Feb 01, 2018

UK construction industry urged to increase integration to drive success

The days of taking up to six months to construct a single home using bricks and mortar are well and truly past, thanks to increasing confidence in the use of modern offsite construction solutions and the growing necessity to move towards timber frame construction due to rising skill shortages and reduced labour pools in a post-Brexit UK.

Many of our larger clients are taking steps towards greater integration in the build process by increasing their use of offsite timber frame solutions in residential projects. Some of the key benefits of utilising offsite manufacturing with timber frame solutions include a faster build time without compromising on quality and safety; precision engineering to reduce wastage and ensure a superior end-product; and overall cost savings with greater control and less risk across the build process.

However, timber frame solutions are also providing increased opportunities for greater integration across the supply chain, which is helping to deliver further cost savings and efficiencies. Whilst the UK construction industry is yet to embrace full integration, other industries outside of construction are showing the benefits of even greater integration across the supply chain and build process.

By observing the automotive industry and researching international housing markets, like Japan, Germany and Sweden, we are seeing a wealth of ideas and lessons that can be transferred and applied to the UK construction industry. These industries have shown that it’s possible to integrate the entire production process of a product (or home), whilst improving quality of build, through a streamlined and collaborative supply chain and maintaining surety of delivery, reduced waste and time across the whole delivery process, from concept to completion.  

Our vision is to evolve the way in which homes in the UK are constructed, and move towards a similar level of integration that embraces digital working, offsite manufacturing and lean site assembly and that puts the home buyer at the heart of the process.

Over the next 12 to 18 months, we are aiming to achieve greater integration with our offsite timber systems by pre-installing insulation and window and door components in volume. In conjunction, we’ll integrate prefinished floor cassettes and an option for ground erected roofs, with felt and batten fitted. By streamlining these separate and typically independent on-site workflows, into a single integrated off-site process, from one supplier, the superstructure of a home can be delivered and erected on-site more efficiently, without risk of weather events, and with guaranteed skills availability and reduced health and safety risks.

By collaborating and integrating more with the supply chain and building new relationships to develop and deliver a cohesive, integrated superstructure solution, we can cost effectively erect a wind and watertight building in a matter of days; without compromising on safety, security or quality. Follow-on trades can then be on-site much faster compared to current methods, working in parallel, inside and outside. For example, bricklayers are typically 20% more productive in cladding the home and are removed from the critical path. Inside working is enhanced, with improved working conditions, in a safe and dry environment.

Compared to a conventional masonry home – reliant on good weather, multiple and separate workflows, suppliers and trades – an offsite-manufactured, integrated timber-framed superstructure, can be delivered to the customer with no disruption or delay, no variance of quality and with no defects.

With a commitment to move the UK construction industry forward and create new opportunities, Stewart Milne Timber Systems is championing this new way of thinking and working. Our Witney factory already has the capability to integrate insulation and windows and doors into our offsite systems, from preferred component supplier partners. Looking forward, we are already considering scaling up and driving further cost savings, comparable to the automotive industry, where we have component factories within a factory, yielding a fully vertically integrated offsite offering.

Our aspiration is to have a fully-integrated offsite building solution; with the future potential of integrated electrical and plumbing systems, exterior cladding, and complete bathroom & kitchen pods.

However, for those that truly want to achieve this level of integration, a more collaborative approach is essential, whereby developers and suppliers are focused on delivering quality homes over competing on cost, and where everyone is willing to share the risk and reward, based on creating value and guaranteed volumes.

Some organisations will understandably be hesitant to change their current systems, especially if this has served them well for many years, but times have changed and our environment and the needs of our customers have evolved and will change. Collaboration and integration is without doubt the way forward, and those that don’t get on board and embrace this new philosophy and way of working run the risk of being left behind.

Homes For Scotland Home Builders Federation National House-Building Council Royal Institute of British Architects Structural Timber Association Constructionline British Board of Agrement Wood Campus Build Off Site Building Research Establishment WOOD FOR GOOD

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