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Modular & Portable Buildings Move On

posted: 3rd Apr 2008

Progress throughout the last 60 years has been considerable with buildings of all sizes and uses now being manufactured and installed. Hotels, hospitals, schools, offices and even prisons to name just a few applications, the industry has come a long way since the war years.

Terminology tends to proliferate in any industry and portable buildings is no exception with their multiplicity of designs and uses, seem to have acquired more than their fair share. For example buildings can be described as portable, modular, linked, panel, system or volumetric, take your pick.

Portable Buildings can best be defined as those made wholly in a factory and then transported for the installation on prepared foundations. Most but by no means all portable buildings can be removed and relocated to a new site without little or no waste.

The main advantage of this type of building is speed of construction, as for example the groundwork’s can be proceeding at the same time as the building takes shape in the factory. Site assembly quickly produces a weatherproof shell, so progress is rarely delayed by bad weather. Speed of construction also leads to considerable cost savings when compared to conventional building methods.

Many manufacturers produce the ubiquitous cabin in all its various guises; mounted on telescopic jackleg wheels or skids and are used for everything from an office to a store, canteen to classroom, computer suite to a hospitality suite. With an ever-increasing demand for security today the market has grown for more container steel units that again have moved forward to a higher specification. On the outside one would not be able to see the quality and specification that has improved over the years to give clients comfort and protection.

Modular buildings on the other hand tend to be larger and more permanent and are produced in modular or slices, bolted together on site in a variety of configurations to produce the clients required accommodation.

System buildings are yet more permanent because they comprise a steel or timber frame, erected on site to which are fixed cladding panels produced by a number of different ‘systems’ or designs.

Finally volumetric units are defined as factory built modules to site in made-up form and typically being residential designs or increasingly sophisticated hotel rooms or toilet and bathroom pods for installation in other permanent buildings.

It is probably fair to say that historically that prefabricated buildings have had more than there fair share of criticism levelled at them. considered by many to be a poor substitute to the ‘real thing’ a classic example being classrooms that have over the years proven themselves and many still in use by local authorities. Like all products there is no such thing as maintenance free, it would be like purchasing a car and then expecting this to be trouble free over a 25-year life span.

The fact that thousands of temporary buildings continue to perform their function is a tribute to a largely unsung industry.

Building of two, three or four storey or higher are now available in the market place and members of the MPBA currently produce classrooms, laboratories, prisons, operating theatres, computer rooms, kitchen and dining facilities and many interesting building types. It is also interesting to remember that buildings can be sited in unusual location, on the flight deck of a ship springs to mind or taken by helicopter to and island way up in the north sea. Furthermore it is an industry which continues to make every effort to convince clients that todays buildings are every bit as good as their traditional counterparts, but have the advantage of speed and lower cost.

Modern buildings can be can be stylish, secure, economical to heat and maintain and, above all flexible in their use.

External appearance of buildings today can be specified to suit individual requirements. The design can include pitched roof, brick, stone or other decorative finishes as most new building requirements need to be compatible to other buildings in the same location.

The different concepts of system building be they panellised or volumetric have progressed dramatically over the years. They are no longer temporary structures but conform to all the latest legislation in respect of structural integrity, building regulations, fire regulations etc. and will compare favourably with the more traditional forms of construction.

With the growing demand for the supply of buildings an Association was formed in 1938 which today takes the name The Modular & Portable Building Association Limited to be the representative body of the Industry.

Members of the Association are spread throughout the British Isles carrying out off site construction of modular and portable buildings. Associate Members are companies with strong business contacts in the industry e.g.: suppliers of windows, doors, roofing and cladding materials, plasterboard, timber, steel and other component and services that provide the unique products that are developed today. Buildings today are available for purchase, lease purchase or hire with many members having an extensive range of products from their hire fleets.

Today in a market potentially worth in excess of a billion pounds, modular and portable buildings continue to fill the gap and the industry is no stranger to off site construction - it is what we do and will continue to develop new ideas and technology.

Article by Jackie Maginnis, published in PIR Construction (November 2006)