Offsite Manufacturing – Can it solve the skills shortage?
Posted on by Neil O'Sullivan
Neil O’Sullivan, Marketing Manager for Stanton Bonna Concrete Ltd., explores whether the construction industry needs to be braver in adopting offsite manufacturing methods to overcome skills shortages and improve whole life costing of its assets.
There is a much-publicised skills shortage in the construction industry, which if we believe the reports will only get worse. With many ambitious infrastructure projects in the pipeline, new more efficient methods of working need to be utilised, including offsite manufacturing.
Now that there is more emphasis on whole life costs of product and systems within infrastructure, correct installation is vital. A lack of skilled workers is a problem that could hold back the industry and its aspirations. Even if it was possible, increasing the number of trades people on site would add significant cost and be less productive.
To achieve the resilience required, there is an increasing recognition that the entire supply chain needs to react, since the long-term durability and future maintenance, of let’s say an access cover or grating, depends on far more than just the manufacturer’s product.
One obvious answer is to train the contractors and then ensure that they adhere to best practice. While this is vital, I would argue that this will not meet all of the needs of our industry moving forwards.
Let’s explore an ironwork installation by way of illustration. Multiple factors will determine its future life cost including the ironwork, the materials used during installation including the bedding mortar used and how it is installed.
Moving much of this process from site to a manufacturing facility will make the final installation better since you have the benefit of factory controlled quality assurance from a plant that conforms to ISO9001 systems. This removes much of the doubt inherent in onsite assembly and installation.
Productivity on a traditional construction site is typically estimated at 30-35%, with 50% seen as best in class. So much time is spent waiting due to weather, availability of materials, people etc. In contrast, factory productivity is typically estimated at 85%. Anyone seeking to maximise their investment simply has to consider this.
It also overcomes the problem of a skills shortage since those people on site can concentrate on more value-added tasks than pouring concrete. Often the near complete installation is simply craned into place and then secured.
And there are numerous other benefits to offsite manufacturing – it is safer, installation on site is far quicker reducing disruption from for example roadworks and the total cost of the installation is lower.
To achieve more offsite construction requires collaboration throughout the supply chain. It is often at the tier 3 or 4 level, the manufacturers of products and systems, who will provide the solution. And the best solutions are often achieved when groups of manufacturers collaborate with each other as well as with the other levels in the supply chain.
A final thought, it is simply not enough to carry on as we always have within the construction industry if we want to find better more resilient solutions. Culturally we have to be brave and overcome the “but we’ve always done it like this” argument. At Stanton Bonna we have several examples that illustrate that those brave enough to adopt offsite manufacturing are already reaping the rewards in terms of quicker and safer installations with less maintenance and disruption.