Irish Expertise Driving Offsite Construction
Offsite construction, as a concept, is not new, and Ireland has not been slow to innovate - in fact, the opposite is true. Pioneering Irish firms, going back almost two decades, led the way in offsite technologies. At the turn of the Century, Ireland had some of the world leaders in panelised and volumetric manufacture and construction. Companies like Fusion Building Systems were early pioneers in light gauge steel (LGS) delivering structures from 2 storeys to 8 storeys. They exported in excess of €20 million per year to the UK market, supplying student accommodation, apartment buildings and hotel/motel accommodation. Volumetric building was also pioneered in Ireland around 2006 by Vision Modular in Cork. Early developments in Ireland include Belarmine Park in Stepaside, where six blocks of modular buildings were constructed, and the Allegro building in Sandyford is another great example.
In fact, back in 2009 in Wolverhampton, Vision Modular built what was the tallest modular building in the world at that time, a 25-storey high fully volumetric structure.
Due to the economic downturn, all of these offsite manufacturing companies were exposed to the effects of the financial crisis and Ireland lost much of that manufacturing capacity. Since 2013/2014 we are seeing a re-emergence of companies in Ireland and a number of world-class leaders have emerged in recent years. One such company is Vision Built in Galway. This company manufactures panelised light gauge steel structures and is certified in Ireland and the UK to construct up to 10 storeys in height including the use of concrete floors. The system has been assessed for a minimum design life of 60 years. Modular Homes Ireland in Ballyjamesduff is another new volumetric building system provider whose system is certified by NSAI. The team there are delivering housing at scale and will be providing apartments up to 10 storeys in 2018.
There are many other offsite product suppliers who are currently going through the certification process.
One of the drivers of offsite construction in Ireland at the moment is the ongoing labour shortage. This is not a uniquely Irish problem and is indicative of a wider global trend. Evolusion Innovation is currently working with a number of Tier 1 contractors and these have all undertaken to appoint an offsite construction director at board level within their respective organisations. They are doing this because they understand it is critical to achieve their targets. They realise that they must embrace offsite construction in order to compete and remain relevant in today’s marketplace. When working with these Tier 1 contractors, our team advises on the importance of designing with the offsite technologies they wish to employ in mind from an early stage. That is to say, the building is designed for the technologies and not the other way around. This approach results in immense cost savings, not only in the structure but in the sub-structure.
Innovative technologies coming out of Ireland
Some innovative new offsite technologies coming down the line include products such as Swiftherm, which is a very smart insulated formworks solution. Ideally suited to offsite construction, this product will be critical to the fitting of steel frame/timber frame and volumetric buildings with the precision required to eliminate thermal bridging. It also provides precision-engineered foundations ready for site. Another exciting product comes from Carlow Concrete. This is a revolutionary, through-the-wall system. The first of its kind, this system uses light gauge steel for the structure of the building with pre-cast concrete cast onto the outer steel frame walls, which provides the external cladding, making it the ideal solution for residential development.
The future for offsite construction in Ireland and the UK is looking extremely positive. Over the next five years, we expect the market share of offsite in the wider construction industry to grow by 300%.
We have to make offsite technology work due to resource, quality, cost and delivery issues and to bring the industry into the 21st Century, which is vital in order to attract the next generation into construction. Our leading clients, architects and contractors have to fully appreciate the capabilities of various offsite technologies and design projects with appropriate offsite technology in mind. Further, industry clients need to commission an experienced independent offsite team that have experience in delivering offsite projects and who understand the capabilities of offsite technologies.
The traditional Design & Build procurement process must evolve to protect and grow offsite manufacturing companies in Ireland so that ambitious delivery targets, including those set out in Ireland 2040, are met right across the country.
About Evolusion Innovation: The team at Evolusion Innovation has been involved in over €2 billion worth of offsite construction projects across Ireland, the UK and Europe over the past 15 years.