University of Wolverhampton academics have helped secure funding to accelerate research into Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) and find solutions to the UK housing crisis.
Professor Mohammed Arif, Dr David Heesom, Professor Jack Goulding, Dr Amit Kaushik, Dr Mandeep Saini, and Dr Mohammad Qasim Rana from the University’s School of Architecture and Built Environment will be working alongside local Black Country manufacturer, Totally Modular, who is leading on the project after securing a project worth £2m from UK Research and Innovation UK (UKRI).
STELLAR, the consortium of academic, technical, industry and end user stakeholders which includes Citizen Housing, TDS, Spacious Place and Jali, will explore the potential of producing a common steel framing platform without the need to start from first engineering principles when designs change.
Totally Modular is a manufacturer of Volumetric Modular Homes aimed at the Affordable and Social Housing market and STELLAR will offer social housing developers and owners the tools and business models they need to provide affordable homes across the UK in line with demand.
The model centralises complex and high-cost design, frame manufacturing and warranty tools within a central virtual ‘hub’, supporting SME-operated ‘spoke’ factories near to the point of need.
Brian Maunder, Founder of Totally Modular, said: “The committed and highly innovative STELLAR consortium includes modular steel frame specialists, home builders and highly respected academics.
“We form a complete value chain that will last beyond this project. The team has attracted positive attention from organisations including National Housing Associations and the House of Lords, who recently sought Totally Modular’s input to upcoming national strategies.
“This funding will definitely positively transform the MMC sector specifically for social and affordable housing. However, it also brings significant social benefits and drives forward our message for ‘Local Homes for Local People, providing Local Jobs that supports the Local Economy’.”
Professor Mohammed Arif, Head of the School of Architecture and Built Environment at the University, said: “The UK faces an unprecedented housing shortage; 3.9 million new homes must be built just to meet current demand. Despite this, just half the homes needed are currently being built and the shortfall continues to increase.
“Modern Methods of Construction, such as off-site manufacturing of houses in factories, promise lower-cost, higher-quality homes constructed in days instead of months. This is particularly beneficial to suppliers of social housing who are facing increasing challenges in delivering quality affordable homes.
“Housing associations often need small volumes of customised properties to suit infill and brownfield sites, which does not match with the needs of factory owners to sell high volumes of near-identical properties. Concentrating manufacturing in a handful of large, centralised factories also increases transportation and impacts the local workforce.
“By developing AI and Generative Design based tools to help optimise the design of the houses, the University team will utilise our digital construction expertise to ensure cost effective and sustainable designs. We will also be providing expertise in the development of Digital Twins of the factories used for producing the houses and implementing our ongoing research in Discrete Event Simulation (DES) to enhance the production processes.”
The Consortium aims to achieve:
- 3D ‘digital twin’ factory planning tool to ensure fit to need and support capital investment
- Parametric Modelling tool for SMEs, enabling them to optimise house design and ringfence production slots
- A UK first, open-access ‘Should-Cost’ Model driven by parametric design to generate accurate build costs
- A Modular Build Design App, directly informing production, enabling HAs to specify homes that meet their needs.
- Demonstration home(s) — Homes designed and produced through the hub-and-spoke model and STELLAR toolkit will be installed in client specified configurations. They will come complete with a suite of unobtrusive miniature IoT enabled environmental and usage sensors to enable energy and operational performance data to be monitored and analysed. A period of occupation will then be completed prior to future-casting to confirm environmental performance, whole-life cost and longevity, and provide a strong return on investment.