Our Chairman, Matt Bennion, discusses the adoption of MMC and off-site construction by our industry - what could it really mean and what are the discussions we should be having?
There is little doubt that the Government’s presumption for off-site and the adaptation to historic ways of working caused by the ongoing pandemic is accelerating the adoption of off-site delivery. The adoption of a new approach is very welcome, bringing better quality, more controlled and safer working practices, reduced carbon in delivery, faster construction programmes and the creation of sustainable employment in industrial areas, which can only help to address skills shortages and level up the economy. Collectively, these changes signal the start of a long overdue transformation. But towards what?
The press, social media and endless research and development projects are alive with constructive and helpful discussion on the merits of MMC and off-site construction. Whilst this is welcome, it proliferates the behaviour of an industry that loves to talk about itself and in doing so, misses the real opportunity to fundamentally rethink the way that we operate to provide a completely different user experience.
The truth is that even where we adopt off-site construction, ours is still an industry that is deeply fragmented and lacks customer and end user focus. According to UK Government research, 49p in every pound is waste, much of which is a consequence of a fragmented and siloed supply chain. In this environment, the impact of innovation is typically focussed on process and product improvement and not on the customer or end user.
In industries like automotive and aerospace, it would be inconceivable for a product or service to be delivered to a customer without a coherent plan to support that product and maintain a relationship with the customer after the point of sale. Yet here in the construction industry, we are doing just that – relying on a disjointed supply chain plan to design, build, and operate, while expecting the customer to carry the cost of prototyping.
Demand is growing for more agile, adaptable spaces that are not only fit for purpose but enhance the end users’ productivity and performance through smarter building operation and control in use. Add to that, the need for buildings to meet changing regulatory requirements such as net zero carbon, and the growing desire for more streamlined services to handle the construction process, and a clear case for a totally different delivery model emerges.
A lot of effort is being aimed at creating new industry-wide delivery platforms and changing client side behaviours. This is of course something to be celebrated, but this will all take a long time and to some extent it stifles innovation market forces. Did Jeff Bezos sit in his garage seeking government support for a new global retail platform? No, he identified the opportunity to provide 20 products with mass market appeal like books, cheaper, quicker and more conveniently than anyone else. He did this on the basis that people would flock to what was (and still is) a very compelling proposition. The rest is history.
Our belief is that the same is possible in the construction industry. But getting there requires the supply side of the market to do more to bring innovative, compelling and integrated solutions to market. This is where a vertically integrated business model built around end user experience and enabled by data, digital technology and collaboration can win.
Vertical integration requires integrators to take on risk and manage it through the standardisation and control of processes, with modelling and management of information at every level of the supply chain. It also requires collaboration with suppliers and designers alike to leverage the befits of standard details and maintain architectural integrity, core functionality and building performance. The result is a smaller team handling the construction process, from design to installation, which means greater supply chain control as well as access to lower costs. It also translates into more efficiency by reducing time spent on a project. At Reds10, using our standard library of details in our federated BIM model, we are able to turn designs into proposals and ultimately into high quality, co-ordinated production information much more quickly. Recent examples saw the time it takes to develop a frame design reduced from six weeks to a week and a half, and preparation of a full set of signed off contractors’ proposals on a new primary school from 18 to nine weeks.
Improving end user experience requires the model to extend beyond construction and into the operations phase to provide customers with a single interface, assurance and support throughout a building’s life. It also needs data on the use and performance of the building to be captured and fed back into smart and sustainable design. In the last year, we have installed SMART building technology and controls in all our buildings in the belief that a better understanding of building performance and end user experience is key to developing new compelling propositions that cause our industry to engage in change.
Already we have captured enough data to:
There is a long way to go but this learning creates the opportunity for a fundamentally different proposition for customers and end users. We are not suggesting that this is our Jeff Bezos moment, but we are advocating a transformation in our industry that is towards a much bigger prize than the adoption of off-site construction alone.
It is our belief that it is as much the responsibility of suppliers to bring the right propositions to market to enable this as it is for clients to find ways of accessing them.
The current and accelerating shift towards off-site construction creates the momentum towards an investment for this sort of transformation.