MMC or Modern Methods of Construction has become the favourite buzzword in the industry in recent times. The expression was first coined by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, and subsequently by a few other organisations such as the BRE. It not only covers building components that are pre-assembled away from site, but also other forms of construction that require no pre-assembly: This includes new materials such as H+H Celcon's thin joint blockwork which is quicker and easier to construct than traditional 'wet' mortar block work.
However, the vast majority of MMC systems involve some form of pre-assembly. The most common are: light steel frame; timber frame; pre-cast concrete; prefabricated M&E; insulated concrete framework; kitchen/bathroom pods; structural insulated panels; volumetric building modules; pre-fabricated foundation systems. These systems are also known as offsite construction (OSC) - a far less misleading term than MMC.
We carried out a recent survey in which we asked clients, architects and surveyors about various issues concerning the industry. We also wanted to get a general opinion of what our clients really want. The survey was very successful and raised some interesting points.
One of the results concerning MMC shows, that although 70% of respondents would prefer to use a contractor who uses modern methods of construction to tackle projects, only 7% of respondents could correctly identify the various listed methods as MMC.
With ever-increasing requirements to achieve the highest energy efficiency results in construction, this is another area that causes concerns in the industry. However, there have been recent campaigns to spread awareness of environmental issues such as global warming and the effects of poor insulation in buildings on the CO2 levels. This appears to have raised awareness considerably.
Our recent survey highlighted the fact that 91% of respondents consider energy efficiency a high priority in their organisation. In fact, 65% actually specified energy efficiency standards that exceeded the mandatory requirements. When providing their reasons behind doing so, a whopping 70% replied that it was due to their concern for environmental issues such as global warming. The extensive media coverage of the issue seems to have conveyed the genuine threat of this environmental crisis.
This isa fairly new method of construction procurement adopted by the public sector clients as a more efficient and simple buying process. Instead of going out to tender for a whole range of small and medium-sized individual contracts they have decided to roll together contracts for both traditional new build and repair and maintenance work in housing, property, schools and roads. These 'super contracts' are described as Framework Agreements and may last for up to four years. The trend to adopt frameworks was encouraged by government following the National Audit Office's recommendations in its report Improving Public Services Through Better Construction 2005.
A recent survey conducted by the National Federation of Builders (NFB) and published in Building magazine reports that many small and medium sized enterprises (SME's) are losing out because they're unable to manage the volume of work covered by frameworks. Others suggest that the sheer complexity of the tender process itself discriminates against smaller contractors. As one building company executive tasked with drafting PQQ responses commented, " the application process alone can sometimes involve us writing 12,000 words".
National Organisations, previously uninterested in bidding for small contracts, are now spotting an opportunity and moving in - squeezing out SME's and causing real damage to local supply chains.
Few dispute the client's right to choose their own procurement route. Many simply feel that the framework agreement process does not accurately reflect their original intent and that frameworks should be restructured in such a way as to allows firms of all sizes to operate within them.