This is the second in our series of “The Future of Construction”, part of Howick’s STEEL HORIZONS thought leadership initiative – our commitment to championing better ways to build and inspiring the construction sector. Hosted by renowned construction industry online talk show host Dave Cooper, this series explores the world of high-tech advanced methods using real world case studies.
In part 1, Dave Cooper went onsite with British Offsite Managing Director Shaun Weston to see how, as a specialist in modular construction solutions, they are turning the sector on its head.
In part 2, Dave Cooper hits the factory floor with British Offsite Operations Manager Grant Mettam to discover their high-efficiency workflow and learn how it is all leading to an automated future.
British Offsite Limited, part of the Weston Group, is a highly advanced manufacturing company specialising in the design and production of interior fit out and modular construction solutions.
When a British Offsite UNI Panel arrives onsite, it is ready to go with internal and external insulation, vapour control layer, sheathing board, façade support system, permanent slab edge formwork head channel, windows, doors and vent apertures.
It effectively consolidates five trades into one panel that now only needs to be lifted and fixed in place, ready for concrete to be poured.
What makes all this possible is the precision offsite manufacturing, and the efficient workflow that British Offsite has developed in their test facility. Through trial and improvement, the team has simplified the process down to just five stations within the factory.
“The Howick machine prints it how we need it, and it becomes a big Meccano set. Then we just follow the technical drawings and put it all together,” says Grant Mettam.
The head-shutter and eyebolts are added to the internal framing, and a vapour control layer (VCL) is put in place and taped to create an airtight banner.
The now airtight panels are fully insulated using Rocksilk.
Exterior Windliner board is fixed and taped down, creating a fully formed air barrier.
The panel is lifted vertically and windows and openings are set place, along with flashings, before the now complete panels are craned onto trucks for transport to site.
Using this precision manufacturing approach and just-in-time methods can help developers manage site skill or storage shortages, reduce health and safety risks, and minimise site waste.
However, it is only the first step for British Offsite in a move towards full automation.
In practical terms, their factory today is “a test facility” for a second facility being built in Braintree, UK that will be 137,000m2 and quadruple their production capacity.
“Next year we're moving to the bigger facility with automation at the front end of the line, so half the process will be fully automated,” says Grant.
To protect their £37 million investment in automation, British Offsite set up the current facility to figure out the system, create prototypes and get approvals first. They then used those learnings to design a highly automated facility that uses robots and the best technology out there.
“We can get everything right. Make sure it's how it needs to be, both for the business and the customer, and then move on the process from there,” says Grant.
For Dave, this is a critical point others should consider when approaching an automation transformation project.
“You can take incremental steps to build what your supply chain's going to look like and do it in a way that makes sense for your business. You don't have to go fully automated right out of the gate.”
While many fear job loses with automation, that is not the case for the British Offsite team.
“We are going to be training the current workforce and showing them modern technology so they can be at the forefront with us as well,” says Grant.
“We're also launching the British Offsite Training Academy. Everybody will have their place within that, and it will all be fully mapped out for everybody there.”
As a pioneer in the technology of light steel roll-forming systems, we see ourselves as part of the solution in the construction industry striving for better, smarter ways of doing things. STEEL HORIZONS is Howick’s thought leadership initiative which focuses on innovation in construction and advocating for better ways to build, and provides an avenue to bring together the brightest minds in the offsite and modular industry to collaborate together and inspire each other.
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