Aquarian teamWith cladding solutions that offer all the benefits of an offsite solution, with the hybrid flexibility of being adapted on site, Paul Richards has seen first-hand how modern methods of construction are changing the industry. Here the Managing Director of brick cladding systems supplier Aquarian Cladding Systems discusses why offsite will play a hugely important role in the future of the construction industry.

As with any industry, investment in recruiting, training, and retaining the right staff to collaborate with its supply chain and achieve environmental and financial sustainability whilst remaining profitable, is key to its success. To be amongst the best in your industry, however, requires investment in continuous improvement, through invention and innovation.

We hear talk of a techno-economic paradigm shift and ways in which modern, smart technology can make industries more efficient. For the construction industry, the smart solution to address this issue is offsite manufacturing.

Advantages

The advantages of offsite methods of construction, compared with traditional construction, are many, including less reliance on traditional skills and weather, resulting in a wider available workforce to select from and an increase in productivity.

Offsite manufactured solutions also allow for greater quality control throughout the process and therefore a more consistent and predictable end product, with greater cost and programme certainty.

There is also typically less waste, and less transport required as materials are more likely delivered in bulk to factories outside of busy cities and then components are pre-assembled by a local workforce before making fewer vehicle visits. The result? Improved sustainability by reducing the impact on global resources and adding value to local to communities.

A game-changer?

Our current Government has declared its preference for offsite manufacturing and put it in the spotlight as a way of dealing with its desire to ‘Build, Build, Build’. Offsite also features heavily in the CLC’s Roadmap to Recovery as we ‘restart, reset and reinvent’ following the Covid-19 lockdown.

But while offsite manufacturing in construction has been tipped as a game-changer, it is not a new concept for the UK government. In response to the post-war housing shortage, the Government of the time encouraged prefabricated houses to be built by cleverly upcycling materials from aircraft manufacturers, for example.

I recently attended a round table event on the future of the construction industry and posed the question whether there is a space in the industry for an ‘Elon Musk’ or a ‘Jeff Bezos’ to disrupt and revolutionise it.

The general view was that the space is most certainly there and if such a figure is to emerge then offsite manufacturing will likely be the area they come from. It is challenging but exciting times to be in offsite.

Why now?

Admittedly, there have been many false dawns for this ‘brave new world’ of offsite. I recall the Latham Report, Egan Report and more recently, in October 2016, Mark Farmer’s Review, Modernise or Die, which warned the industry of the need to embrace Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) to safeguard its future.

Every industry now has its challenges due to the coronavirus and will need to evolve and embrace new ways of working. Of course, the construction industry will not die but companies within it that do not modernise surely will – just like the retail sector, where companies have failed because they have been too slow to adapt to new consumer habits of purchasing online. Post-coronavirus, consumers and employees have new habits that are here to stay.

As an example, it is very difficult to minimise the numbers of boots on a site that is built traditionally. Site operatives and management all come into close contact with each other on site, sharing welfare areas, commuting in and out of busy cities on public transport, etc. It is far easier to practice social distancing when there are fewer numbers in close proximity.

Offsite manufacturing can provide the answer thanks to a more controlled environment in out of town locations employing locals.

Seeing the opportunities

There are, of course, challenges that need to be overcome. For example, is there sufficient capacity to meet demand? There is no one size fits all solution so there must be a range of safe, robust, and commercially viable options to choose from. There is also the perception of a lack of design choices and flexibility so solutions must be sufficiently agile.

Fundamentally, modern methods of construction have proven that they are here to stay, and I think that now, more than ever, clients will evaluate the increasingly varied range of options and explore the benefits.

The people and companies who build a strong future for themselves in our industry will be those that seize the opportunities provided by offsite to develop an agile, cost-effective solution, which at a local level deals with control issues from a workforce lacking traditional skills, without them having to travel to large cities to work. And at a climate change level, those buildings are built more sustainably by minimising waste and transportation.

These will be the people and companies who succeed – and the ones to revolutionise our industry.

As key distributors of Gebrik, MechSlip, NaturAL-X and Terreal, Aquarian Cladding Systems is one of the UK’s leading suppliers of brick and terracotta cladding systems. Working with architects, contractors, developers and installation specialists, Aquarian’s cladding systems have been used on many award-winning buildings across a wide range of sectors. Paul has more than 34 years in the construction industry and sits on various Management Boards, including Constructing Excellence South West.