Offsite Expo – the new premier showcase for offsite build?

With offsite build a relatively new kid on the block in the construction sector (more so for residential), this is the new conference for all things concerning offsite construction. Manufacturers, suppliers, builders and consultants braved a monsoon to head for Coventry’s Ricoh Arena for the first Offsite Expo event.

So who was there, what was said, and – if you missed it – should you check out next year’s event?

A taste of real-world experience on show

In an already crowded event calendar you can be forgiven for suffering “innovation fatigue”, where every exhibitor and presenter showcases the next big thing to revolutionise the world of construction. While many of the major players, including trade bodies, were all present and correct at Offsite Expo, there were several companies sharing real-world applications of MMC.

In a candid presentation, home-building giant Barratt outlined its impressive offsite ambitions and then went into detail about lessons they had learned from adopting new technologies.

Critical lessons included:

  • A general lack of understanding on-site with tradesmen
  • Too many scaffold designs and adaptions (up to 5 set-ups on one site)
  • Additional challenges posed by non-level and difficult-to-access sites
  • Variations with tolerances compared to traditional build methods
  • Introducing larger cavities for timber-frame homes

They noted that offsite’s faster build times led to homes selling more quickly, with buyers simply prompted to act faster as the homes went up.

Even so, their next steps are to run more research and benchmarking exercises to better quantify the benefits of offsite build. Like many, they are looking for further evidence that proves offsite build can be a preferred approach to homebuilding.

Comparisons between here and the US

While Barratt’s research trips to Holland and Germany highlighted our European neighbour’s maturity in offsite build, a very different perspective was given from the US. California start-up Entreka is looking to bring modern methods to the States, where CEO and Chairman Gerard McCaughey described even more resistance to change than in the UK. Flashing up photos of poor construction that had been accepted by inspectors raised plenty of eyebrows in the room.

Despite this, seminar host and offsite champion Mark Farmer hinted that it would be innovators from the same part of the world that would move offsite build “several stages on” in the near future, perhaps a nod to more volumetric approaches, the so-called “Internet of Things” or large-scale 3D printing of structures.

Plenty of offsite expertise to digest

While larger events, such as Housing 2019 in Manchester, provided an overview of innovation, Offsite Build featured presentations from experts going into more technical detail. There were masterclasses covering Structural Timber, Precast Concrete, Volumetric Modular, Digital Construction and BIM, Roofing and Light Gauge Steel.

There was an implicit recognition that anyone who attended Offsite Expo already understood the principles of offsite and the proposed benefits, as well as its current place in the market. Delegates were made up of designers, specifiers, engineers and technical directors and managers, absorbing as much information as they could take on the uses and benefits of various systems and technologies.

Should you attend Offsite Expo 2020?

If you are considering offsite build, or have already taken the first steps and are looking to improve, there’s a wealth of experience and technical expertise at this event. On the other hand, casual observers may be a little overwhelmed. Whatever your position in the construction sector, it’s probably one to watch.

Every care was taken to ensure the information in this article was correct at the time of publication.

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