News from WMCA: Experts in Advanced Manufacture in Construction to help drive house building

Modular Home is craned in on-site in Birmingham. By Urban Splash

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has formed an Advanced Manufacture in Construction (AMC) advisory group to support the delivery of much needed, high-quality housing at pace and scale.

AMC involves manufacturing building components in factories away from building sites and then assembling the parts more quickly and efficiently to produce quality homes.

The WMCA believes AMC can help the West Midlands bounce back more quickly from the coronavirus pandemic. The need to build more homes faster is a key priority for the region’s post-Covid-19 economic recovery plans.

Led by Mark Farmer, the Government’s champion for modern methods of construction in homebuilding, the expert group consists of industry specialists from Homes England, Mace, Lendlease, the University of Wolverhampton, CITB, Walsall Housing Group, Accord, Construction Innovation Hub, UK Finance and West Midlands Combined Universities.

Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street said: “The formation of an AMC advisory group gives us the opportunity to capitalise on the rich heritage of manufacturing and innovation in the West Midlands.

“The new approach to construction in the West Midlands will help deliver a more inclusive economy, providing high quality, sustainable and affordable homes, as well as more secure jobs.

“The use of AMC can help us to build back better as we recover from the current crisis and also help us construct the 215,000 new homes we need by 2031 to meet future demand.”

The focus on AMC will support a wider WMCA programme around modern construction, including skills training, links to local R&D specialisms and local supply chain growth.

This is in line with the WMCA’s Single Commissioning Framework, exemplified by pioneering projects such as Port Loop in Birmingham which uses off-site manufacturing to build architect designed, sustainable homes.

Cllr Mike Bird, WMCA portfolio holder for housing and land and leader of Walsall Council, said:The opportunity here is to connect the WMCA’s focus on advanced manufacture as a driver for regional specialisation and growth and to remove the current barriers in the sector.”

Central to the adoption of advanced manufacturing is skills training partnerships with leading universities which will ensure the region remains a centre for excellence and embeds ground-breaking modular building techniques for the next generation of manufacturing experts.

Bespoke training courses commissioned by the WMCA will also equip local people with the AMC skills needed to build the new-style homes.

Prof Mohammed Arif, AMC advisory group member and professor at University of Wolverhampton, said: “Given the housing shortage and the technology we have at our disposal, we should be looking closely at AMC.

“One major issue has been a skills shortage. Both higher education and further education providers have a significant role to play. Currently the portfolio of courses offered nationwide in areas related to AMC is small.”

The expert panel will build on the commitment of the WMCA to become a national leader in AMC.

The Accord Groups’ Modular and Innovare Systems are already being rolled out in the region and new collaborations are being set up across the public and private sector to make the adoption of AMC more cost effective.

The news follows the announcement that Urban Splash will prioritise modular building methods to deliver 10,000 homes in partnership with the WMCA over an 11-year period.

Many of these homes will use the ‘House’ modular home by Urban Splash, which lets customers specify layout based on their needs and lifestyle.

Mark Farmer, chair of the AMC advisory panel, said: “The WMCA will be prioritising not only AMC but true forms of digitally-led advanced manufacture.

“It is clear that as the country emerges from the Covid-19 crisis more resilient models of construction and supply chain management will be more important than ever, and through this project the WMCA will be very well-placed to move quickly and drive that change.”

Earlier this month the region set out its 10 priority areas for a post-Covid economic recovery plan. One of the key goals is to build more homes faster as well as re-shaping town centres.

The adoption of AMC across the region extends into the WMCA’s Covid-19 recovery plan, as factory manufacturing makes it easier to enable social distancing.