Has Covid Brought Construction Methods to a Crossroads?

The case in favour of greater use of offsite construction has largely been settled. Faster build times, better quality, more cost certainty and less environmental impact are some of the factors that convinced the Government to adopt a presumption in favour of offsite for publicly funded projects well before Covid ever appeared.

The Farmer Report, analysis by KPMG and a study by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee all pointed to offsite manufacturing as the future. The question is will Covid finally make it the present with the added element of social distancing being the tipping point for customers and contractors to accelerate the adoption of offsite?

Construction finds itself at a bit of a crossroads. We are at a potentially pivotal point where more use of offsite in projects to recover lost time on existing build programmes and speed up new projects will create more investment to build production capacity, so that offsite can reach its true potential and become the preferred method of construction. The problem up to now is that manufacturers are not seeing a secure enough pipeline to be confident that the equipment and technology they invest in will be kept busy.

How to Manage Demand and Capacity?

There’s a big difference between traditional construction – where uncertain demand is managed by flexing the size of the workforce or supply chain – and a manufacturing business where production lines need to be developed and then kept rolling.

The problem is that up to now at the client or main contractor level, the new methods that are proven to deliver are seen as risky, compared to established methods that frequently fall short when it comes to timing, sustainability and quality. It is no surprise that these are the 3 key objectives set out in the Government infrastructure investment programme – they have been the same objectives set out by clients for many years, but a risk-averse procurement culture has held the industry back.

The massive shockwave to the industry and economy from Covid can be the catalyst where buyers will be jolted out of the apparent comfort zone of methods they know and understand. If it does, then greater certainty over the pipeline will in turn trigger more investment in technology and equipment that will make offsite even more efficient and economically beneficial.

The Driving Forces of Change Are Not Going Away

Construction already has a skills shortage. Brexit and an ageing workforce will almost certainly make this shortage more acute. This will push up costs and make traditional builds even less likely to be delivered on schedule.

The drive for zero carbon by 2050 will bring greater focus on the disparity in performance between the highly sustainable offsite methods and traditional construction as one of the worst performing industries.

And when offsite becomes seen as the most viable way to guarantee that projects are delivered on time and on budget, it will start to gather pace and favour those prepared to be braver in the buying decisions.

For those that do, our 15 year track record of delivering projects will hopefully provide them with the confidence they need to realise the time, quality and environmental benefits of offsite.

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