STEEL HORIZONS event proves construction industry winner in London despite rail strikes

STEEL HORIZONS event a showcase for the application of modern construction methods globally.

The focus of Howick Ltd on innovation in construction and advocating for better ways of building came to the fore recently through a unique event in London. Aptly named STEEL HORIZONS | London 2022, the event took place on Thursday, 23 June in the Penthouse Suite of New Zealand House in Haymarket, central London. The venue delivered on its promise, providing panoramic views of the London skyline to inspire and delight. Feedback from guests also suggests the content lived up to expectations too.

The by-invitation event was initially over-subscribed. Despite a national rail strike in the UK, attendance on the day was such that extra seating was needed to accommodate everyone. Many guests literally went the extra mile to attend. In one example, someone drove for many hours each way to make it from Harrogate in the north of the country. It also had a true international flavour with attendees and participants from as far afield as the US, New Zealand, Lithuania and Portugal as well as the UK.

Guest speakers representing a range of leading-edge construction disciplines provided insights and case studies of how construction is benefitting from new ways of thinking about the design and build process.

After initial introductions, Dave Cooper opened proceedings with a quick-fire global view of innovation in the built environment. Dave is co-founder of US-based modern methods of construction media company Dave Cooper LIVE. He spends his time visiting and speaking with construction businesses the world over that are “building better buildings smarter”. His talk summarised some of the key themes he sees emerging, zooming in on the insight that “the profit is in the process”. With global supply chains a disaster area currently, new entrants are adopting digitisation, data, and other technologies to transform the sector. His parting observation was that innovation is everywhere, collaboration is key and the tech to take construction to the next level is out there – you just need to work out how it fits and use it to your advantage to grow and scale.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”. That quote by Buckminster Full sums up the approach that drives Chun Qing Li (Lee). Lee, founder, and CVO of KREOD, presented some amazing design-to-build technologies and systems being developed and employed by his KREOD group of companies. Defining what his businesses do as ‘digital master builders’, he emphasised the need to pre-empt and solve problems in advance of construction. “It’s all about risk management, identifying the foreseeable site challenges in advance and using that insight to inform the design-to-build process”, he stated. Through complete showcases, Lee brought to life how efficiencies in the build process have equalled higher profit margins for his businesses and better buildings for his clients.

Scott Mitchell, founder of computational construction and design business STUD-IO in the US, provided a showcase on how his firm is pushing the boundaries of light steel fabrication. He described his background as “playing around with digital fabrication equipment to re-imagine how it can be applied to architecturally complex projects”. He explained how the relatively small number of high precision basic functions that CNC machines are capable of can be reimagined to create truly complex physical built structures. “We play the Howick machine like a game… like you would play a musical instrument.” he said. “It’s similar to a music score where a small number of simple notes can be combined to create a symphony.” STUD-IO takes typical use cases and applies computational techniques to change the perceived boundaries of machines. This means Howick machines designed to output straight roll-formed steel components can be employed to create complex construction designs, including curved studs.

Nicola Moriarty, Director of Structural & Civil at international architectural design and engineering firm Bryden Wood, gave an insightful overview of The Forge project in Southwark on London’s South Bank. This project pushed boundaries – literally and figuratively – acting as a proof point for Bryden Wood’s ‘kit of parts’ construction philosophy. As an example, Nicola mentioned the façade which was reduced to about ten elements that could be componentised, picked up and delivered just in time in a pre-defined order for install onsite. The benefits of this approach are manyfold. Specific analysis identified a 30% reduction in embodied carbon usage and 13.5% increase in productivity – all despite the significant workforce and supply chain issues caused by the pandemic. 

Matthew Teague, Senior Architect & Project Manager at Tata Steel, spoke on the topic of design-led, manufacturer-enabled construction and how Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) can make for better buildings. Tata Steel is the largest steel maker in the UK. Their main facility at Port Talbot has capacity for about 6million tonnes of liquid steel and contributes 8,500 jobs and GBP3.5 billion to the local economy. Matthew highlighted the main challenge for Tata Steel is to make new steel in a sustainable way. The drive towards DfMA has a big part to play in this, he said. Lower costs, faster delivery, improved export all contribute. Referring to The Forge example, he noted that normally such a building would use 30 times more steel beams. In this case, it also achieved a 22% reduction in embodied carbon.  This exemplifies why smarter construction practices, using kits of parts and selling products direct from manufacturer are central to Tata Steel’s engagement strategy.

Our final speaker of the day was Howick’s own, CEO Nick Coubray. Nick provided an overview of recent and forthcoming innovations, starting with the Howick X-TENDATM 3600 which produces extendable framing for interiors. When it comes to uneven and non-level infill requirements, speed is often the biggest driver but accurate measurement is difficult and time consuming. Extendable framing produced by the X-TENDATM 3600 overcomes this by expanding in any direction to fit any space, irrespective of how level it is. Nick demonstrated that installation times with telescopic frames flat packed delivered 50% time savings, and as much as 70% when these were delivered panelised instead of flat pack. In another case study, a contractor undertaking a fire stopping installation for double-T concrete floors with extendable frames was able to fit each one in 2.5 minutes. It was taking one hour normally. Other developments Nick spoke of included a new coil loading system using human operated robotic technology to provide improved health and safety on the factory floor as well as reduced down time. He also provided details of heavier systems that are being employed to allow for wider spans and replace hot rolled steel alternatives for load bearing requirements.

After the presentations, attendees enjoyed drinks and hors d’oeuvres giving guests the opportunity to mingle with industry peers, speak to presenters and enjoy the panoramic views.

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July 2022   #News