The Pace of Change

How realistic is it to think that an industry where productivity levels have stagnated for over 20 years is going to be transformed through incremental improvements? Peter Blunt, Board
Member for the Structural Timber Association (STA) and Managing Director of Innovaré Systems, shares some thought-provoking ideas on fundamental improvements.

The reality is that the industry learning how to do what it currently does a bit better, will not reduce the increasing gap between prerequisite and actual outcome. With so many influencing factors, the prospect of major construction projects being delivered late and over budget, will remain.

A lot of good work is being done in the areas of inclusion and diversity, but the fundamental question remains – if the industry works in much the same way as it always has, will it deliver the same results, and will it prove an attractive career proposition? The industry has to consider if there is a realistic answer to the skills crisis beyond the aspiration to widen recruitment outside the traditional pool of labour. 

New Ideas and Approaches

For a host of reasons, traditional construction methods, even with better technology – will not provide the answer. The challenge has grown to a size that demands more radical solutions. Fortunately, we do not have to invent the solution, we just need to make more use of what is already available. Without any compromise on building design, function or performance, building with offsite manufactured structural timber systems can:

• Reduce build times by up to 30%

• Deliver greater confidence in budgets and timings

• Provide better guarantees of build quality and thermal performance

• Diminish the demand for skilled onsite labour

• Improve the integration of design and build to ensure buildability

The temptation to stick with the familiar is always strong. But when the familiar is proven to be failing and not up to the challenge, then where is the biggest risk – sticking with what you know probably will not work or opting for an approach that has proven it can deliver the outcomes you need?

The construction sector needs to improve productivity and build faster. It is widely recognised that offsite construction can deliver the step-change in performance that is needed. Yet, as the recently published House of Lords report identifies, the pace of change within the industry is still a problem. Part of the reason seems to be the practical reality that buyers are judged on how low they can get the cost. The need to shift the focus from construction cost to lifetime value is an ongoing discussion, but ever-tightening budgets for public sector bodies who commission the work make it unlikely that this ‘cultural blocker’ will disappear any time soon.

The House of Lords report is urging the construction industry to achieve a higher state of productivity and predictability through the pace and quality of manufactured construction. If the Government is serious about making progress they need to lead by example in their procurement and set the private sector a challenge to follow suit. Lifetime value is often enhanced through the adoption of offsite techniques. But this does not mean that construction costs cannot also equal, or beat, those of traditional construction – as the independent Timber and Masonry Cost Comparison Report by Rider Levett Bucknall UK, clearly demonstrates. It is vital to look forward, but we also know how critical it is to provide an effective solution for procurement professionals in the here and now.

Original link: Structural Timber Magazine Autumn Issue

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