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Paving the way for sustainable homes and business through academic partnership

​News | 18 February, 2021

Academics at Cardiff Metropolitan University have joined forces with Sevenoaks Modular (SOM) to lead Wales’ sustainable offsite manufactured (OSM) housebuilding revolution. 

A Welsh Government backed Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between the University and SOM has been contributing to enhancing the performance of the South Wales based business, improving the design, manufacture and installation processes for timber frame prefabricated ‘modular’ buildings.  

Funded through Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation and the Welsh Government, the KTP is a collaboration between the Cardiff School of Art and Design’s Sustainable and Resilient Built Environment group, and construction company Sevenoaks Modular based in Neath, South Wales. 

Pioneering the expansion and transition of prefabricated homebuilding in Wales into nearly-to-zero operational energy and nearly-to-zero embodied carbon, perfecting sustainable modular construction, the group are reshaping residential design, Off Site Manufacturing (OSM) and scalable-construction at the coal face. 

The Welsh Government’s ambitious plans to build 20,000 affordable homes by the end of the Welsh Parliament has provided Sevenoaks with the opportunity to innovate their business model, responding to the demands of the sector while safeguarding jobs and optimising their operations. 

One focus of the KTP is to optimise the design and manufacturing performance of timber frame modern methods of construction for exterior walls (Trisowarm (TW)), floors, and roofs. This has included mapping assessments of the production lines following Toyota’s lean management principles, identifying quick win refinements to the company’s manufacturing operation. These include steps to improve production efficiency, refine the use of materials and labour, reduced waste and in turn potential defects that could contribute to a performance gap. As a result of the KTP the Neath based company have increased the quality and thermal performance of their modern methods of construction to meet the nearly zero operational energy performance standards. In addition, optimised smart manufacturing systems combined with research from the partnership have enabled the development of a range of standardised low carbon construction systems utilising a number of natural forms of insulation for a fabric first approach to low carbon construction. 

Charlotte Hale, Operations Director at Sevenoaks Modular, said: “While the sector is at a turning point due to the pandemic, through this Knowledge Transfer Partnership we hope to develop solutions to the real-world challenges we’re facing that will strengthen our market share, and enable us to grow the business and help the sector meet the house building challenges of the future.

“Working with Cardiff Metropolitan University, we’re able to harness our industry knowledge and draw on academic expertise to revolutionise our practices, innovating our business, ensuring our stability within the sector.” 

Verity Moorhouse, KTP Associate, said: “I am lucky to have such a diverse role, which means that while themes and goals remain the same, every day is different, and I have found myself embedded in a large array of tasks which have helped to broaden my sector knowledge significantly in a very short space of time. 

“The decisions we are making today, I hope, will have a lasting impact on house building here in Wales, and further afield.”