Pre-cast and 3D: The houses of tomorrow?

Two new models for housing construction have been announced this week.

The developments follow a new report from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) claiming that offsite construction has the potential to revolutionise the construction industry and ultimately provide a solution to the UK’s chronic housing shortage.

The research white paper, ‘Faster Smarter, More Efficient: Building Skills for Offsite Construction’ revealed that 42% of construction firms that employ more than 100 staff believe they will be using offsite methods in five years’ time.

All the companies surveyed said expect the use of precast concrete panels – as pictured above – to increase, with 91% predicting a rise in the use of precast concrete frame.

Currently, only 10% of the industry’s output comes from the offsite process.

The report, which follows the recommendations laid out in industry expert Mark Farmer’s government-backed review of UK construction, revealed that almost half of construction industry clients expect to see the use of offsite construction to increase over the next five years.

The advantages of offsite construction methods are greater efficiencies in time and cost. Also, with on-site time greatly reduced, disruption is minimised along with the common hazards of working on a building site.

The caveat is that the changes can only come about if the construction sector invests in the training to develop the right kind of skills.

“Any strategic shift towards pre-manufacturing and offsite construction creates an immediate requirement to define our future skills needs through collaboration between industry, educators, training providers and government,” Farmer said.

“This is crucial to ensuring we can transition to a higher productivity, digitally enabled industry which inherently attracts more of the young talent we so desperately need. It should also set out clear opportunities for the existing construction workforce and indeed workers from other industries to reskill through a new family of career pathways.”

Steve Radley, director of Policy at CITB, said the potential for offsite construction is huge, particularly in the housing and commercial sectors.

He said: “The Government recently announced an additional £1.4bn of funding for affordable homes, with an increase in offsite construction set as an objective, representing a clear opportunity for growth in this area.

“The greatest potential currently lies within the housing and commercial sectors, where mass customisation can create the buildings we need more quickly and to higher standards. There are also opportunities to bring the benefits of offsite to large-scale infrastructure projects – some high profile examples include HS2 and Hinkley Point – which are already using offsite techniques.”

The research highlights six core skills areas required to achieve this – digital design; estimating/commercial; offsite manufacturing; logistics; site management and integration and onsite placement and assembly. The CITB believe that the construction industry must overcome “significant barriers” to achieve the delivery of the skills training, including qualifications.

“Our next steps will focus on the delivery of the required employer training, knowledge and soft skills, tailored specifically to the six key areas identified in the report,” said Radley. “This will also include a review of the available training and qualifications to make sure we address any gaps and issues.

“We will also work with other stakeholders – such as in design and manufacturing – to apply existing training in a construction context.”

Meanwhile in Nantes, France, a revolutionary 3D printing process has been patented to create new houses.

Named the YHNOVA house, the five-room structure will have a surface area of 95 sq m and will be built in in the Bottière district of Nantes.

The house will come complete with rounded walls, corners and openings of all sizes created through a form of additive manufacturing – better known as 3D printing – called BatiPrint3D developed by the University of Nantes.

The University, along with research teams from Nantes Métropole, Nantes Métropole Habitat (NMH), and Ouest Valorisation, created the new technology that sees three layers of materials deposited through a polyarticulated industrial robot.

A third layer of concrete is formed by two layers of expansive foam, which provides the house with double insulation without a thermal bridge.

Marc Patay, managing director of Nantes Métropole Habitat, said: “YHNOVA is an opportunity to confront and solve technical, environmental, urban, regulatory, phonic, thermal, etc constraints with the support of various experts involved in this project.”

The project is part of research being undertaken by Bouygues Construction, which targets, develops and masters construction methods of the future.

Bruno Linéatte, R & D director at Bouygues Construction, said: “It is a first step that will be rich in lessons to imagine the constructive modes of tomorrow.”

Construction of the house is due to take place in September.

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