Quality and cost certainty with engineered off-site solutions

on 12 October, 2017

We are in the midst of uncertain times with construction experts citing increased costs for businesses over the coming years. Contractors have long been anticipating an impending rise in material costs following several years of relatively flat inflation. In this blog, I will consider how off-site technology can mitigate the impact of rising costs.

The industry is experiencing a rise in both material and labour costs - threatening what are already tight margins. The construction industry is able to counteract the rise in labour costs through innovations in the construction process and by adapting new technologies. We have seen in recent decades, organisations failing to recognise the positive impact of such innovations as off-site manufactured technology and therefore not adapting to the changing environment.

Technical advancements within the industry are seemingly at a slower rate than can be seen in other sectors of the economy, but have gained some momentum following the Farmer Report - Modernise or Die.

Off-site construction technologies allow us to enhance the use of labour through more efficient and productive processes - ultimately reducing extra costs and working towards filling the gap within the skills shortage. A study carried out by the Steel Construction Institute (SCI) on a four-storey residential building estimates that the total amount of site labour can be reduced by as much as 75% simply through the use of off-site construction.

The industry has seen shortages in locally available skills and in turn, a forced growth in wages. These skills shortages are increased when applying traditional methods of construction due to the need to employ ‘local' labour. However, the lack of local skills often results in the site workforce having to travel significant distances and being nomadic in nature. Off-site construction provides an alternative as employment is factory based and therefore permanent, enabling skill shortages and numbers to be easily addressed, not least through the ability to upskill and multi-skill through structured training programmes. Wherever a factory is based, the local economy will thrive through the provision of long-term sustainable jobs and income.

Here, at EOS Facades, we are specialists in off-site construction, our steel framing solutions are manufactured in our state-of-the-art factory to be delivered to site where they are directly lifted in to the correct position. This process is not reliant on traditional skills and is also significantly less weather dependent - avoiding possible setbacks to the build schedule.

Factory application of boarding and insulation reduces the risk of delay to follow on trades and helps minimise the on-site construction programme, therefore making savings on labour costs. The combination of accelerated handover times along with reduced lifetime repair and maintenance costs, are two major financial advantages to off-site construction. Rapid delivery provides other financial benefits, improving cash-flow - offering developers and contractors a faster return on investment.

Management of materials is a vital element in project planning and control. As materials now represent a growing expense - minimising procurement or purchase costs plays a significant part in the reduction of overall costs and the cash demand associated to extended ‘work in progress' activity. Poor materials management often results in large and avoidable costs during construction, too much wastage and offcut generation plus damage or defects due to site exposure.

Early involvement of the supply-chain is crucial in the design phase to enable the procurement of materials early enough to avoid any future issues.

Including the supply chain in the design phase enables developers to procure materials early enough to avoid issues with lead-in periods and mitigate inflation. This generates the opportunity to substitute materials if those originally specified are at a higher cost than anticipated or cannot be secured to meet or maintain the programme.

Steel systems offer architects greater versatility than other building solutions, particularly in terms of cost. Productivity advances in steel production have been achieved through the steel supply-chain and such cost saving benefits can be shared with contractors.

Light steel frame provides a lower cost option, due to reductions in material volume (tonnage), while still maintaining superior quality. Cost savings are made easy as a result of the speed of construction - the frame is installed rapidly on-site and resource efficiencies are also made due to the reduction of site-based labour.

Manufacture of light steel frame in exacting factory controlled conditions eradicates the risk of on-site variability, delivering safer construction and improved health and safety - these benefits, provide more predictable outcomes. Furthermore, the robust nature and longevity of light steel frame minimises long-term maintenance costs. Steel is unaffected by shrinkage or rotting, resulting in dramatically reduced repair and maintenance costs further down the line.

What the industry needs now is strategic planning to improve productivity and explore new opportunities, technologies and processes. The cost saving delivered by off-site technology create a clear distinction from traditional construction methods. It is clear that there is an imperative to improve industry performance to alleviate costs - designing and constructing in a more detailed manner and at a rapid pace, can achieve this. Modernisation is more than an option - it should now be viewed as an obligation.

Steve Thompson, Managing Director of EOS Facades.

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