When and how to engage with the offsite supply chain to get the most value from it is always a hot topic for discussion. Etex Building Performance recently hosted a Roundtable Event to discuss issues surrounding this and the burgeoning private rented sector (PRS) approach to housing.
Arguments about how to deliver the
vast quantities of newbuild housing
required in the UK over the next
decade to fuel demographic demand
are complex. But what most people
can agree on is that a new breed of
affordable, flexible and purposebuilt
housing is needed that appeals
to discerning tenants and anxious
investors alike. New commercial and
technology models are shaping the
ways of delivering construction quality
The role offsite construction has to play
- not just in delivering new housing -
but across all building types has never
been more important and over the
last 18 months in particular, offsite has
seen its status at an all-time high. But
problems still surround lack of early
engagement - when in any project
cycle are clients engaging with offsite
suppliers and how could the process
"Procurement behaviour needs to
change, says Rory Bergin Partner,
Sustainable Futures, HTA Design LLP.
"There is still a struggle with people
trying to procure new things in an
old way and we come across that
on multiple projects. There is still a
maturing awareness of what products and systems are available on the market. Not everybody wants the same technology or has the same considerations, but there is a worry about limited suppliers out there. Or what is increasingly happening with
these limited suppliers is that they are incredibly busy."
Early supply chain engagement is the
oft-repeated mantra and starting the
process of adopting offsite at project
inception means its long-term benefits
are maximised. "Certainly everyone
is on a different stage of the journey
to understand what products and
systems are in the marketplace," says
Joe Thornton, Founding Director, Cast
Consultancy. "But we are finding that
far more people are 'open' to talking
about offsite than ever before from a
very early stage."
Many clients and investors needs to widen their expectations and understand that offsite adoption is a: "business strategy first and a procurement strategy second", and is about absorbing the culture of offsite manufacture into the business model.
Confidence levels are growing about the use of offsite - but with confidence everything in long-term investment decisions - this is putting the pressure on disparate parts of the supply chain. As Brendan Geraghty, Director of Geraghty Taylor Architects says: "Funders have a profound influence on this space, on design decisions and greater control of the supply chain. They are being very strategic about what they control and what brings less cost and ultimately what saves them money on the operational side.”
Overall the feeling is that a ‘leap of faith’ is still required into an uncertain market with challenges surrounding capacity and whether existing facilities can scale up to cater for increased delivery of systems or more products. To underpin greater confidence, better collaboration and more partnerships between contractors and the offsite supply chain are required, that make the best of both worlds. What needs to be better understood, communicated and sold as a positive, is the concept
of ‘moving the value of a project away from the construction site to inside a factory’ and where the levels of quality
and reliability can be controlled and streamlined. The age-old problem of overlapping trades, site snagging and endless site revisits can be made a thing of the past - for the PRS sector this is critical.
Hurdles & Barriers
With more education required on what offsite can deliver generally, what does the offsite industry itself need to do to get greater engagement with PRS clients, and what are the barriers to overcome to facilitate a better understanding over what factory manufactured building components can do?
One hurdle and a deep underlying issue is that the manufacturing and traditional construction industries are entrenched in the way they work and neither fully understand what each other does. Each have different thought processes, different histories and modes of operating. Certainly the role of precision factory engineering is at odds with the traditional construction mindset.
“There is definitely a need for precision design and high mechanisation,” says Matt Voyce, Director, Quintain. “Offsite construction is being sold as precision manufacture so more of that will give us more confidence in specifying across a range of projects.”
It is often here, where the varying quality of factory facilities and where businesses are in their business evolution is often queried. “Newer entrants have gone more towards precision engineering,” adds Darren Richards, Managing Director of Cogent
Consulting. “The newer businesses are sophisticated and starting from a blank page. The older established suppliers are having to evolve their systems, sometimes job by job.” As the quest for cutting edge technology and greater digitisation drives factory manufacture, there is a feeling that the UK is slightly lagging behind the continent with pressure from the
Netherlands, Germany and Poland with large scale production of precast elements, volumetric modules and bathroom pods.