Superstructure contractor in talks with car parts firm in bid to boost efficiency on Docklands tower block.
Superstructure contractor O’Rourke has called in car parts supplier Unipart to help improve productivity at the £200m Citigroup tower in London Docklands.

A source close to the deal said that O’Rourke asked representatives from Unipart to visit the site after the trade contractor became concerned that its construction of the 200 m high tower’s concrete service core was falling behind schedule.

O’Rourke confirmed that it is in discussions with Unipart about improving efficiency but refused to comment further. However, it is understood that O’Rourke entered into talks with the car part supplier last autumn. The source said that Unipart would advise on improving the efficiency of manufacturing and assembly processes, and would train O’Rourke managers to implement the Japanese management techniques revered by the car industry and Sir John Egan.

O’Rourke started on site at Citigroup last year and has now built the concrete core of the 42-storey tower to the 12th floor. It has 30 weeks of its programme remaining.

The lower half of the tower, designed by Canary Wharf architect Cesar Pelli & Associates with Adamson Associates, is due to open in the last quarter of 2001, with the remaining floors due to open in the first quarter of 2002.

Unipart is an expert on kaizen – the Japanese management technique pioneered by Toyota.

This promotes continuous improvement and constant reduction of waste. Most car manufacturers use kaizen or a variant of the technique.

Last summer, Unipart formed an alliance with QS Gleeds to provide off-the-shelf call centres. Unipart is co-ordinating efforts to reduce suppliers’ production times and contractors’ assembly times. The aim of the alliance is to reduce lead times for call centres from 15 months to just six weeks.

The Design Build Foundation has also taken an interest in Unipart. Design Build Foundation director Barry Holmes was due to lead a dozen industry leaders on a visit to Unipart’s headquarters in the Midlands. Holmes said the trip had been organised to find out how Unipart’s manufacturing and logistics expertise could be transferred to the construction industry.

O’Rourke, which had a turnover of £188m in the year to 31 March 1999, is also keen to improve its pre-tax profit margins, which stood at 3% in the same period. Although this marked a significant improvement on 1998’s figure of 1.4%, O’Rourke wants to break the 5% barrier and considers waste reduction a crucial part of delivering extra profit.