This is the first time Specwall Alliance has partnered with an academic institution. The pair are learning huge amounts from one another and sharing knowledge and facilities. For example, Loughborough University has a purpose-built facility with separate chemical, concrete preparation, structural testing, and building energy laboratories. The concrete mixing laboratory houses an extensive range of equipment for the dosing mixing and casting of cementitious materials. The department also has a suite of powerful computers for simulation and modelling that have been used in this prototype.
The cost of materials is 20% less than plasterboard. And with fewer people needed on site to install the walls and with less materials used, Specwall-LB can reduce associated labour and material costs by up to 70%. Panels are 100mm thick and so are smaller than normal. This reduces the size of the building, saving £1.4m on a 30 storey tower and achieving up to 5% more sellable floor space than when using traditional partitions.
The partnership between Specwall Alliance and the Loughborough University team benefits from neurologically and culturally diverse experiences and perspectives. The academic team is made up of a male Principal Investigator from Brazil, a female co-Investigator from Spain, a male Research Associate from China and a female PhD student from the UK.
The accuracy of factory-built walls mean less materials are used and, as they are built entirely offsite, there is less wastage through damage in transit or poorly installed walls. On sites where Specwall-LB is used fully, wastage is less than 2% compared to 15 – 20% for the traditional timber-block-brick-board approach.
In addition to the Transforming Construction funding, Loughborough University has secured further funding through UKRI in collaboration with Specwall Alliance and Leeds University. This investment will focus on making Specwall-LB panels lighter and reusable, and so more sustainable. This second phase means the project can expand its ambition to further reduce carbon emissions, and implement more circular designs in the production line.
Current analysis shows that 140 square metres of walling can be completed using Specwall-LB over an 8 hour shift. This is between 35-65% more productive than standard methods, and when applied across a programme can improve productivity by 40% on average.
A leading UK construction company is interested in putting this to the test and create a pipeline of 250 houses using Specwall-LB in year one, rising to 1,000 houses by year three.
Specwall Alliance and Loughborough University are based in the Midlands and the North and this investment has already generated jobs through the recruitment of a Principal Investigator, a Research Associate and a PhD student.
The Loughborough University team are now going to be part of a £4m centre for post-doctoral development in infrastructure, cities and energy. C-DICE, a Research England programme, is the biggest investment in post-doctoral talent ever, and the Midlands-based team's involvement is thanks to its work on Specwall-LB.
Specwall-LB is made entirely off-site, so arrives onsite ready-made and pre-finished. Its precision engineering and controlled factory environment ensure the walls are right first time, accurate and of high quality. As a result, labour productivity is 50% more per hour when compared to plasterboard, showing it can be put up in half the time. And as there is a lower skill base required, it requires 60-70% less labour costs.