Explore Manufacturing – Excellent example of manufacturing in construction

On 27 September our Offsite Manufacturing & Technology Group were delighted to visit the Explore Manufacturing Centre near Worksop. This pioneering facility has been at the forefront of the application of manufacturing principles in the construction sector. The group were certainly not disappointed by what they saw! The 215 acre site, the most modern concrete facility in Europe, is strategically located to be within 1 day transportation of most of the UK. It demonstrates how the use of digital technology combined with a manufacturing-based approach can deliver better outcomes for all involved.

Key learning points included:

  • The importance of logistics – Explore Manufacturing is supported by Explore Transport, a joint venture between Laing O’Rourke and logistics company, William Stobart Transport to ensure effective delivery of the product to site. Moving towards higher pre-manufactured value and more sophisticated systems means just in time delivery takes on much more significance.
  • Standardisation and digital engineering – To unlock the true value of manufacturing the sector needs to be more standardised. The team at Explore Manufacturing have been doing a considerable amount of work in identifying where components can be standardised, leading to time, cost and quality benefits.
  • Learning from other sectors – Setting up the factory involved expertise from manufacturing experts rather than construction sector experts. The team looked carefully at how manufacturing lines were set up in the automotive sector and worked with external manufacturing experts to design the most effective factory lay-out.
  • It takes time – Many of the approaches don’t deliver benefits on the first project, as with any manufacturing project, it takes time and repeatability to deliver the predicted savings.
  • Traditional models and views – As ever procurement and an industry that is not set up to support manufacturing principles, either contractually or professionally holds back the effective uptake of offsite manufacturing. Procurement and traditional views on cost and engineering can hold back progress.
  • Better for operatives – The value of going to a single, clean workplace, protected from the elements, has helped attract and retain a workforce that is a combination of skilled steel fixers and semi-skilled labour. The production line approach considerably improves the productivity of labour. Also co-locating design services with manufacturing enables a much greater scope for knowledge transfer.

The offsite manufacturing and technology group also reported some positive progress in the last quarter. In particular an increase in private equity and VC funds looking at investing in the offsite sector. Also from the manufacturers perspective an increase in clients and consultants want to engage with the manufacturer community much earlier and showing much more respect for their expertise and knowledge. There remain frustrations in the group around procurement and lack of awareness amongst clients of how to go about procuring for offsite.

The Offsite Manufacturing & Technology Theme Group will be visiting the Stewart Milne Factory on 28 November.

Alan Clucas, MD of Explore Manufacturing will be presenting at the Constructing Excellence Annual Conference on 12 December.

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