Saint-Gobain UK and Ireland recently released its report: 'Emerging Realities in the Construction Industry.' Offsite manufacturing was referenced heavily. Mike Chaldecott, CEO of Saint-Gobain UK and Ireland and also Chair of the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) Innovation in Buildings workstream discusses the huge significance of offsite delivery.
The construction industry is facing a time of unprecedented change. Thanks to external factors such as socio-demographic pressures and advances in technology there's a host of challenges, and potential opportunities, unfolding for the sector. But which approach or tool is likely to become 'the new normal' - and how will it affect our industry? That's what our report, 'Emerging Realities in the Construction Industry' set out to explore. The report is an overview of selected areas where new realities are emerging in the construction sector, using statistics and opinions from industry players across a wide range of disciplines to look at the issue from multiple perspectives.
The importance of offsite manufacture has long been recognised in the construction industry and has become a key strategic component of the CLC's vision for a transformation of the sector - something that we envision will be driven by a focus on digital, manufacturing and whole-life performance.
It's also a key focus for the Government's Construction Sector Deal which includes a £170 million research and development fund for transforming construction. Five Government departments are also now working closely developing a presumption in favour of offsite construction by 2019. Many of the contributors to our report agree and see offsite manufacturing as a chance for the industry to improve the quality and quantity of houses in the future.
Sue Adams from Care and Repair England believes that offsite manufacturing, along with modular design, potentially offers a great opportunity to build in accessibility from the start. She believes only regulation has been shown to drive up building standards for all new homes and not just at the higher end of the market. She's adamant that the lesson for the construction industry is to get more sophisticated about exploring different marketplaces amongst a diverse older population. Better homes for the ageing - and 'whole life' homes - are something which, with the help of offsite manufacturing, can become a new standard in construction and design.
In our report Mark Farmer, CEO of Cast author and author of 'Modernise or Die' and, asserts that the construction industry is: "more than aware that it will only achieve construction volumes by finding alternative methods of building," referencing both the materials used by the industry, and the people and machines involved. He cites the benefits felt by large industry players who have taken offsite manufacturing on board: safer working conditions, improved building quality and shorter build times and the fact that modular building can address the need to build quickly with less manpower.
However, he notes that the rest of the industry has been slower to grasp the opportunity and cites these benefits, and in particular better productivity, as the reasons offsite manufacturing is taking off, saying: "We are trying to drive horizontal innovation and are learning a lot from discussions with the manufacturing, aerospace and automotive sectors… this approach can benefit so much of what our society depends on - housing, schools, hospitals, roads and railways."
As leader of the Innovation in Buildings workstream of the CLC, it is essential to progress the use of 'smart construction', of which offsite manufacturing is a key part. For me, this is about modernising the sector by removing the barriers to innovation to increase the number of homes built and enhance productivity, whilst improving quality and whole life performance.
The Construction Sector Deal is so important for the industry because it encourages precisely this kind of transformation making our sector fit for the 21st century. With its launch, the CLC and industry will have access to further resources to accelerate the adoption of smart construction through innovation and collaboration.
The joint investment by the Government and Industry - over £420 million - is a huge opportunity to embrace more digital technology, to speed up the use of advanced manufacturing in construction and will result in more innovation, better careers and enhanced skills. All of which will be delivering better performing buildings, built faster at a lower cost and offsite manufacturing is key to the success of this transformation.
As we know the skills gap is a very real crisis facing our industry. In our report Mathew Holloway, CEO of tech company Q-bot, discusses the potential effect of new digital technology on the skills gap. He says that the company was born to revolutionise the way workers construct, maintain and upgrade buildings by developing robotic tools which can operate in hard-to reach or hazardous areas. He says: "The drive to provide more intelligent tools and smarter processes will change the industry and create new, more interesting jobs. Moving a joystick on a game pad is a new kind of construction craft that future generations of construction workers will use."
The creation of new roles within construction is something that could not only attract new blood to the industry and enhance diversity, but also potentially allow employees to keep working for longer if some of the jobs are of a less physical nature.
Offsite manufacturing plays a huge part in what the future workforce of the industry could look like. According to research from the 'Modernise or Die' report the potential decline in available labour force within a decade is 20 - 25%, a figure which could be even higher depending on the outcome of Brexit. This reveals yet another grave problem in our sector - which offsite could form part of the answer to. What's clear is that the adoption of an offsite approach has great potential to move the dial and bring our industry into the digital age.
At Saint-Gobain UK and Ireland we've recognised the rising importance of offsite manufacturing. We've developed our own offsite solutions for building structures through strategic partnerships, via the evolution of existing Saint-Gobain brands, whilst also adding an offsite manufacturer to our broad portfolio spanning construction products, building distribution and innovative materials. We completed the acquisition of Scotframe Limited earlier this year accelerating our involvement in the offsite manufacturing and closed panel construction market. Further evolution is planned to complement our growing offsite proposition.
I'd like to thank all of the contributors who took part in the formation of this report. Business thrives on foresight and I hope this report helps spark a debate about the future of our industry. Specifically, how we all might prioritise our thinking and activity across our industry to maximise the opportunities at our fingertips and capitalise on the vast potential of our sector.
The report and an introductory video can be found at: www.saint-gobain.co.uk/emerging-realities
More about the work of the Innovation in Buildings workstream of the CLC can be found at: www.constructionleadershipcouncil.co.uk/workstream/innovation
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