Modular Electrics

Plug-and-play electrics that speed up the time it takes to build new homes.

Last updated: 7th September 2021

Date uploaded:

Approved for use

Innovation Lead: Hannah Gibson
Project number: 105879
UKRI funding: £387,224

Website:
clarionhg.com/


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Summary

The electrics for new homes still use many thousands of different products and are fitted using bespoke processes each time. This lack of standardisation is slowing down house building and making the final build more expensive. Clarion Housing Group is applying a kit-of-parts approach to electrics to make installations quicker and safer to deliver its growing pipeline of new affordable social homes. Built offsite and designed to robust industry regulations, these modular electrical systems can be plugged into place easily, require no tools or screws, and use repeatable socket designs that make them three times faster to install.

Innovation type: Digital, Kit of parts, Manufacturing, Offsite
Organisation type: Housebuilder, Innovative SME, Social housing provider

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Project pioneers

Clarion Housing Group is one of the largest developers of affordable housing. It builds more than 2,000 homes a year and has committed to doubling its pipeline, recognising that people in the UK need more safe, sustainable and affordable homes. To meet this accelerated pipeline, Clarion has been addressing areas of inefficiency in the way it designs, constructs and fits out new homes.

The problem

One area of inefficiency Clarion uncovered is the many bespoke products and processes used when homes are fitted with their electrics. Clarion vans currently carry 3,000 different items for different housing electrical needs. There is no standardised approach and this can make electrics a very labour intensive part of the house building process. In turn, this increases the time that electricians need to be onsite, and can increase the margins of error or need for rework. Ultimately it adds cost to the build which affects the sale price of the final home. There is a wider issue too around an aging workforce - where skilled electricians who are able to do complex, bespoke electrical fit-outs are increasingly in short supply.

Vision

One of the ways to build quality homes faster, is to take a modular approach to electrics. Clarion is trialling standardised plug-and-play electrics, which can be repeated across thousands of homes rather than built in post-completion. This modular system is available on mass, and is three times as fast to install, increasing the capacity of electricians by reducing the time they spend onsite. The standardised electrics also improve safety by taking the complexity out of onsite processes. The plug-and-play system doesn't need to be installed by highly skilled electricians and so doesn't rely on a larger pool of skilled workers. Importantly, as the UK's largest housing association, Clarion has the procuring power to encourage its supply chain to use this finished product meaning these modular electrics will become the market-norm much quicker.

Key Insight

With a large pipeline and an increasing need for new affordable homes, Clarion needed to improve efficiencies quickly. Yet there was little evidence to know if modular electrics is a viable option. Clarion needed data to prove this approach could transform how homes are built and fitted. It had to show that this standardised approach could lead to homes that can be built more quickly and more cost-effectively and without need for highly skilled electricians.

First step

Clarion drew on expertise from AECOM, a leading infrastructure firm, and SME Brucom, a cable and wiring experts. The three organisations agreed to trial modular electrics on new Clarion homes across two sites. The aim? To gather tangible and comparable data from offsite, traditionally-built homes and prove the value of repeatable electrical systems at scale.

Barrier

A lack of standardisation means that electrical systems need to be developed bespoke for every house which adds time and cost. A modular approach like this can speed up the installation of the electrics and improve the overall quality, and affordability, of the final build. The precision of the installation can also minimise the complexity and cost of repair and maintenance.

Process innovation

Modular electrics feed into the MMC approach to housing.  The team has designed a standardised system of sockets that can be plugged into place easily behind plasterboard, saving on space. The socket design requires no tools or screws to fit it to the wall, but is simply pushed into place. These are repeatable socket designs for both solid and partition walls. The all-in-one system uses a robust, safe connector design preinstalled on the end of the wire, that meets current performance regulations. Brucom is creating the electrical requirements for a variety of house sizes according to Clarion’s specifications, and these are interpreted into digital models. This allows them to capture the comparable data they need to prove the model. These designs are being constantly reviewed by AECOM and Clarion to ensure they meet internal and external modular electricity standards. The project team plan to publish a product book or blueprint of its plug-and-play system to help apply this modular electrics system to any size or specification of home.

Collaborators

Clarion Housing Group partnered with AECOM, a leading infrastructure firm, and SME Brucom, a cable and wiring experts.

  • AECOM
  • Clarion Housing Group
  • SME Brucom

Lead support

Transforming Construction offered support to the project team by connecting participants to other projects and stakeholders. 

Long Term Vision

Clarion wants to increase the pace it can deliver its pipeline of new affordable home by looking for and solving inefficiencies in the current build process. By testing standardised plug-and-play electrics with AECOM and SME Brucom, it is able to capture the evidence and comparable data it needs to make a case to industry for modular electrics. The ease and speed of installation will increase the rate at which new homes are built and make them more affordable for homeowners. As the UK's largest housing association, Clarion can also direct its supply chain to use this standardised product, meaning modular electrics will become the market-norm much quicker.

Human Stories

Current electrical installations are bespoke and take time. This standardised approach is three times quicker to install and less complex, making work more efficient and productive for electricians. It also helps address the skills challenge the industry faces from an aging, declining workforce of electricians.

Powerful Processes

The modular system draws on offsite MMC processes. The integrated connector system of sockets that can be plugged into place easily behind plasterboard. The socket design is simply pushed into place and requires no tools or screws to fit it to the wall. The repeatable socket designs can be used for both solid and partition walls, and the all-in-one system uses a robust, safe connector design that meets current performance regulations and standards.

Fascinating Facts

Clarion Housing Group builds more than 2,000 homes a year and has committed to doubling its pipeline. The inefficiency of electrical installations is illustrated by the fact that Clarion vans currently carry 3,000 different items for different housing electrical needs. Clarion has found that electricians using its modular electrics system can complete three times as many jobs in one day, speeding up the overall manufacture of homes.

Benefits

Assurance
Clarion is working with regulators to pass and standardise the approach with British Standards Institute, so Brucom and AECOM can design according to the criteria for the housing industry.

Time
The standardised model is quicker to install, meaning electricians can complete three jobs in one day rather than just one.