What is MMC in construction?

Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) is a term that describes the use of modern building materials, equipment, and techniques to build a structure; building or home. This method has been adopted by many industries across the world because it offers a wide array of benefits for both contractors and consumers. 

One benefit of MMC is that it can offer higher levels of health and safety for construction teams than traditional construction methods do; in modular buildings, for example, the bulk of the construction can take place offsite in a controlled environment, away from a live site. 

Other advantages include reduced construction time and material cost, which can mean lower costs for customers as well. On-site activity is reduced and an alternative labour model can be implemented because often a smaller workforce is required at site. 

There are many Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) that have been developed over the years. These new technologies have resulted in faster, cheaper and more efficient ways to build houses, commercial buildings and structures for the public and domestic sector than ever before. 

Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) is the use of building materials and components that offer a high degree of durability, reliability and sustainability. The UK government describes MMC as ‘the broad spectrum of innovative construction techniques being applied…both now and in the future.’

In 2020, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said that he, chancellor Rishi Sunak and the chief secretary to the treasury Stephen Barclay were “hugely supportive” of using Modern Methods of Construction to build homes. The government made it a condition of their £11.5bn affordable homes programme that at least 25% of those homes should be manufactured through modern methods.

The MMC approach has been adopted in order to ensure that buildings are safe, and comfortable to inhabit or work in. It is often used in conjunction with new technologies and innovations such as digital innovation like wireless communication networks or smart metres which allow occupants to monitor their energy usage remotely via an app on their phones.

A history of the construction sector

The origins of the construction sector can be traced back to the Roman Empire. The Romans built roads and aqueducts that still stand today. However, they also constructed buildings using a wooden framework filled with stones or earth to keep it stable. This method was used extensively in ancient times but fell out of favour after the Industrial Revolution because it was considered unsafe and unsustainable compared with modern methods of the time, such as masonry or reinforced concrete.

The Romans

The Romans are known as the masters of design, but their construction work was equally impressive. While they built roads and bridges, they also were responsible for some of the most sophisticated aqueducts in history. Water was a precious resource in Rome, so when the Romans built an aqueduct, they did it right. One such example is Pont du Gard in France: a 50-mile long aqueduct that’s still used today!

The Roman Empire reached its peak under Emperor Hadrian (117-138 CE), who wanted to make sure that everyone had access to housing by building tenements – large apartment buildings where families lived together under one roof! These tenements ranged from two stories high all the way up to five stories high with shops on street level below them.

The Middle Ages

This was a time of war, famine and plague. The construction sector was not as advanced as it is today. The Black Death killed 25% of the population, which led to a decline in people available for building projects.

The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was a period of rapid economic and social change in Britain. It began in the late 18th century and lasted until the early 20th century. It was a time of great economic, industrial and social change. The Industrial Revolution saw a move away from agriculture and towards manufacturing as Britain’s main source of wealth generation.

Modern developments

As a major sector of the economy, construction has been an area of focus for many new developments. The Industrial Revolution brought about huge changes in this sector as technology enabled faster, more efficient methods of building. In the 21st century, there have been numerous technological advances in construction which have helped to further improve efficiency and reduce waste and cost.

Modern construction has developed from earlier periods

The construction sector has developed over time, and it has been influenced by technology and economics as well as politics and society. Overtime we have seen how different methods have been used, adopted and changed. Technological advancements have innovated the way we can construct today, but the same methodology is still present from that of the Romans.

What is Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) in the construction industry?

Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) are a set of integrated procedures and innovations that can be used to build more quickly and efficiently. These methods include prefabrication and modularisation, as well as use of new materials such as glass fibre reinforced concrete (GFRC), prestressed reinforced concrete beams and reinforced concrete blocks.

In a 2022 MMC workshop hosted by Architects for Health, MMC was discussed in detail, particularly the further support required from the MMC industry for healthcare. 

Jamie Hillier, Founding Partner at Akerlof, a consultancy specialising in MMC services, highlighted how education is key to understanding what MMC is and how it works.

Jamie explained that MMC is not just exclusively about off-site solutions, but is much wider: “MMC is a broad term to describe contemporary innovations in construction, including new technologies (such as digital tools and techniques), off-site manufacture and use of efficient processes to deliver productive, sustainable and better outcomes.”

“MMC should be an enabler… a means to an end, it’s not an end in itself, so it should be there to help support and develop better outcomes in a manner that is aligned to the value criteria that as project teams we set.” – Jamie Hillier, Founding Partner at Akerlof.

