STELLAR

Reimagining the supply chain so SMEs can benefit from Modern Methods of Construction.

Last updated: 23rd June 2021

Date uploaded:

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Innovation Lead: Chris Coonick
Project number: 106166
UKRI funding: £1,181,172

Website:
totallymodular.co.uk/


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Summary

Small housebuilders and contractors want to unlock the opportunities around Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) and compete for social housing projects, but the capital costs are too prohibitive. Totally Modular has pulled together a consortium to create STELLAR - a hub and spoke model that is reinventing the supply chain. Central hub factories manufacture structural frameworks at scale, while regional spoke factories satisfy those areas with highest demand, and use local trades to finish off the MMC process. Regardless of their size, SMEs can now benefit from lower cost, increased productivity and quality, and help deliver social homes using MMC that meet community needs.

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

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Project pioneers

Totally Modular is a manufacturer of residential housing solutions based in the West Midlands producing volumetric modular homes to near-zero carbon standards for the much-needed affordable housing crisis. It has developed a pioneering production model where its current centralised manufacturing facility - or hub - can be replicated in areas of highest demand for new homes across the UK, with minimal factory set and operational costs. 

The problem

Housebuilders appreciate the benefits of Modern Methods of Construction around productivity and quality. But for local labour and SMEs, the current supply chain model is designed for an existing system which doesn't work to deliver MMC at scale. The biggest barrier becomes the investment to set up MMC factories and deliver Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA), especially if their pipeline of work can fluctuate or be unpredictable. For these small business, the cost of MMC can feel too great and a barrier to them adopting manufacturing processes and technologies.

Vision

STELLAR creates demand for MMC through its hub and spoke model. By rethinking the supply chain and removing some of the most prohibitive cost barriers, local businesses can use MMC to successfully compete in the market. Regardless of their size, SMEs can benefit from lower cost, increased productivity and quality, whilst delivering homes that address local needs and requirements. The model also mitigates the risk of regional fluctuations in housing needs.

Key Insight

Through its work on social housing, Totally Modular knows that housing associations and local authorities can benefit from MMC to better meet local planning requirements and community needs. The company also recognises the role that MMC can play in delivering much-needed homes in places like infill sites, which are often ignored by large housing developers as they are not cost-effective to develop and require higher levels of customisation than high-volume factories are designed for. These sub-100 home infill or brownfield sites are of interest to smaller contractors and the demand could be satisfied by the UK's 2,500 SME homebuilders, but the cost and scale of factory-based production is currently beyond their reach, disenfranchising them from MMC. Totally Modular set out to solve this.

First step

Totally Modular set up STELLAR - a consortium of academic, technical, industry and end-user stakeholders - to develop a hub and spoke approach that reduces cost and barriers for SMEs.

Barrier

Developing homes on infill or brownfield sites represents a huge opportunity for small housebuilders and contractors. Yet the cost of investing in MMC can deter innovative SMEs and keep them wedded to traditional processes that hinder how competitive they appear in the market. A new supply chain model and access to MMC factories will level up the marketplace for these small businesses without the need for high levels of capex investment.

Process innovation

STELLAR is a hub and spoke - or satellite - approach to help SMEs deliver affordable homes using MMC. The hubs are centrally located factories that manufacture the structural framework for each home, managing suppliers and warranties. The spoke factories are regionally-based in areas of highest demand, using local trades to finish off the MMC process. The factories have been designed to optimise on the space required to carry out manufacturing tasks effectively and efficiently through the full delivery process. In creating this model, the STELLAR consortium has developed an open-source patent book for hot rolled and light gauge steel elements that provides a common steel framework approach for UK housing, standardising details for manufacturing and construction, and simplifying build-ability. The designs have taken into account the capabilities of the UK’s steel supply chain, streamlining the process to minimise waste and cost.

Digital Innovation

STELLAR has a central, virtual hub that supports SME-operated regional factories closest to the point of need. The digital hub uses generative design to optimise factory layouts and design variations possible from the standardised kit of parts, resulting in digital twins that can be scaled and optimised for local requirements. It draws on a parametric modelling tool for SMEs to help them to optimise house design and ring-fence production slots. And its open-access Should-Cost Model will help SMEs and social housing providers generate accurate build costs. In addition, STELLAR includes a Modular Build Design App to track the process and progress of housing delivery through the hub and spoke factories, onto site and all the way through to handover and occupation, including the sign-off on competency and quality. It creates an invaluable golden thread of data - a digital passport - for each home and gives social landlords visibility of where orders are in the process at any one time, and an accurate record of the components and suppliers involved in the delivery of their homes.

