Digitalisation and autonomous processes are propelling the manufacturing industry into a Fourth Industrial Revolution. With technology providing connectivity and data-driven insights to the manufacturing sector, can it also solve challenges facing the construction industry? Here, Nick Cowley, managing director at window and door supplier to the offsite construction industry, Euramax, explains how offsite construction allows building project managers to use the infrastructure of the manufacturing industry to overcome industry challenges.
Offsite construction involves fabricating the elements of a building under controlled factory conditions, in a location away from the installation site. This approach takes advantage of the modular building method, where separate units are manufactured individually then brought to site and joined together. The modules of the building include walls, roofs, windows and doors and even entire rooms, such as bathroom pods or contained accommodation units.
Offsite construction is increasing in popularity, with the Lloyds Bank annual housebuilding report finding that 68 per cent of housebuilders are investing in modular housing. With its ability to significantly shorten construction time, without compromising building quality, offsite construction has the potential to solve many of the challenges facing the building industry.
The main reasons for productivity difficulties in the building industry can be pinpointed to a lack of technological advancement and inefficient use of time. This has been overcome in the manufacturing industry through digitalised processes and paperless manufacturing.
Many manufacturers have discarded their paper trail of information and adopted a seamless digital system, which connects all equipment and processes together. These systems can display real time data for easy monitoring and can synchronise processes to maximise productivity and efficiency. Factory workers now have a stream of data at their fingertips, cutting wasted time searching for information.
In contrast, ask someone to describe the equipment of a construction project manager and common answers are likely to include a clipboard, pen and paper. In fact, around 40 per cent of construction companies still use manual recording methods rather than a digital system.
This outdated process encourages mistakes and misinterpretation on construction sites, and falls far behind the advanced digital recording and monitoring systems used in the manufacturing industry. Updates to daily reports, punch lists and blueprints can get buried and lost when recorded on paper, meaning keeping track of information is a challenging task.
During offsite construction, automated production techniques use advanced robotics that are connected by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in order to manufacture building parts. This allows superior monitoring of production lines, which can be used to streamline processes and keep a clear and comprehensive record, minimising mistakes and reducing production time.
The Buildoffsite report found that offsite building can reduce onsite construction time by up to 30 per cent for large buildings, such as office blocks and supermarkets, and 60 per cent for smaller projects, such as schools.
Increase profit margins
A large number of construction companies operate on the low margin, high volume business model, with margins as low as 1.5 per cent considered a normality. This is largely driven by the fact that low offers win business, so low margins are necessary to survive in the competitive industry. With margins being so low, construction projects are commonly focused on getting the job done as quickly and as cheaply as possible.
Setting unreasonably short time frames inevitably has negative repercussions. Pressurised workers can become stressed, which is not only damaging to their mental health, but also increases the chances of disrupting and potentially dangerous mistakes. Unrealistic project deadlines can cause corners to be cut, so work is of a lower quality and health and safety concerns become an afterthought.
Building components of the construction project offsite can save money and in turn increase profit margins. Manufacturing facilities can use automated equipment to produce materials faster and require less manual labour. The resourceful manufacturing techniques also mean less supplies are wasted. By only transporting the constructed components to the building site when needed, the probability of damage from weather conditions or onsite equipment is also reduced.
It’s important to work with a trusted supplier that can deliver high quality products to ensure a successful modular build project. Euramax is experienced in supplying quality PVCu windows and doors for modular buildings. Offering a range of products that can be transported from the factory and installed in pre-fabricated construction sites across the country, Euramax’s PVCu windows are easy to install, providing a cost effective solution that meets security and energy efficiency requirements.
The construction industry is key to UK infrastructure, yet its productivity and profit margins can risk falling behind the fast pace of the manufacturing industry. However, it’s possible to merge the two. Offsite construction allows housebuilders to benefit from industry’s advancements by bringing construction to the manufacturing plant. The use of automated equipment connected to the IIoT enables faster production with a comprehensive digital record — helping boost project productivity and increase profit margins.