MMC was described in the following way:

  • Platform – standard, repeatable and interoperable solutions.
  • DFMA (Designed For Manufacture and Assembly). Taking healthcare design and linking that tightly to the construction plans and strategy.
  • Offsite: Manufactured off-site in a safer, more productive environment (e.g. this could be on-site innovations to drive productivity and safer environments or it could be pre-fabricated solutions).
  • Digital: enabled through the application of data and digital technologies.
  • Industrialisation: delivered by applying lean, repeatable processes.

To watch the full webinar, visit Architects for Health. 

 

Modern Methods of Construction working group: developing a definition framework

In 2019 the Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) definition framework was developed by a specialist sub-group of the MHCLG MMC cross industry working group. The government and industry working group covered seven MMC categories. The framework was developed to regularise the term ‘MMC’ by defining the broad spectrum of innovative construction techniques being applied in the residential market.

Category 1 – Pre-Manufacturing – 3D primary structural systems

Category 2 – Pre-Manufacturing – 2D primary structural systems.

Category 3 – Pre-Manufacturing – Non systemised structural components

Category 4 – Pre-Manufacturing – Additive Manufacturing

Category 5 – Pre-Manufacturing – Non-structural assemblies and sub-assemblies

Category 6 – Traditional building product led site labour reduction/productivity improvements

Category 7 – Site process led labour reduction/productivity improvements

You can access the independent report here.

The benefits of MMC can include:

MMC stands for Modern Methods of Construction, and is a method of construction that included premanufacturing methods to create buildings. The premanufacturing has a number of advantages over traditional construction methods:

  • It allows for faster construction times and less disruption to the surrounding area as there are fewer onsite workers or materials needed
  • If utilising modular buildings, these can be made offsite in a factory, reducing the risk of delays due to poor weather or labour strikes
  • MMC can ensure for high quality and uniformity in each component, allowing components to be easily assembled on site
  • Improved safety for construction workers; for example, there can be a reduction in the number working at height.

The importance of MMC

MMC is a very important part of the construction industry. It can help to improve the quality and durability of buildings and infrastructure, resulting in better value for money.

MMC is also a way to improve efficiency, reduce waste and reduce costs. The more efficiently you can build, the less it will cost in materials and labour. This also means less waste because you’re using every material before throwing anything away or recycling it into something else useful.

With costs now rapidly rising, MMC allows us to manage cost and waste more effectively.

Utilising MMC can also help reduce waste and increase efficiencies via batch production; for example in modular buildings. 

Finally, MMC can help to ensure that the environment is protected by reducing pollution from both construction sites and finished structures.

MMC in healthcare

When we think of MMC healthcare construction we often think of modular healthcare construction – modular hospital builds and pre-constructed healthcare modules. 

However, MMC provides a wide range of offerings in healthcare that include:

  • Traditional volumetric modular buildings
  • System-build wall panels
  • Light gauge steel frame (LGSF)
  • Passivhaus timber frame modular building
  • Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPs)

What are the benefits to MMC in hospital construction?

“When we hear the word modular our minds go back to those ugly grey boxes, probably when we went to school – bouncy floors, poor acoustics, poor installations, rattling windows. This absolutely does not represent MMC any longer.

“MMC systems today can offer anything up to 65 years of structural warranty, they can offer all kinds of facades and can look quite amazing – either as a statement to your  hospital site or blending into your NHS estate.” – Justin Bass, Health Spaces.

Live hospitals are busy, unpredictable and already have significant challenges to staying operationally  efficient without adding construction projects creating additional pressure.

  • Reduction in disruption at live hospital sites

The key benefits to MMC in healthcare construction is the reduction in disruption to the site operations. Pre-constructed modular units, for example, can be delivered ‘Just in Time’ and craned into position quickly – significantly reducing activity at a live hospital site, compared to traditional construction techniques. By using pre-constructed modules, the number of materials and trades moving through the hospital’s site can be educed. 

  • Sustainable healthcare construction

The NHS Net Zero promise is  one of the big national drivers for MMC. There are a lot of emerging MMC technologies that are using recycled product and low carbon product to reduce the embodied carbon in the building, as well as new technologies to improve thermal properties.

 

 How does MMC affect the traditional process of construction?

A key question raised is how does MMC affect the traditional process of construction? The answer is simple. It does not replace traditional construction but rather complements the operations in the construction field. 

There are many benefits that come with MMC and some disadvantages as well. It can give more flexibility and options to designers, helps in more efficient utilisation of resources and promotes better coordination between different parties involved in the construction process.

However, in some cases MMC also brings about some negatives such as increased time consumption for planning purposes due to the advanced calculations conducted via software, and increased labour costs due to needing additional staff members skilled at working with such software. 

