AIMCH is investigating. Picture: Contributed
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The government has stated that the UK needs an ­additional 120,000 homes each year to address the housing shortage. That’s a challenge that the housebuilding ­sector simply can’t meet using traditional ­construction methods alone.

There are too many hurdles to ­overcome – skills shortages, an aging workforce, poor productivity, low output and a ­materials shortfall, to name a few. Homes need to be affordable, energy efficient, and high quality, leading to increased ­customer satisfaction and improved building ­performance.

Industrialisation through digital working, offsite construction and lean site assembly can be part of the ­solution, but they have not yet broken through as viable mainstream alternatives to traditional methods. The AIMCH (Advanced Industrialised Methods for the Construction of Homes) project aims to change this.

AIMCH, which recently received £4 million funding from Innovate UK under the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, aims to develop industrialised near-to-market panelised offsite solutions. The ultimate goal is to deliver homes which are built 30 per cent quicker and with a 50 per cent reduction in defects, yet cost the same or less than traditionally built homes.

This collaborative innovation project involves a mix of housing providers and tenures, high-profile and entrepreneurial companies, differing offsite construction systems, and is backed by leading researchers. The consortium is Stewart Milne Group, Barratt Developments, L&Q, Tarmac, the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) and Forster Roofing Services. The project will be ­managed by Limberger Associates.

AIMCH has the potential for 35,000 homes to be delivered by project partners across the UK each year. It will develop digitally integrated solutions around design standardisation, design for manufacture and assembly and building information modelling, linked to advanced manufacturing, supply chain integration, enhanced offsite panelised systems and lean construction practices. The project will gather hard evidence and data from live construction sites to inform decision making and business cases for change and investment. We are confident AIMCH will be a major change catalyst in the housing sector by identifying and developing industrialised near-to-market panelised offsite solutions.

These will be benchmarked to current methods and solutions will be trialled on live housing projects, with successful new methods then being commercialised and brought to market in volume. We expect that the project will result in new digital design tools, manufacturing advancements, improved near-to-market offsite systems and lean site processes.

By leading to high quality homes that can be built quickly and viably, we believe AIMCH will be the stimulus the housing sector needs to move towards advanced digitally integrated manufacturing and site assembly, while overcoming the challenges of today and helping us get to where we need to go in the future.

AIMCH brings CSIC and the MTC’s ­innovation and industrialisation expertise, capability in design and simulation technologies, and skill in process and manufacturing ­systems development – including automation and visualisation – together with high profile housing and offsite manufacturers, who offer scale, innovation capability and a clear route to market.

AIMCH also has the support of Homes England and is named within the Farmer Review as an example of the type of industry project that’s needed within the housing sector. As well as providing much needed homes, AIMCH also has the potential to deliver ­wider benefits in jobs, investment and growth.

- Stewart Dalgarno, AIMCH project director and director of product development at Stewart Milne Group.