Innovation In Housing Construction Construction Essay

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Innovation in housing construction is a dynamic one. This paper seeks to conduct a research on the extent to which the building industry has adopted the use of an innovation. The innovation otherwise known as modern methods of construction (MMC) refers to the use of offsite products. After an introduction to the key themes, the literature review shall take a look at the relationship of the terms, innovation, modern methods of construction, offsite products and the prevalence in the southwest region of the United Kingdom. The report will also investigate the major drivers for innovation in the UK house building industry, focusing on Government reports and initiatives that promote offsite MMC, perceived advantages and barriers for greater use within the construction industry.

This report will explore the methodology to be used for the research, ethical considerations for the proposed research, a possible timetable for the research and the justification for the required resources.

Keywords: innovation, modern methods of construction, offsite products, housing

INTRODUCTION

Egan (1998) wrote "As part of its terms of reference the Task Force was asked to look particularly at improving the efficiency and quality of housing construction". There is a call for a radical change, an improvement via innovations in the house building industry.

In recent times the UK house building industry has been under intensive pressure from the government and clients to improve its productivity and efficiency, as well as the overall performance of new housing stock being delivered. Innovative approaches to procurement and construction processes, with emphasis on cross-sector learning and world best practices, have been widely accepted by both the Government and many stakeholders within the building construction industry to be the optimum resolution to the industry's inherent problems. The keynotes are voiced in an excerpt above from Egan's report for the Construction Task Force on the scope for improving quality and efficiency in UK construction. For many of those who advocate innovation within the industry, modern methods of construction (MMC) especially offsite products or materials are expected to play an important role in bringing about industrial change (Pan et al, 2007). However, despite this increasing interest in offsite manufactured products and innovative building processes from industry advisors and experts, the UK construction industry still lags behind that of similar economies - Japan arguably being the most striking comparison. (Goodier & Gibb, 2006) In clear contrast to the apparent reluctance of UK house builders to embrace offsite manufactured products, some other countries such as Japan have maintained a consistent and influential position within the domestic house building industry.

Innovation thus can be described as the process of introducing new ideas which should lead to an increased performance. Innovations within the UK construction industry should be a welcome idea; yet it surprisingly is not basking in the expected euphoria in the UK. A peculiar explanation for this situation lies within the perceived barriers to innovations. Innovations can also mean the use of solutions to address spontaneous challenges on a construction site. It may also refer to the use of new ideas and techniques in combating remote and interim construction issues which in turn should produce a more efficient, safer and time and cost saving methods aligned with world best practices in construction. Freeman (1989) defines innovation as the actual use of a non-trivial change and improvement in a process, product or system that is novel to the institution developing the change. In general, an innovation is a new idea or method: a new invention or way of doing something (Microsoft Encarta 2009).

As earlier stated, one of the prominent innovations in the building industry is the use modern methods of construction (MMC) which subscribes to the use offsite manufactured (OSM) products. The term 'Modern Methods of Construction' refers to a collection of relatively new construction techniques that aim to offer advantages over traditional methods. Although referred to as Modern Methods of Construction, some of these have been used for some time (self help guide).

AIM

This research proposes to track the extent to which modern methods and alternative production techniques are being taken up by the private sector house building industry.

In order to achieve this, this research shall be examining and reviewing the following:

The policy or policies for or against the use of innovations in the building industry, either directly or indirectly.

The role, methods and influence of the private sector in the growth of innovations in the building industry.

The current use of offsite manufacturing (OSM)/production and assembly techniques in the house building industry

The obstacles to the use of OSM and government strategies to combat these obstacles

LITERATURE REVIEW

South West England

South West England is one of nine official regions of England. It is the largest such region in area, covering 9,200 square miles (23,828 km2) and comprising Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Five million people live there of which the largest city is Bristol (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page)

The use of MMC in the UK has a very low turnout and the southwest region is no exception. However there are examples existed within the major private UK house builders which are seriously embracing offsite technology, e.g. Barratt, Westbury (acquired by Persimmon between November 2005 and January 2006), Redrow and Stewart Milne. All these companies have invested considerable effort and finances in the development of offsite technology and the corresponding manufacturing facilities that underpin these techniques. Examining their experience helps interpret and evaluate the conceptual model developed.

Innovation in Building Construction

According to a scenario based report by St Andrews Management Institute, "2020 Vision - The Future of UK Construction" (2008), it opines that historically, innovation in the construction sector has not been rapid.

An article in the HM treasury,- investment in the UK private rented sector (PRS) posits the English Government's simple and fundamental agenda for housing policy which is to ensure a decent home for all (HM treasury, 2010). Sequel to the global melt down, funding became a major challenge for the PRS. While cost remains a major determinant for the use of MMC, an exposition is given on why the use of modern methods of construction (innovation), though important, is still shyed away from by the UK. Page 18 of the article, 2020 vision highlighted a couple of reasons as seen below;

• The vast majority of suppliers to construction, particularly for R&M work (repair and maintenance work), are small to medium-sized companies whose awareness is limited, which leads to fragmentation and slower take-up of new ideas.

