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Why Goldman Sachs Thinks Jumbo Jets Can Teach Modular Housing A Lesson


Everyone has heard of modular housebuilding, but not so many have come across digital housebuilding.

Now a technology-driven manufacturer of factory-built homes with £75M backing from Goldman Sachs plans to revolutionise housebuilding in the UK by integrating more tech into the construction process.

The hope is that skills learned in the high-cost world of aircraft manufacture can help speed up modular housing.

The appeal for Goldman Sachs, and the other investors now eyeing opportunities in this sector, is that innovative methods of housebuilding can generate quicker returns than more traditional rivals.

Goldman Sachs-backed UK startup modular housebuilder TopHat has now recruited former Airbus Vice President for Digital Transformation, and Lockheed Martin and Siemens innovator Matt Evans as its chief technology officer.

Evans will be translating into volume housebuilding the skills developed in the  Skywise platform that is saving aircraft manufacturers billions of pounds a year by smoothing production lines.

The TopHat family house design

TopHat has had an up-and-down year since the Goldman Sachs' investment in 2019. It reported £21M losses, attributed to startup costs, as the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020. It subsequently agreed to deliver new homes for Urban&Civic in Rugby and a five-year tie-up with Ikea-backed housebuilder BoKlok.

Evans, who has a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will take a data-led approach to improve TopHat’s processes across the full life cycle of each home’s creation, from its design and production through to delivery and support.

“By spinning a ‘digital thread’ that links every stage of the manufacturing process from design to assembly, we can make the process more repeatable and certain, create a higher-quality product, and minimise waste through the learning and efficiency that this will generate,” Evans said.

“Starting with a blank piece of paper, it makes much more sense to build homes in a factory-controlled setting. You wouldn’t build a plane in a field, and the same should be true of new homes.”