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Enabling clients to go further, faster, through offsite design and manufacture

The first Swan home being delivered to site.

Ramboll’s manufactured design work has helped a leading housing association deliver better outcomes compared with a traditional construction solution, writes Andy Walker.

Overcoming industry productivity challenges requires a firm focus on delivering the benefits of offsite manufacture, not just talking about them. Successfully working with major developers and design partners, Ramboll is delivering the panacea - reduced costs and risks, while increasing quality and productivity.

Ramboll has demonstrated best practice in high quality design for manufacture, including working with off-site manufacturing partners. The firm helped deliver Swan Housing Association’s first ever award-winning modular cross laminated timber (CLT) homes from their UK factory in Basildon, providing structural, MEP, fire, acoustic design and BIM co-ordination. Ramboll designed five fundamental house types and modular design options including extensions, bay windows and additional bedrooms for the 251-plot Beechwood West scheme.

Working closely during factory set-up, Ramboll designed unit connections, ensuring their buildability and movability during construction and production. A continuous on-site factory presence during production resolved any arising problems.

Ramboll’s revolutionary thinking considered assembly, transport, lifting and erection, enabling a house to be delivered to site and installed in one to two days. Producing up to 20 modules a week, when at full production, demonstrates how offsite can deliver a more efficient industry.

Construction impact was also reduced, with 90% reduction in site deliveries and improved site safety, with 60% fewer workers onsite. Based on standard house types that can be easily customised, Ramboll helped Swan deliver on their aims of beautifully designed homes and improved quality, whilst the standardised house types enable repeatability in the factory environment, driving higher standards.

Swan’s innovative projects have influenced the way Ramboll engineer the modules. The most notable difference compared to traditional CLT construction is that modules are lifted, transported and later joined together on site. On site, intermodule connections are highly complex and rely heavily on a well-planned and coordinated sequence of works. The ease of fixing and unfixing screwed connectors to timber panels has been a crucial aspect of the modular design, allowing Ramboll to use the modules in diverse ways throughout the various stages of construction.

Factory construction has reduced the risk of defects and things not fitting together on site. A product approach has led to continuous improvement, with the design and assembly considering feedback from erection and end users. This results in less risks from last minute changes to design, programme and construction delays and house buyers reporting defects, bringing far more surety to programme and quality of each unit.

Ramboll’s UK managing director Mathew Riley is justifiably proud of his firm’s work with Swan. “The industry has been talking about doing things offsite for years, but the impact of technology and the availability of data means that we can analyse and design very differently than we could even ten years ago,” he said. 

“The capability to make change is more readily available than previously and we’ve moved from talking about it to advising clients to deliver it,” Riley said. “We’ve used our historical knowledge in this space and added to that some data-driven analytical thinking and some digital toolkit to meet industry needs around driving a more offsite delivery.

“Our toolkit is giving clients the data-driven advice they need and allowing them to go further, faster. I think there’s now momentum and we’re seeing a lot of demand for this kind of work,” said Riley.