• Innovation tends to occur to solve specific problems which do not always recur and/or the knowledge gained is often not captured.

• Much successful innovation is in methods etc. and is easily copied, reducing the incentive for individual organisations to invest in innovation.

• Clients are risk averse and do not want their capital projects, particularly the larger ones which perhaps offer most scope for innovation, to be used as "experiments"

• A lack of training within the industry, in particular for upgrading existing skills, hinders the adoption of new ideas, products and methods.

Taylor (2009) avers that there is now a shift towards prefabrication through political pressure to construct affordable quality homes and by major problems inherent within the construction industry. The report has it that private house builders are hesitant with prefabrication due to skill shortages coupled with an aging workforce, stating that is difficult to get skilled workers for conventional sites as younger people have a low regard for the construction industry due its poor image and poor working conditions. The report continues thus:

The offsite construction of buildings, building elements and structures is currently worth around £2- 3 Billion per year and accounts for around 2% of the total construction market. Off-site production is fragmented and dominated by relatively small companies with little effective coordination or partnering. Assumptions are still made by those who procure buildings that off-site solutions have failed in the past -the World in Action syndrome - that solutions are aimed only at the housing market and that off site is more expensive than traditional on site methods of construction

POLICIES CONCERNING MODERN METHODS OF CONSTRUCTION

Government agendas on rethinking construction, planning policy, issues of supply and demand and building regulations are forcing the industry to reconsider the way houses are built. In the sustainable communities plan the government has linked use of MMC with the drive to boost housing supply, thus further raising the salience of the issue for lenders and other stakeholders. The Housing Corporation has stated that 25% of all new grant-aided construction by housing associations should be by MMC. (http://www.cml.org.uk/cml/policy/issues/107, 24/05/2012 )

HYPOTHESIS

From the fore going, the pertinent questions to be asked are

What extent are modern methods and alternative production techniques being taken up by the private sector house building industry?

How influential is the relevance of this idea within the building construction industry in south west England?

METHODOLOGY

Considering the nature and timing of this proposal, this research shall begin with an expanded online and desk review of recently published reports and analysis on the possible future shape of the UK construction industry, highlighting key trends, issues and uncertainties with respect to factors such as levels and composition of construction, building regulations and construction methods, materials and innovation. The literature review shall inform the details of the research.

From the literature review, the major findings are there are actually innovations going on within the UK building industry. This manifests via the use of modern methods of construction vis-a-vis offsite manufactured products. The review also reveals a general reluctance to the use of MMC thus leading to a low patronage of offsite materials. This research shall be carried out with a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis.

Quantitative Analysis - succinctly put, it's all about representing the world with numbers (Jain, 2012). It is usually deductive in nature meaning it starts from a hypothesis, working through the collected data to arrive at an answer. The hypothesis of this research is to investigate the extent modern methods and alternative production techniques are being taken up by the private sector house building industry. The literature review has already indicated a low performance. The quantitative analysis therefore would assist to know how many companies in the southwest are using MMC. This shall be achieved using questionnaires and surveys. The questionnaires shall also have some Likert (weighted) questions as well as the section to indicate interest for a future interview.

Qualitative Analysis - interviews shall be conducted based on the positive indications of the participants under the quantitative analysis. The interviews seek to ask for more detailed explanation for the low patronage of the modern methods of construction. By interviews one can also find out other areas in which the building industry need to work on to in increase the use of MMC. The personal interviews shall include pictures and recorded reports as well as observation of body gestures. The data gotten shall then be analysed using Nvivo which a software for the management and analysis of qualitative data

ETHICAL CONSIDERATION

Ethical decision making is an important procedure because at some point, decisions have to be made what is right or wrong of which the outcome must satisfy laid down standards and values (Fewings, 2009). The Journal of Business Ethics describes ethics as "all human action aimed at securing a good life". The onus then lies on the individual to determine what is right and wrong. For the purposes of this research, the ethical issues to be considered are

Consent - consent means to give permission to do something. Thus it is very important that participants give their nod to go with the research. This shall be achieved using the consent form attached to every questionnaire.

Confidentiality - some other participants would prefer that their views remain confidential. Thus an addendum shall be in place on the questionnaire promising to keep their views confidential or otherwise stated by the participant

Legal issues - it is important to take note of industry specific ethical codes of certain research areas as some might be too sensitive to be discussed in the open. So it is also imperative that the researcher gets a clean bill to proceed depending on the legal situation of the company.

Feedback - some participants would like a feedback on the outcome of the research. There would be option for them to indicate interest on a feed back.

