Modular construction is a process where buildings, made up of individual sections - ‘modules’ - are constructed off site, under controlled manufacturing conditions, using comparable materials to conventionally built facilities. Once all the individual modules are constructed they are delivered and put together on site in a pre-determined order to make final assembly as efficient as possible. Advancements in technology have made the process of designing, moving and assembling modular components much easier and this type of construction is increasingly considered as a viable method.
Use in healthcare
Healthcare providers face real challenges when dealing with construction and design. Improvements range from increasing operational capacity to installing state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment and may be short or long term. Recent governmental policy has encouraged hospitals and healthcare systems to focus on population health, determining what infrastructure will meet the needs of the communities they serve, while maintaining operational efficiency and so consideration of the ways of achieving these needs is at the fore.
Accessing funding to pay for a new facility can also be challenging and shortages of skilled labour and project completion times may also present issues. As the UK government is committing to increase funding for the NHS in excess of £20 billion each year, and new opportunities present themselves in construction methods and managed services agreements, now is the perfect time to consider developing and expanding healthcare facilities in the UK, perhaps in a non-traditional way.
Benefits of modular construction
Reduced construction schedule
Modular constructions can reduce the timescale of a project by 50%, compared to conventional methods. Construction takes place in quality-controlled manufacturing conditions, at the same time as ground works are prepared on site.
Greater flexibility and reuse
From primary care buildings to decontamination units, modular units can be designed to fit in with external aesthetics of any existing building and modular units once assembled can be indistinguishable from their site built counterparts. Modular buildings can also be disassembled quickly and easily and the modules relocated, removed or refurbished for new use, reducing the demand for raw materials and minimising energy expended to meet the new need.
Safer construction and less disruption
The majority of modular construction is completed inside a factory which reduces vehicle movement and disruption, risk of accidents, related liabilities for workers and bad weather delays, saving money and time.
Modular builds are clearly more environmental friendly as up to 90% less waste is produced during the construction process and up to 60% less energy is required to build compared to traditional construction methods. Factory made modular structures also eliminate the potential for high levels of moisture being trapped in the new construction and the absence of certain wall installations can dramatically reduce dust, and thus, minimise impact on the indoor air quality environment. This is important given the health concerns of patients, and the highly sensitive and specialised equipment being used in these environments.
Other considerations and perception
Life expectancy warranties and defects
Insurance backed warranties can be provided for modular buildings. The life expectancy can be as much as 70 years. Modules built in controlled environments are subject to strict quality controls, allowing defects to be identified early and resolved in the factory, minimising disruption.
Modular design clearly demonstrates a number of advantages and an opportunity for sustainable healthcare provision to meet ever-changing needs. Whether its uptake continues and how it is implemented against a more traditional and perceived ‘permanent’ solution however remains to be seen.