Whole life innovation

Because the Modular Build Design App acts like a digital passport and fully documents each building, it provides greater certainty in asset data for social landlords. This will help improve the quality and costs around managing and maintaining each home throughout its lifecycle. Homes designed and produced through the STELLAR model will come with a suite of unobtrusive miniature IoT-enabled environmental and usage sensors that can track and relay energy and operational performance data for monitoring and analysis. As the homes are occupied, they can be measured for environmental performance, whole-life cost and longevity, giving partners a clear picture of return on investment. The STELLAR hub and spoke business model will reduce barriers of entry for SMEs, providing a more resilient supply chain that reduces the cost of delivery for buildings and creating better value for homeowners. To support new skills in MMC for small business, the STELLAR consortium is also attracting new talent through a Sector Based Work Academy Scheme.

Collaborators

Totally Modular pulled together a collaborative partnership to support the delivery of the STELLAR vision. The initial concept for STELLAR was born from the work of Professor Mohammed Arif from University of Wolverhampton and his involvement with the Brownfield Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC), looking at ways in which to bring brownfield sites back into economic use.  The University developed the blueprint for hub and spoke factories that can deliver housing that meet local needs. Citizen Housing is a provider of social housing for diverse communities across the West Midlands, from urban tower blocks to rural villages and towns. The STELLAR demonstrator homes will be installed in Coventry, on one of 200 garage in-fill sites owned by Citizen Housing. TDS is an SME based in the Midlands and provides the structural steelwork for modular volumetric construction projects. The team at TDS developed the open-source patent book for Light Gauge Steel elements, providing a common steel framework approach ensuring consistency throughout the supply chain.  Jali is a UK company at the cutting edge of end-to-end parametric design. A manufacturer of bespoke self-assembly furniture, it brings its expertise in converting 3D designs into CNC manufactured products to STELLAR, designing repeatable pre-manufactured timber components (such as partition walls) for the open-source patent book.  Spacious Place brings direct knowledge of the current needs for affordable and flexible housing requirement. It owns 17.5 acres of land assets to build affordable MMC social housing in the top 10% of areas of deprivation in the UK and has adopted the STELLAR design for the hub and spoke factory. It developed the digital passport app that tracks all components from the hub through to the spokes, providing logistics, tracking, scheduling and sign-off processes.

  • Citizen Housing
  • Jali
  • Spacious Place
  • TDS
  • Totally Modular
  • Wolverhampton University

Lead support

Thanks to Transforming Construction's support, Totally Modular is better involved in influencing the future skills agenda for the construction industry. Links have also been made across the programme, leading to additional representatives on its Housing Association Advisory Group and future contract opportunities with other clients.

Long Term Vision

STELLAR has opened up MMC to the small housebuilder and contractor supply chain by removing some of the most prohibitive cost barriers. As a result local and regional businesses can use MMC to successfully compete in a market benefitting from lower cost, increased productivity and quality, while still delivering homes that address local needs and requirements.

Human Stories

Totally Modular’s focus is on building local homes by local people for the benefit of local communities and to grow the local economy. The STELLAR hub and spoke model will help create greater access to affordable, low-carbon, human-centred homes as well as places for work and learning. It is levelling up the market and allowing small businesses to compete using Modern Methods of Construction and giving them access to processes and technology that will make projects more productive and profitable. To support new skills in MMC for small business, the STELLAR consortium is also attracting new talent through a Sector Based Work Academy Scheme. The seven-week placement is in green manufacturing roles, with further education and on the job training - ending with job interviews for apprenticeship roles after the placement. The training programme is actively aimed at diversifying the workforce, encouraging people from all regions, backgrounds, gender and ethnicity. 

