The challenge of change – optimising offsite delivery

What can the offsite industry do to address issues of quality assurance and provide confidence in the use of new construction technologies? Darren Richards, Managing Director of leading offsite experts, Cogent Consulting – discusses the changing face of the construction industry.

We can all be seduced by the proposition that advanced manufactured building systems offer. Most of us, faced with the normal vagaries of the construction site, find this particularly appealing, with a vision of perfect control over the weather, deliveries, materials, labour, skills availability and work instructions. But how feasible is it for the manufacturing facility to deliver these specific repeated procedures where practice can really make perfect?

Optimised Offsite Manufacture

Manufacturing facilities can provide the sort of environment that the average construction site manager can only dream of. Add to this the use of sophisticated jigs and fixtures that are routine in the modern factory process and operatives can achieve repeat procedures that are accurate and fault free. In the more advanced factories this is translated into semi-automated assembly production processes where the operator is assisted by mechanisation that further enhances the quality of output. This machinery can be computer controlled to record set-up data, detail work instructions specific to the task and traceability information that can be used to trace components or materials in the event of a latent defect issue or premature failure.

There is no reason why the visions that are regularly portrayed in the automotive sector should not become commonplace in the building sector. Robot manufacture of complete building elements is a plausible reality where the human interface is limited to material input and product take off. The quality in this production environment should be exemplary and make zero defects a real possibility. This is the panacea that we all strive to create.

The Challenge of Change

Many past problems with the adoption of offsite techniques were created because an inappropriate system was employed, or  different offsite products were mismatched on the one project. While offsite knowledge will one day be common place and a standard tool within the design team’s armoury, at present this expertise generally needs to be brought into the design team at an early stage to ensure that a suitable and project wide offsite strategy is in place and is followed – permitting optimised offsite manufacture via dynamic DfMA protocols.

So, what does the future hold? For certain we will see the manufacturing supply base continuing to grow to meet the quite incredible demand for these factory-based building methods. This growth in supply will bring with it some manufacturing companies that have the problems we have experienced in the past, but in the majority of cases, we should see those professional organisations already serving the industry growing both their capacity and their capability to offer enhanced quality and proven product ranges. These companies will continue to invest in sophisticated manufacturing plant and advanced quality management systems that are essential to deliver modern standards of product performance. The future is construction in the factory and we are on an exciting journey there.