RESEARCH OUTPUT

According to the self build guide, the majority of new homes in England and Wales are built using traditional masonry construction. Being a familiar method and, along with a number of advantages; there is a deep historical and psychological attachment to masonry construction that has contributed to its continuation as the main house building method in the UK. A national survey by MORI 2001,(Ipsos MORI is part of the Ipsos Group, a leading UK research company with global reach) found that 61% of respondents would prefer to buy a newly built property of traditional block construction. The Traditional Housing Bureau states that it is the build method of choice for 70% of house builders.

The nature and extent of Offsite-MMC applications in house building

The current level of usage of Offsite-MMC in house building is low. Generally, the extent of using Offsite-MMC for flats/apartments is slightly higher than for individual houses. Some highly documented Offsite-MMC techniques are actually only applied to a very limited extent in housing. These include complete modular building, bathroom & toilet pods and flat pack, kitchen flat pack, offsite plant room and complete wall panels.

Barriers against the use of Offsite-MMC

The most significant barriers restricting the use of Offsite-MMC in the industry as a whole were considered to be higher capital cost (68%), the difficulty in achieving economies of scale (43%), complex interfacing between systems (29%), the inability to freeze the design early on (29%) and the nature of the UK planning system (25%). Goodier et al (2004) also concluded that "the belief that using 'offsite' is more expensive when compared with traditional construction is clearly the main barrier to the increased use of offsite in the UK". The reluctant culture to risk, attitudinal barriers, fragmented industry structure, manufacturing capacity was also indicated by a few house builders. The concerns of mortgage lenders and insurers with non-traditional buildings were also raised.

Barriers against the top 100 house builders' using Offsite-MMC in their own project were consistent with those applying to the industry as a whole and were mainly related to technical, economic and process issues. Other factors related to procurement, risk - fear culture and institutional concerns, however, were not considered relevant.

The examination of the challenges facing the UK house building business cannot be isolated from the analysis of the challenges facing the UK house building industry. The industry-level challenges are significant, some being long-standing while some emerging from, or being triggered, by the economic downturn. Goodier et al (2010) argued these challenges in seven areas which include: housing under-supply and mismatch in nature; the economic downturns; land supply and planning; climate changes; slow take-up of sustainability; concerns on zero carbon; and skills shortages.

These areas cover a complicated combination of influences to house building and at both industry and company levels. However, they fell short to provide clear or specific analysis of business-centric challenges. Ball (2010) concluded on the major constraints, from the house builders‟ perspective, on expansion from current low levels of new housing delivery, which include: a lack of feasible sites; a high and growing regulatory burden related to land use planning and wide-ranging regulations (including zero carbon homes); finance problems with both house-buyers‟ mortgages and development finance; and a loss of capacity in the industry associated with skills of trades, professions and managerial, firm competences and supply chains.

TIMETABLE

Month 1 : literature review - one month shall be used in reviewing lots of literature.

Month 2 : preparation of questionnaires, testing of questionnaires with peers ; corrections and amendments

Months 3 and 4: administration and collection of questionnaires

Month 5: analysis of data

Months 5 and 6: conclusion and report writing. As the data is being analyzed, the conclusion is also been drawn.

JUSTIFICATION FOR RESOURCES

Computer - for browsing the internet, data analysis and writing research findings. The bulk of the report and analysis shall be done using the computer.

Nvivo - is a software that supports qualitative and mixed methods research. With NVivo one can deeply analyze data using powerful search, query and visualization tools.

Money - for transport and other logistics. The money shall also take care of petty stipends for the hired staff and any other financial commitments that materialize during the course of the research. It shall also be needed to pay for survey monkey subscription for this research.

Digital recorder - for interviews. A lot of data would be easily preserved from verbal interviews for analysis using a digital recorder. Its use shall be with the consent of the interviewee.

Digital camera - for pictures of existing evidence. This has the almost the same explanation as the digital camera

Printer - for printing of report.

Staff - some ad hoc recruits to assist with the questionnaire administration and collection.

CONCLUSION

The UK house building construction industry is currently facing significant challenges to the delivery of new homes of quality, quantity, environmental sustainability and cost effectiveness within a risky and complicated market, whilst also endeavouring to survive and recover from the recent economic recession.

The benefits of offsite construction have been widely studied, and include reductions in time, defects, health and safety risks, environmental impact, and whole-life cost, and a consequent increase in predictability, productivity, whole-life performance and profitability. The current level of usage of Offsite-MMC in house building is low. Although the use of MMC has some support from the government, the findings reveal that house builders in the UK are attached to the traditional masonry construction.

Offsite-MMC techniques need to be tested and demonstrated as providing as good or better performance than traditional methods. Providing a UK central site with practical examples of using Offsite-MMC techniques should be very helpful.

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