Modular: for faster, cost-efficient and more sustainable healthcare buildings

Pre-Manufactured Value (PMV) is becoming a driving force in the specification of volumetric modular technology in public sector projects – particularly in the healthcare sector. But Richard Hipkiss, development director for the Modular & Portable Building Association (MPBA) believes the government is missing a ‘trick’ by measuring ‘value’ just in terms of a financial calculation

The Modular Buildings Framework is a vital agreement which provides a compliant route to access modern methods of construction (MMC). This framework includes the purchase, hire or lease of modular solutions for hospital and healthcare facilities and patient offload departments. Running from 05 July 2021 until 04 July 2025 – it is open to NHS Trusts, NHS SBS approved organisations, Local Authorities and other public sector bodies within the UK. Both permanent and temporary modular build solutions are available with preferential pricing without the need for a further complex procurement process.

Efficiency gains from modular construction
The efficiency gains achieved from factory manufactured buildings support the delivery of the government’s construction and industry strategy targets, which include time and cost reductions as well as whole life benefits and in-use savings.
Manufactured in controlled factory conditions and assembled on site, modular builds achieve 50-60 per cent faster delivery than traditional construction methods and can provide full turnkey solutions that are ideal for live and busy clinical environments. Modular builds also provide sustainable, greener solutions to support both the NHS and the construction industry in achieving net zero commitments.

Measuring the value of PMV
Without doubt Pre-Manufactured Value is a step in the right direction as the government drives to boost the uptake of modern methods of construction. As the name suggests, PMV is the financial proportion of a project’s construction cost derived through pre-manufacturing. It is a core metric for measuring the level of MMC in a project and is central to the UK government’s procurement programme.
Contractors are required to show that pre-manufacturing will account for at least 70 per cent of all construction costs. This essentially plays to the strength of a volumetric modular approach – so you might ask why I am questioning this?
It is widely acknowledged that we do not have an industry-wide definition of PMV that stands up. It has yet to be comprehensively defined and applied. Not only does it have to be precisely and consistently calculated but also it has to be monitored to ensure fairness in the public sector procurement process. PMV as it stands is a good starting point, but I believe we need to rethink the scope and calculations used in project procurement.
MMC has its origins in small scale residential housing, but is now used on major projects, from hospitals to infrastructure. It would be good to see a standard calculation tool that can be regulated and legislated.
We need greater education and clarity around PMV across the wider construction industry and standardisation of how it is calculated. It is a commercial metric and rightly so as the government has to demonstrate best value, but PMV could be much more than this. One of the major benefits of pre-manufacturing and volumetric construction is reducing embodied carbon – which leads me to my second point.  
I accept this is very much in its infancy and there is more work to be done but the government has an opportunity here to align construction costs with net zero targets to demonstrate economic and environmental best value.
The government has set stretching net zero targets by 2050, so why is PMV’s calculated ‘value’ just in monetary terms. Of course, demonstrating value for tax payers is critically important, particularly in these times of financial hardship, but as we all strive to reduce carbon in construction, is there not an opportunity here to include economic and environmental benefits within the PMV procurement scope?
Carbon calculators are now widely used throughout the offsite construction sector and these could potentially form the basis for a PMV calculation tool. I accept we have to get the financial calculations right first but by aligning financial and sustainability goals, public sector projects could expand the ‘value’ criteria.

The route to net zero
As an industry association, it is one of our objectives to demonstrate how the route to net zero could follow many different paths. It is now established that volumetric modular approaches reduce build times by an impressive 50-60 per cent whilst increasing quality, productivity and safety. But what is not so widely understood is that compared to traditionally built projects, it is easier to control energy use in factory settings than in an open construction site. On average 67 per cent less energy is required to produce a volumetric manufactured building and up to 50 per cent less time is spent onsite, resulting in up to 90% fewer vehicle movements which is less disruptive and reduces carbon emissions.
Not only is the actual construction of the building ‘greener’ but volumetric manufactured buildings are more energy efficient – reducing primary energy requirements and in-use operational emissions during the lifetime of the building. Energy costs are now not only having a major impact on household budgets but also NHS Estate resources.
There is significant evidence that traditionally constructed buildings do not produce structures that perform as well as design expectations and there is a great void between anticipated and actual in-use performance. Findings from studies such as PROBE (Post Occupancy Review of Buildings and their Engineering) reveal that actual energy consumption in buildings is often as much as twice of that predicted at the design stage.
The benefits of volumetric manufactured buildings begin in the factory, continue on to the construction site and last through the lifetime of the building. We understand the challenges facing healthcare providers – from changing patient demographics, new medical technologies and treatment strategies, the Covid-19 pandemic and highly constrained budgets, to increasing demands for carbon and waste reductions.
We have a proud legacy of innovation and many of our members in the volumetric modular and portable building sectors are setting out road maps to deliver structures that will be highly energy efficient and net zero in operation.

About MPBA
The Modular and Portable Building Association plays a key role in supporting all sections of the industry. Leading best practice principles, the association is represented on many committees for the benefit of members. Most importantly, the MPBA ensure evolving government policies and decisions are not made on behalf of the construction industry without due consideration for the impact they may have on the volumetric modular sector.
Many MPBA members are accredited under a number of modular building frameworks, including NHS Shared Business Services Framework, LHC, Crown Commercial Service, NHS Commercial Solutions and the Modular Buildings Framework. These frameworks help NHS trusts and other public sector clients improve the speed and cost-efficiency of procurement to support world-class patient care.

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