Mark Farmer, Construction Leadership Council
Modernise or Die
The Executive Summary to the Farmer Report “Modernise or Die” stated that:
The construction industry and the clients that rely on it are at a critical juncture and it is time to review the seriousness of the future outlook. Deep-seated problems have existed for many years and are well known and rehearsed, yet despite that, there appears to be a collective reluctance or inability to address these issues and set a course for modernisation.
That report created lots of reaction, with an overwhelming rallying call to arms from many. Mark Farmer, author if that report, sees this as necessary if the industry is to change at scale. In an opinion piece earlier this year he wrote:
“If the industry is to deliver our built environment cheaper and more efficiently, it must recognise that offsite manufacturing is an easy first step”
Something Really Important is Happening
Irrespective of the debate and commentary, he sensed that something really important is happening - a gathering momentum around some of the report’s key findings, apparently focused on how we can deliver construction, and in particular residential development, in a different way.
Engineering a Better Outcome for All
Many progressive Investors, developers, construction consultancy and contracting supply chain people see this is as an opportunity for change that drives a better outcome for all. This mood has been catalysed by significant media coverage on “modern methods” or “pre-manufacturing”. The debate is moving from post-war “prefabs” to 21st century precision-engineered products, reinforced by emerging government policy toward modular techniques to deliver better quality and faster housing.
Concentrate on Production
Farmer believes there is an urgent need to fundamentally change the way we build. Although Government has taken up his call for CITB reforms, these will not solve the industry’s deep-seated problems regarding lack of predictability, productivity, and its poor image. In his view: “… we need to concentrate on the production process itself rather than how we collect a levy and distribute it.”
Embedding a DfMA strategy that challenges these norms may seek a fixed design ‘backbone’ or ‘chassis’ to overlay with project-specific elements. It creates an “entry level” approach for possible future consideration of modular construction. Coupling this with the application of a BIM environment means digital enablement should increasingly be seen as a “go/no go” for team selection to help drive industry improvement.
Collaboration NOT Lowest Cost
Most challenging will be overcoming behavioural ‘blockers’ like traditional tendering and “lowest cost” awards. In Farmer’s view there is a need to consider a wider benefits case for early engagement with pre-manufacturing-led providers. They can drive more certainty and ultimately provide cheaper, quicker and better-quality results.
Lack of Capacity
Unfortunately, at present the UK lacks capacity to fulfil the latent and emerging demand for offsite solutions. There is a risk of over-running a limited capacity market just as we have in the traditional construction sector over the last three years. This could lead to delivery failure and cost inflation.
Housing as a “Pump Primer”
Calling for the government to pump prime this sector and use housing policy and industry strategy for further investment to create the right demand conditions, he warns that major market disruption from the likes of Legal & General is looming. He has been involved with their plans and gives an assurance that the scale of this move alone significantly threatens the status quo of the traditional real estate and construction market, although “it won’t structurally change the industry without others coming in behind”.
While there will always be a place for traditional trades, he suggests “…there is the ability to take the pressure off some of the key trades by establishing alternative approaches to delivery that reduce site labour needs”. Additionally, he sees a growing option for some trades to work within more controlled “manufacturing” conditions delivering higher-productivity traditional working away from the site.
What More Can We Say?
Since 2002, we have been practicing what Mark Farmer has now put into words. (We’d actually been saying it for much longer). “Get it Right – Build Off-Ste” has become synonymous with our passion for what we do to drive improvement forward across the industry. Factory produced components are generally more accurate and better made than things cut and made while subject to the elements. And as argued many years ago, ‘collaboration’ is the way to achieve this.
Pride in the Job
Given the right conditions, training and incentives, factory workers can be happier and more contented, resulting in them taking greater pride in their work and driving levels of consumer satisfaction higher (Weekly Insight 13 Oct 17),. Indeed, building ‘Off-Site’ has multiple benefits. Greater accuracy, less waste, real ‘Pride in the Job’, on-time deliveries, and easier, faster on-site assemblies. Establishing wider collaboration with other construction professionals means that Design & Build is safer, easier, and more sustainable.
As Farmer opines, while this is an often misunderstood, but important factor, the earlier we can become engaged with a project, the better the result. From early design, through technical development of the structure and manufacturing to transport and erection, our timber based pre-fabrications minimise the need for special equipment and make delivering the affordable high quality buildings that architects and their clients want – especially on difficult to access sites.