From manual pre-cuts to digital precision: The evolution of light gauge steel

“The Future of Construction” series is part of Howick’s STEEL HORIZONS thought leadership initiative. It is 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 episodes 1-3, Dave discusses offsite manufacturing with the team at British Offsite before exploring the world of “digital-to-physical” design with the creative minds at Bryden Wood in episodes 4-6.

In episodes 7-9, Dave hits the factory floor with Frameclad SFS Founder and CEO Mark Munns and Chief Operating Officer Martin Jamieson. Together Mark and Martin have more than 50 years of experience working with light gauge steel (LGS). They have been at the coal-face of change in the industry, and share how they have adapted Frameclad to serve the construction sector of tomorrow.

Taking a technology-first approach


For Mark Munns and Martin Jamieson, one thing about the future of construction is clear: digital design and automation have already transformed the industry, and this will only accelerate.

Where working with LGS was once a labour-intensive operation that involved skilled teams doing manual pre-cuts, it is now driven at the front end by digital technology. This has vastly improved speed, efficiency and accuracy.

“With today’s technology, we can roll our steel coils through the Howick machine to be pre-punched and pre-cut, and bring it all into a semi-skilled operation,” says Martin.

With significant skill shortages in the UK at present, being able to run their factories with mostly semi-skilled labour is a real plus.


Here is how a typical Frameclad job looks today:

1.     Receive architectural drawings from the client

2.     Prepare a solution and budget for client approval

3.     Load a digital design file onto the Howick machine

4.     The Howick machine shapes components with accuracy

5.     Stack components in correct order for efficient assembly into panels

6.     Pre-assemble or flat-pack panels for onsite assembly.

“We can turn around a pair of semi-detached houses in about four weeks. Then it would be about another four to six weeks to go through the full design data and assembly process to get to site,” says Mark.

Seamless workflow delivers optimal efficiency

Dave Cooper acknowledges the value of being able to sequence production at a component level.

“They actually stack it in an order to where the assembly line can then put it together efficiently and quickly and accurately. That’s important.”

“You don't want trucks running up and grabbing the actual top floor first,” says Dave.

With this seamless workflow, Frameclad can offer clients incredible control and flexibility with just-in-time delivery or on-the-fly adjustments.

“If a builder needs something quickly, you can just run it for them,” says Dave, “I think that’s great.”

Opening up new markets


Investing in cutting-edge technology has also opened up new markets. Whether it is a few components or everything for a 10-story building – including insulation, fire-rated materials and more – Frameclad can help.

“We do more than supply lengths of steel to people,” says Martin.

“We supply assembled panels, pre-boarded panels, full volumetric, full 2D panels, pre-finished windows, and services going in.

“Our technology opens up a lot of things we can do in the factory and take it away from the site”.

This can de-risk projects for weather events, crowded worksites, sub-contractor availability and other threats.

The changing role of people

Rather than replacing people, technology is refocusing the Frameclad team to concentrate on where they can add value with problem-solving and innovation.

In particular, Mark credits many of their unique designs and layouts to the daily collaboration between the engineering and commercial teams.

“They bounce off one another to come up with solutions that work. So we've become very pragmatic just by our guys being intertwined together.”

Capacity to grow the market

Looking forwards, Frameclad is focused on growing and increasing volume.

Even with a bustling factory floor, and trucks leaving every day for sites across the UK, Mark says the team can easily handle more with its highly productive workflow.

They are well poised to meet increased demand and their forward-thinking culture gives them the ability to anticipate what the market requires.


STEEL HORIZONS is a thought-leadership initiative launched by Howick. As a pioneer and world leader in light gauge steel, we are passionate about the possibilities of technology, automation and data; and about bringing together the brightest minds in the offsite and modular industry to collaborate together and inspire each other.

If you are interested in accessing videos and presentations from our 2022 UK event, simply click here and join us.


February 2023   #Features