The contribution of the construction industry is enormous in creating a built environment that is a platform for our economic success and our personal and collective wellbeing.
As minister for industry, I know that the influence of construction goes further than simply providing the “shell” in which other activities take place. Excellence in design of constructed assets is vital to help increase productivity and business competitiveness and to improve working conditions.
Put simply, we could not function as a country, nor compete in the global economy, without the structures that the industry provides. So it is essential that the construction industry works closely with its clients, its supply chain and its end users to find new ways in which to improve its productivity and the quality of its products. My own experience as “client” for first design of the Cardiff Bay Opera House and earlier for St David’s Hall taught me that such team work is crucial, and not an optional extra.
Off-site construction represents just the sort of innovative approach we need to ensure our industry remains in the vanguard of delivering world-class products. It is puzzling that although the principles have been around for decades, take-up of this technique has been limited until comparatively recently. To any other industry sector it would be anathema for a process that offers improved quality, predictability, modern production efficiency, production control and improved conditions for its workforce to be undervalued and underused for so long.
Clearly that view is now shared by an increasing number of influential designers, clients and contractors, and over the past few years they have reaped the rewards from off-site construction. In my conversations with these teams it is clear that the key to their success lies in their having engaged with manufacturers at an early stage and taken the time to truly understand the circumstances where off-site solutions can add value to construction. That also involves identifying situations where the benefits are less certain. Crucially, with the specialist insight that manufacturers can offer, these teams have learnt how to get the best from the manufacturing process and adapted their own processes to ensure that this happens. They have gone a long way to achieve genuine supply chain integration.
So the off-site industry has now come of age. It is poised to offer a step-change in the way construction projects are delivered. If we, as a country, are to grasp the benefits that off-site construction can offer, we need to ensure everyone is up to date with this modern construction practice. That involves professionals, industry leaders and everyone engaged in the construction process. And, yes, planners and regulators need to take informed decisions, too.
It is now accepted that we operate in a global economy and product manufacturers need to continuously benchmark their product range against the best in the world. To meet client aspirations they also need to find products and product processes that enable a high level of standardisation while offering the potential for creative design to the market.
Building’s special publication on off-site construction will stimulate interest and provide vital information to the construction industry and its clients. This is why I am pleased to provide the foreword to this year’s edition. It is good news that Richard Ogden, chairman of the DTI-sponsored Buildoffsite, has agreed to an in-depth interview for this publication. As Richard was one of the pioneers of modern, efficient, off-site manufacturing, I am confident that Buildoffsite will provide the vital focal point for the off-site industry and its clients.
In light of our successful Olympic bid, it is important we all take a fresh look at off-site construction so that the whole country can be part of London’s success. I look forward to seeing fresh ideas triggered by this publication.
Rt Hon Alun Michael MP
Offsite Directory October 2005
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