It is also important to note that every construction project is unique and, in some cases, traditional techniques are required. 

In Health Spaces webinar MMC and Traditional Construction – Choosing the Right Model for your Trust , the advantages and disadvantages to both MMC and traditional construction in healthcare construction was explored in detail. Questions discussed included: 

  • How do you choose which construction method to use for your healthcare building project? 
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages to MMC and traditional healthcare construction? 
  • How does it affect the wider strategy for your Trust? 
  • What further support needs to come from the MMC industry to help the NHS?
MMC vs traditional construction – what is the best healthcare build solution?

As we move into a new era of construction for the NHS, there are lessons to be learnt from previous healthcare builds. Jaime Bishop, healthcare architect, explains:

“Everyone is well aware that the NHS and healthcare has a long history of working with volumetric construction and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC). Often MMC might be exchanged for modular, and the discussion today should hopefully transcend purely the conversation around modular.”

“The NHS will always need urgent solutions to problems – we have a very large estate and we have lots of moving parts – and the relationship with modular is a very key part of that conversation. But it’s critical to look to the future and see how MMC more expansively can improve the way we work and improve the outcomes of our builds and therefore the people that use them.”

Key questions discussed during this MMC vs traditional webinar included the pros and cons to MMC and traditional construction, the cost of MMC vs traditional, the benefits of a hybrid approach to hospital and healthcare construction utilising both MMC and traditional construction techniques, MMC and sustainability, as well as the risks of changing models throughout a build.

Traditional healthcare builds

Examples of traditional construction methods were discussed. Talking points around the pros and cons to MMC vs traditional construction included:

  • Traditional construction can be seen to be slow, but it is not the construction that is slow; it’s the journey to get to construction stage.
  • Traditional construction can give artistic license to design something special.
  • Significant technology is available now to be used within hospitals; the last couple of years have shown the kind of change that can be achieved. Transformation can take place when a new building is provided.
  • Digital transformation is a vital element of the MMC programme, ensuring that the new hospital buildings incorporate and support advanced technology.
  • Flexibility is fundamental in terms of the immediate management of the Covid pandemic and post-Covid, but also actually being flexible enough so that we can manage any future pandemics.
  • We must aspire to make hospitals better….assets that deliver on all fronts: ecologically, physically, emotionally, economically and culturally.
  • Add value, placemaking and healthcare design to improve lives.

 

  • Changing the views: modular builds

The webinar discussed how modular healthcare builds can change the way staff view modular, the benefits to off-site construction for a rapid hospital build and the advantages of keeping disruption to live hospital sites to a minimum.

  • MMC: not just modular

Andrew Rolf, specialist in MMC, passive design and sustainability:  “MMC is about the all-encompassing term; it’s not just about modular construction.”

“It’s really important to note that it’s a much more broader term which is embedded within the process; the process of design and construction. So it’s not just about construction itself but it’s how we approach the process of design as well and making sure that in our client briefing stage we are forming ideas around the right MMC construction solutions that will suit what the client wants to deliver.” – Andrew Rolf.

  • Cost of MMC vs Traditional

Topics covered include the cost benefits to MMC over traditional construction, and the importance of understanding, and following the right ‘discovery’ process, of MMC from the start to ensure construction methods do not need to change mid-programme.

To download slide decks and a recording of the webinar, click here

Does MMC replace or complement traditional methods of construction?

MMC is a construction process that can be used to achieve the same goal as the traditional process of construction. However, it is not a replacement but it can be used to complement the traditional process of construction. 

Digital construction technology, for example, is complementary to traditional methods of construction. It helps in reducing costs and time with the help of innovative equipment and processes.

  • MMC provides greater flexibility

MMC can gives more flexibility and options to the designer. It can help in aiding a faster design process and allows the designer to visualise buildings in 3D. This helps architects understand better about the building and also allows better coordination between the design and construction teams.

  • More efficient utilisation of resource

MMC is an enabler for efficient resource utilisation and helps in optimising the use of resources. It helps in reducing the cost of construction, time to construct, site congestion as well as environmental impact.

  • MMC makes processes more streamlined and efficient. It does not replace the traditional process of construction but helps in more efficient utilisation of resources.

 

MMC can be a game changer in the construction industry. It is changing the way we design and build our buildings. It can help us to make better use of resources and give more flexibility to the designer on how they want their buildings to look like.

“MMC is part of the NHS conversation. The increasing pressure on capital budgets will put the MMC agenda right into the discussion front and centre.” – Justin Bass, Health Spaces.

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