UK construction sector has a rebuilding job to do

Dr Miles Watkins, CEO of Tufeco Build Systems, explains why genuine transformation is desperately needed in the UK’s outdated and conventional building sector.

The construction industry has barely moved forward compared to many other business sectors over the last few hundred years. A period of modernisation is long overdue. For evidence of this, just look at the pressures facing various high-profile companies such as Carillion, Interserve and Kier Group in recent times.

The industry has been squeezing margins and quality to breaking point, when what it really needs to do is take completely different approach.

In traditional construction projects every build is different and often unpredictable. When problems need to be solved, time is wasted and money is lost. We just can’t afford such inefficiencies.

There is pressure in the UK to increase the number of affordable homes and modular construction is already starting to make an impact in this space. But similarly, modular is also suitable for schools hospitals, retail offices – there are limitless possibilities with what you can design, and no reason why you can’t substitute traditional construction methods with modular.

Ultimately, the ambition within the modular construction industry is to produce much higher quality buildings, much faster, and at a reasonable cost.

We’re already seeing huge strides being made around the world in modular construction – whereby homes and other buildings are manufactured off-site, transported to their end destination and then quickly constructed on site.

The homes that ports build

So this begs the question, why not do this at a port where you have great access to the world’s best materials and the opportunity to export locally made modules abroad? 

In the UK, many construction businesses source materials domestically, but some will bring materials in from abroad. Ports have great logistical access to these raw materials – plus in some cases the logistical infrastructure and partners to deliver these goods inland.

Ports have the space to create manufacturing opportunities to make modular – space big enough to assemble and manufacture components and include anything from frames, walls, whole units, readymade rooms complete with fittings, such as bathrooms and kitchens.

A good model to look at is the motor industry and car manufacturing. Thousands of vehicles are made in the UK using components from around the world and sent for export due to our high quality manufacturing techniques and workmanship. The same can happen with British-made modular construction.

A healthier supply chain

We’re working with Peel Ports as an ideal partner to undertake modular construction and open the door to exporting these products abroad. With ports on all sides of the UK and an existing supply network of raw products and trusted supply chain partners, Peel Ports is incredibly well positioned.

With modular construction long term supply chain partners are key – companies that are strong, stable and invest for the future.

Such partners bring stability and quality management into producing products – allowing companies such as ours to research, develop and invest in the best way of manufacturing, rather than looking at it project-by-project.

That’s not to say modular products all look the same. Unlike normal construction processes we work directly with the client to produce tailored results. But our working methods mean we can build in guaranteed quality, consistency and reliability.

So, what does the future look like? Well, in my view, when clients want to commission a hospital, an office block or social housing, they’ll be contacting a manufacturer not a builder.

The traditional construction industry has good reason to be nervous, unless it can show it’s got the ambition, capabilities and nerve to embark on a transformation programme.

Dr Miles Watkins is CEO of Tufeco Build Systems and a Trustee Board Member of the Institute of Quarrying.

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