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Building Research Establishment (BRE) and The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) deep dive into attending the Innovation Day workshop and wider Hub programme

Author: Clare Pickin, MD MTC Operations

As I listened to the discussions at our Innovation Day, I was reminded how very proud I am of what we’ve achieved at MTC as part of the Construction Innovation Hub programme.

When we began over four years ago the need for transformation was clear and wider industry and government already had some solutions in theory.  What the Transforming Construction Challenge and the Hub programme progressed was how do we bring a manufacturing approach to construction and demonstrate solutions that really work.

Industry has made real progress but it’s fair to say we haven’t quite reached a tipping point. However, what we do have is government departments who understand the benefits, industry keen to move forward and agreement from all that there is more we all need to do to be more joined up.

This is why I was excited when the Hub programme moved from R&D to enabling a clear path to deployment. Our physical testbeds – the Sandpits – are a safe space to develop, test and refine innovative solutions and products.

The investment in an enabling programme like the Hub has moved us towards deployment at a faster pace and moving from the Sandpits to actual projects and buildings is now in sight. But, if we stop, we’ll go backwards. If we stop the investment already made becomes a cost.

We need to demonstrate that investment in R&D and innovation is essential and being a low margin sector does not change this. And there are great examples that demonstrate this – the Hub’s sandpits, SEISMIC, AIMCH, the Forge… all in different ways demonstrate that a platform approach, alongside applying a manufacturing mindset, does work, that innovation and R&D can lead to high value outcomes.

At the Innovation Day we talked a lot about value and I was proud to see how embedded the Value Toolkit now is in conversations and plans. As set out in the Construction Playbook:

“Value for money is defined as securing the best mix of quality, performance, sustainability and social value for the least outlay over the life of a project or programme. It is not about minimising initial capital costs. When considering ‘outlay’ the key factor is whole life cost, not lowest purchase price”.  

Value based decision making must become the way we do things.

So we have solutions that are ready to adopt, a client that wants them, tools to support and a growing set of projects that help us on our transformation journey.

We have young talent excited to join the construction sector and to support the schools, hospitals and homes that will benefit them and their communities for years to come.

However, we also have silos of thinking, a lack of alignment and uncertainty around future funding. All of us have a role to play in changing this. Transforming is not just about tweaking and we need to be bold if we are to ensure this continues.

At MTC we have innovative thinkers and great engineers but alone we cannot change the industry.  What we can do is work hand in hand with government and industry to support, enable and drive transformation at a faster pace.

With a funded programme we can achieve so much.


Author: Eloise Francis, Director of Innovation, BRE

We have known for a while that we are an industry that needs to change and modernise to survive, but I firmly believe that we are now past the point where this change can continue to be incremental. It needs to be transformational, and we need to embrace it now. As I reflect on the Construction Innovation Hub Innovation Day held at the Manufacturing  Technology Centre (MTC), I am reminded of the challenges and complexity that exists across the UK’s construction sector and the headwinds that continue to face us with climate change, skills shortages, inflation, material shortages and the changing regulatory environment – to name but a few.

Over the last six months the Hub bridge programme, has focused on taking the research and innovation outputs developed through the collaboration with industry and Government departments and facilitated their deployment on live projects. 

The physical, full-scale sandpits at MTC and the Seismic Platform demonstrator at BRE have been essential in helping to show and validate the benefits of platform technologies and offsite manufacture. The Product Platform Rulebook and the Construction Products Quality Planning (CPQP) approach are key elements to this.  We know through research and work on the sandpits, that early supply chain engagement and collaboration is essential to ensuring an optimal design and construction methodology for offsite manufacture and assembly.

A separate programme of activity has also focused on the refinement and deployment of the Value Toolkit.  In a world where we should have no choice but to drive better outcomes for society and the environment, the Value Toolkit offers a solution to provide focus on the true value of a project, not just its cost. It is a solution the whole industry should look to adopt to help us build better

Through my involvement with the Hub and industry in general, it sounds like and feels like we are getting towards a tipping point in the UK construction sector for transformational change.  However, in the face of the many and relentless headwinds, we are in danger of ‘reverting back to type’ and falling back into our comfort zone.  We have seen this happen before in the industry and we cannot let it happen again. 

As the Hub’s funded programme comes to a close, this is not job done – as an industry, we are only just starting.  We need to continue to push ourselves, our organisations and our beloved industry over that crest of resistance to change.  We can do it, but it needs us working together in collaboration to explore, test, verify and embrace new ideas, ways of working and technologies.  As individuals and businesses working in the sector, we can either be part of the solution and embrace the change or face the consequences of no longer being relevant.

The choice is yours!