Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Barriers to Off Site...

Over recent weeks I have spent quite a bit of time with a number of specialists in the off site manufacturing sector. The most active group of specialists is the build off site organisation and its network of companies. Within this group we have a wide range of organisations from M&E sub contractors to suppliers through to main contractors.

The government is requesting that the construction industry reduces it costs by 20% over the next 20 years and at the same time improve energy performance of the buildings in accordance with the most recent building regulations.Clearly these two things are at odds with one another and if we continue to achieve a cost reduction by squeezing the supply chain it will soon become apparent that such an approach is unsustainable. We are already seeing early signs of a cost driven market place with many small to medium sized contractors going out of business largely due to the effect of lack of cash.

We therefore need to look at an alternative way of improving quality and reducing costs at the same time. I believe the answer is in the process of thinking more before we start building.I am keen to lose the term construction and think more intelligently about assembly.There are many tools now available to us to help us plan buildings efficiently off site and particular the use of Building Information Modelling will allow us to prototype buildings, minimising errors and time on site.

By using this approach this leads us into a far more component driven design approach where we use standardisation for things such as repetitive elements like doors, windows, bathrooms, toilets and even plant rooms.It means that the industry has to think differently about its procurement but by adopting a more standardised and component driven approach we will undoubtedly drive up quality whilst through volume reduce cost.

At _space group we have been adopting this approach in the development of several new products. Our Spacehus low energy house adopts this thinking and we have developed a digital prototype of a number of low energy houses with only 19 components. Through developing a building product using manufacturing principles we are able to assemble a building on site in less than 20 days removing a considerable amount of risk in the process. Currently our costs for a 925 sq ft house are £80,000 which includes foundations through to finishes. All that is required are the service connections and external works.

By ensuring we have quality components which are well put together we can reduce the energy costs down to £10 per week for a building of this size.

We believe such innovation is the future of the industry however we are finding that we are coming across many barriers to delivering buildings in this way. Constructors are far happier to continue to build the way they have always known where there is no continuous improvement and workmanship is inconsistent.

The big debate for us at _space group is what are the barriers preventing Spacehus as a product being adopted. I am sure there are many reasons ranging from fear of change or the belief that such as approach is a threat to an organisations future.

I have no doubt that the pressure being born by the government to reduce costs whilst improving energy performance significantly will ultimately lead to an off site solution developed through a Building Information Model. The challenge at the moment is a time frame for this realisation.

At _space group we have been banging the drum on Building Information Modelling for 11 years and it is only in June this year that such as approach has been legitimised by the broader community. I hope that the adoption of component driven design will not take as long.