In this Ibstock Futures podcast, Mark Farmer, the lead advocate for MMC in the UK joins Jeremie Rombaut, Matt Guy and Trevor Barnett for a frank discussion on the challenges facing the industry and the vital part MMC has to play in the recovery.

This podcast is over an hour long, so we’ve picked out some of Mark’s points that really resonated with us; namely current industry challenges, the failure of many category 1 MMC suppliers, a deepening skills and labour crisis and the rise of PDfMA.

“There’s a lot challenges at the moment, for the whole construction sector. It would be very easy for businesses to think “let’s switch off the idea of modernising and innovating, R&D” because it’s one of the first things that gets put on the back burner, everyone thinks “let’s just go into survival mode”.

For me, that’s absolutely not what the industry should be doing. It has longer-term problems that need resolving, and that actually needs boldness. It needs counter cyclical thinking, preparing for when the industry recovery comes.

And it will come; we know this – the fact our industry goes up and down, it’s cyclical. It will always come back. Actually, we’re likely to see, perhaps influenced by the politics of this country, because next year we’re going to have a general election,  it is increasingly apparent that housing, and possibly infrastructure in the broader sense, is going to be a political battleground. I would like to think the industry is going to benefit from that.”

“I’ve always tried to advocate modern methods of construction as being a variety of different approaches. Lots of people continue to think it’s all about volumetric modular, category 1 as it’s known. But Ibstock as an organisation, your product development, and your approach are clear examples of the fact that there’s a lot more to it. Your products and systems fall mostly into category five and six in terms of how I would define it under the definition framework.”

“We’re in a phase of the industry where labour intensity on site , particularly in masonry, is increasingly under pressure, so to think about how you take person hours out of the onsite activities is going to be increasingly crucial. I’ve really started to see the major house builders and tier one contractors suddenly start to realise we just physically cannot get the labour force that we need. We need to take this offsite, we need to do that bit of the job in the factory, we need to reduce the labour intensity demanded by a traditional approach.”

“To get a contractor or a house builder to buy in to the concept that if you use this product it will be X weeks quicker or Y pounds cheaper sometimes is a leap of faith. So you need to hold people’s hands, guiding them, educating them on your product and how it works in terms of the interfaces with other trades is really important.”

“The market is recognising there that we we need more productive construction, we need to be using factory work more, getting that landed was a really important first step.,We now do need to have an important discussion about how we drive the design process DfMA design for manufacturing assembly.”

“When it we go back into recovery mode there’s going to be even less workers. If you then overlay the fact that competency is going to become an increasingly common feature for the trades that are allowed to do work on site,  means there could be a situation where number of brick layers or block layers you at the moment might be reduced by the fact that some of them aren’t deemed to be competent.”

“The Category 2 Market probably starts from a slightly different position as it’s actually quite mature in this industry and country. It does include, whether you would say it’s modern or not, the likes of Timber Frame. Even open Panel simple Timber framing is the start line, if you like, it’s the most basic form of Category 2 and that’s delivered probably in 20 to 25% of all single family homes in the UK. So it’s there I think you’re going to see more of it, I think the house builders are pushing quite hard on Timber framing as being their jump off point towards the Future Homes Standard which is driving the fabric Energy Efficiency”

“Businesses and organisations that just doing the same old thing are the current casualties, you are seeing businesses dying, but you’re not seeing an industry die.”

Thank you: to Matt Guy at Ibstock Futures for allowing us to feature this podcast on our website.