Powerful Processes

STELLAR is a hub and spoke - or satellite - approach to help SMEs deliver affordable homes using MMC. The hubs are centrally located factories that manufacturer the structural framework for each home, managing suppliers and warranties. The spoke factories are regionally-based in areas of highest demand, using local trades to finish off the MMC process. The central, digital hub uses:

  • generative design to optimise factory layouts and design variations possible from the standardised kit of parts, resulting in digital twins that can be scaled and optimised for local requirements
  • a parametric modelling tool for SMEs to help them to optimise house design and ring-fence production slots
  • an open-access Should-Cost Model will help SMEs and social housing providers generate accurate build costs
  • a Modular Build Design App - or digital passport - to track the process and progress of housing delivery through the hub and spoke factories, onto site and all the way through to handover and occupation, including the sign-off on competency and quality. It creates an invaluable golden thread of data for each home

Fascinating Facts

Actual annual running costs for one of these 3-bedroom houses – with 5 occupants – is around £540 or £1.48 a day. The average household causes around 6 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year yet the houses at the Littlethorpe Development will generate roughly 0.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.

Benefits

Assurance
Building offsite within a controlled factory environment minimises risk, assured quality control and enhanced build performance standards. From increased energy efficiency to reduced build time, factory-built modular homes can be designed with both occupants and the environment in mind, making modular housing solutions increasingly popular. The golden thread of information stored within the app will simplify auditing processes, including robust and traceable competency based sign-off processes at key stages of delivery. And like other kit of part approaches, the common steel framework approach provides reassurance to clients and investors.  Totally Modular is an ISO 9001 certified company and will be extending its accreditation to the spoke factories to deliver the requirements needed by MMC warranty providers, such as Buildoffsite Property Assurance Scheme (BOPAS) and Checkmate. The company has also secured a plethora of accreditations which shows its dedication to assurance, providing a healthier & safer workplace, where its processes are streamlined, maximising productivity and minimising risk.

Cost
Actual annual running costs for one of these 3-bedroom houses – with 5 occupants – is around £540 or £1.48 a day.

Diversity
As part of STELLAR, a sector-based work academy programme and trailblazer apprenticeship scheme is being developed. The training programme offers a diverse set of skills and is actively aimed at diversifying the workforce, encouraging people from all regions, backgrounds, gender and ethnicity. 

Emissions
The average household causes around 6 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year yet the houses at the Littlethorpe Development will generate roughly 0.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. The combination of lighter-weight materials, digital planning and production technologies will enable the homes to attain new levels of quality and energy efficiency. Less than 1% of new builds in the UK achieve an EPC A rating but as a result of the high performing fabric specification, these housing designs offer an A rating as standard. The common steel framework approach has been designed to optimise the use of steel with minimal waste, and any waste steel will be repurposed to manufacture sheds or pods. In the future the digital passport app will be able to track and report embodied carbon within the materials used in each house as well as monitor emissions from energy usage within the home through the sensor network. There will also be a front end to the app that will allow occupiers to view their own energy data and offer advice on positive behaviour change to reduce energy consumption.

Productivity
STELLAR improves housing delivery from beginning to end. Using the common steel framework approach, houses are delivered at a much quicker rate and more accurately. Familiarity with product details and standardised components will improve productivity of engineers, reducing errors and reassessments. Standardised connection details and sections will also allow engineers to design more efficiently than in traditional construction projects. Digitalisation of the housing delivery process and providing one single data source through the digital passport will also deliver massive efficiency savings for asset managers and on-site maintenance engineers.

Regional Balance
The hub and spoke model provides job opportunities in a fixed location and with flexible working schedules that may be more appealing to a wider audience who are put off by traditional construction site work. To support new skills in MMC for small business, the STELLAR consortium is also attracting new talent through a Sector Based Work Academy Scheme. The seven-week placement is in green manufacturing roles, with further education and on the job training - ending with job interviews for apprenticeship roles after the placement. 

Safety
The requirement for competency-based sign-off ensures that only qualified people are used for a task. The repeatability of tasks using the common steel framework approach means that operatives can get to a high level of skill quickly and tools and equipment can be optimised for moving components on and offsite, reducing safety risks and the potential for accidents. In addition, onsite health and safety information such as method statements will all be digitally accessible on the digital passport and reducing potential risks to on site contractors by keeping everyone up to date with the latest information, creating a safer environment.