Ask the Expert with Darren Richards

Offsite expert Darren Richards, Managing Director of Cogent Consulting, shares his perspective on the future of factory-based building technology with the Offsite Hub.

With the government’s presumption for offsite technology for public sector projects, together with Japan's biggest housebuilder Sekisui House entering the UK modular housing sector as well as banking giant Goldman Sachs investing £75m into modular housing business, TopHat – the offsite manufacturing sector is gaining traction like never before.
The challenge now is to get a decent foothold in the traditional construction market and to ensure that manufacturing volumes hit such levels that mean it is no longer cost competitive to go back to ‘conventional’ construction methods if the predicted recession happens. 

Only by achieving this foothold, of say greater than 15% market share of construction newbuild activity, will the UK offsite manufacturing sector be able to maintain a constant position in the industry and not be seen as a passing trend. Present market share figures vary widely and are somewhat dependent upon which market sectors are being analysed, but overall the offsite manufacturing sector has in the region of 8-10% market share, so we have a long way to go to reaching that critical foothold position.

At last the government appears to have made the connection between construction and manufacturing and we are therefore seeing great potential within the ‘industrial strategy’ for offsite manufactured solutions. The most significant measure that government has introduced is raising the profile of offsite construction – putting it on the agenda at the highest level and this has had a significant impact in recent months. There is an old adage about ‘taking advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime in the lifetime of the opportunity’ and I think this is the mantra that the offsite manufacturing sector should now adopt, while the opportunity is greater than we have seen since the end of the second world war – 70 years ago!

The Japanese understand manufacturing investment after all they pioneered world-class manufacturing techniques. Sekisui entering the UK offsite sector is a game changer. The time I spent in Japan working with Sekisui, Toyota, Daiwa, was truly inspirational and the volumes they achieve are astonishing. The learnings from Japan will never leave me – it is still the benchmark in my eyes – and perhaps this current cycle of offsite manufactured housing demand in the UK will enable me to put more of these learnings into practice.

We don’t need to baffle businesses with lean manufacturing jargon or world-class manufacturing techniques terminology to make them improve. We need to demonstrate best practice in other sectors and apply a common-sense approach to many of the improvements that are there to be had within the offsite manufacturing sector. We have to convey the dynamic and fast moving pace of the sector and the excitement that can be engendered when delivering truly ground-breaking technology to construction sites – seeing the faces of the site operatives when whole elements of the building arrive on the back of a truck and a weathertight structure is erected in a matter of days or weeks rather than months or years. 

The challenges of the construction industry and the offsite manufacturing sector that sits within it are not for the faint hearted and you have got to be made of stern stuff to be part of the sector, but the rewards for building successful offsite manufacturing businesses and delivering quality products and systems to site are incredible. It is time that we shouted louder about the opportunities that exist and make people in other sectors see the real potential that lies in us creating a world-class offsite manufacturing sector in the UK.

About the Author

Darren Richards, MD of Cogent Consulting – the UK’s leading offsite construction consultancy - is an offsite manufacturing expert with 25 years of world-wide experience developing offsite businesses, processes and products. Cogent is a specialist building technologies consultancy focused on new construction product/system development, manufacturing strategy, lean manufacturing and process improvement within the offsite manufacturing and offsite construction arenas.

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