Darren Richards introduces a toolkit that maximises off-site technology’s potential

Off-site technology manufacturers, software developers, engineers and architects are promising to transform the construction industry with a vision of new buildings designed and built in a completely different way – one that puts responsibility for design not just on architects but on the people who will construct the building. This presents a radical opportunity, with efficient design processes, CAD/CAM-linked production facilities and even the possibility of client design visualisations and rapid prototyping.

To maximise the potential for the efficient use of off-site methods, an off-site project toolkit has been developed by Loughborough University in conjunction with CIRIA, the DTI and leading industry exponents. Now at Release 2.0 and available from Buildoffsite, the toolkit contains more than 100 practical examples of off-site technology in use.

The off-site project toolkit has been created to help organisations and individuals:

  • learn more about standardisation (the extensive use of processes and components with regularity and repetition) and pre-assembly - in the off-site world this is abbreviated to S&P
  • identify opportunities, and develop appropriate strategies when adopting S&P techniques in construction.

The toolkit shows how to use off-site solutions to achieve a step-change in levels of site health and safety; value for money; reduced cost, time and defects; and increased profitability, productivity and predictability.

Many clients and designers recognise standard building products, standard forms of contract, standard details, design or specifications and standard processes, procedures or techniques. They see these as positive factors associated with better quality, predictability and cost-effectiveness.

However, there are still some who only see S&P in the light of some of the failures of the past such as dull buildings where there has been loss of identity and flexibility. These views are outdated and inappropriate. By using the toolkit and engaging the supply-chain at the earliest opportunity, designs will evolve into structurally and ergonomically efficient solutions that can be “dressed-up” to emulate almost all the design solutions that conventional construction techniques achieve.

Project teams often comment that their particular project constraints are unique and that they need to start from scratch. This view has also proved to be fallacious. All designers and constructors bring forward ideas and knowledge from their previous projects and adapt them to the new situation. Often this is done on an ad-hoc basis, and opportunities for continuous improvement and innovation may be lost as a result.

The toolkit will help develop both implementation and measurement strategies:

  • Strategy tools – help develop an S&P strategy for a project by defining drivers and constraints such as: time, cost, quality, sustainability; or site constraints such as: health and safety, access, logistics or procurement schedules, each addressing the rationale at different points in time for a project.
  • Implementation tools – help deliver measurements of project performance and measure the benefits of the chosen strategy in terms of monetary/efficiency values or performance/qualitative values, leading to the generation of S&P indices to create a key performance indicator-style measure for a project.

Measurement of project benefits allows project team members to evaluate their decisions before embarking on similar tasks in the future. It also enables the client to assess whether the project objectives have been met through the S&P strategy. Evaluation of project benefits continues after construction.

S&P indices are used to determine the extent of S&P used on a project and may be compared with other projects or applied as a key performance indicator to establish an industry benchmark. With KPIs the S&P indices are used alongside other indices to confirm the performance of one or more particular projects. They could also be shared with others to inform industry and its suppliers via a national network (www.kpizone.com) to help improve the overall delivery of S&P in construction.

Although standardisation and pre-assembly can be considered separately, maximum benefits will be realised when they are used together as part of a project-wide or organisation-wide strategy. Piecemeal application may bring some improvements, but full benefits will come through effective implementation of an overall strategy from the earliest possible stage. This is because the effects of S&P are often not realised in the elements or components themselves but elsewhere in the project process.

There is no good reason why the construction industry should not adopt and apply new practices in precisely the same way as almost all other industries. This is of course a message that leading businesses have already grasped.