Combining the benefits of partnering and off-site manufacture

There are very few building projects that could not benefit from some elements of prefabrication, such as packaged plant rooms to skid mounted assemblies such as pumps and pipework.
PAUL COOPER shares his views as an off-site manufacturer of the wider issues addressed by the concept.Working together is all the rage. Teamwork and collaboration are the two most overused buzzwords in the industry at the moment, and it is easy to be cynical — especially when there seems to be so much political involvement. The process of change in our sector is always painfully slow, and it seems increasingly unlikely that we will hit targets set by Sir John Egan and the Strategic Forum for Construction: namely that 20% of construction projects by value should have be undertaken by integrated teams by the end of last year, growing to 50% by 2007. Integrated teams However, as Egan said: ‘You cannot achieve world-class status overnight. It has to be done through continuous improvement through integrated teams…which will make it possible to profitably deliver products and services for clients.’ He added that industries would always struggle to reach their goals if ‘there was a bad process right at the heart of the system’, and, in the case of construction, he identified that as lowest-cost tendering. A low-price culture encourages fragmentation and undermines continuity, but it is still the favoured route for many clients because they cannot see any other way of measuring value for money. So we need levers for change, and we need to persuade clients that there is another way that does not expose them to greater risk. Important difference This is where the Construction Manufacturers Partnering Association (COMPASS) can make an important difference. This not-for-profit organisation is acting as a fulcrum for suppliers seeking to create collaborative teams by bringing complementary parts of the supply chain together. It has also set about equipping those teams with the tools to quicken the pace of supply chain reform. Its chairman Colin Ostler says: ‘The only sustainable drivers for lasting change are those that are economic in nature. The only motive for anyone to engage in reform is the certainty of improved results.’ The biggest improvement from a client’s perspective would be a reduction or even total elimination of defects and the associated cost overruns and project delays. COMPASS recognised that a radical approach to defects insurance is the key to speeding up the process of supply chain integration. Manufacturers able to give clients guarantees lasting 10 years or more on entire installations and cover for both product and workmanship defects should be in a powerful position. They would also meet Egan’s demand for ‘meaningful guarantees for clients’. And so COMPASSure was born — a whole new breed of defects insurance. ‘The development of this type of collateral insurance was one of the recommendations made by the Strategic Forum in its Accelerating Change report,’ said COMPASS executive secretary Alan Kennedy at the launch of the scheme. Closer collaboration “COMPASSure has been designed as a vehicle for supply-chain integration and higher standards of performance, quality and safety. By promoting closer collaboration between manufacturers and sub-contractors COMPASSure provides a welcome boost to the construction reform agenda.’ Independent inspection, self-certification and manufacturer support underpins the scheme, so that supplier and contractor can collaborate more closely to improve quality and reduce insurance costs. This scheme offers the reassurance that any client needs before taking that giant ‘leap of faith’ into a new way of working. It revolves around pre-assembled supply-chain teams consisting of closely integrated manufacturers and sub-contractors. The output — in terms of equipment and installation work — is underwritten. Relatively small manufacturers on their own would struggle to persuade clients that we represent a ‘no-risk’ approach, but this way procurers can take the leap of faith with a safety net in place. Key element Off-site manufacture of building modules is a key element in the COMPASSure philosophy as it represents the lowest-risk form of delivering complex services to building sites. The Government and leading figures in our industry seem to be solidly behind off-site fabrication too, which can play a key part in delivering better predictability and smooth the integration process. There are now very few building projects that could not benefit in some way from elements of pre-fabrication, but many system designers still do not consider it as an option. This is partly due to the nature of the traditional design process, which depends on too many people designing and then re-designing the proposed scheme. Once the consultant has checked and re-checked, the contractor tends to pull the whole thing apart again and then starts sourcing components from dozens of suppliers. This is wasteful, time consuming and often produces a system that does not work properly, and the soaring bill has to be met by the client. Pre-fabrication solves most predictability issues, as long as it is considered at the outset and the project team is designing with this approach in mind from day one. Product Architects, consultants and contractors have to adopt the mindset of manufacturers and see the finished building as a ‘product’ and not a whole range of loosely connected parts. Standard ‘objects’ that can be built into pre-fabricated plant rooms to meet a variety of needs are now being widely adopted by the more innovative design practices. The sizes and shapes of the finished product can be different, but made up of a series of easily replicable units — many of which could be taken out and reused. This is not the same as the post-War image of prefabrication, which is almost identical buildings. The architectural vision of the building does not need to be compromised, but we do need to cut down on the number of people involved in initial and then detailed design to reduce cost and improve quality. This approach has already paid dividends for us at Ormandy. The company has already reached turnover of £4 million almost two years ahead of schedule. Now employing over 40 staff, we had set ourselves the target of reaching £5 million turnover by 2006, but the growth in demand for pre-fabrication has played a big part in our being so far ahead of target. We can work the ‘traditional’ way and still do much of the time, but we did set the company up to take advantage of the drive towards both packaged equipment and working with a partnering mindset. The fact that it is happening even faster than we predicted suggests many people see this as the future. It is also important for clients to see that the technical and organisational expertise exists here in the UK to support off site fabrication and their desire for improved project efficiency. Paul Cooper is managing director of Ormandy Ltd, Atlas Works, Gibbet Street, Halifax HX1 4D.
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