EVOLVING THE WHEEL
With decades of offsite experience to draw on – and an early contributor to this publication – Cogent Consulting is hugely busy advising on a wide range of offsite delivery issues across the UK and overseas. We asked Managing Director, Darren Richards, about the present state of the market. DR: Without doubt the offsite industry has changed significantly over the past 5-years or so – mainly down to the numbers of new entrants into the manufacturing space and the consistency of messaging from Government. I am concerned that many of the new players in the sector do not really understand the magnitude of the challenge that our offsite manufacturing industry faces in scaling up and transitioning from ‘cottage industry’ to key player, and we are yet to see many significant successes at scale. Q: So much of the offsite conversation surrounds developing new systems to deliver residential projects – what other sectors can offsite provide a better and more sustainable built environment?
1 Q: 24 issues ago you described a radical vision for the way new homes to be built with offsite playing a leading role. Is that vision still radical? Or has offsite entered the mainstream of clients and specifiers minds? Darren Richards (DR): Whilst the industry has made significant progress there is still an abundance of manufacturers in the offsite space that are not embracing digital engineering and design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA) principles at the pace required. The concept of common digital front-end configuration and optimisation software entering our everyday work is quite some way off.
Naturally, there are always exceptions – pioneers and trailblazers – but these companies on their own will not create a big enough impact to bring the housebuilding and offsite manufacturing industry collectively in to the 21st century. I think that ‘radical vision’ could still be another decade away but I am determined to see it mainstream in my working lifetime. Q: How have you seen the offsite industry change and develop over the last 4-5 years? There seems to have been a change in tone in how offsite is perceived at the highest levels since the publication of Mark Farmer’s ‘Modernise or Die’ review?
DR: Offsite technology is adaptable and capable of providing solutions across all vertical markets from housing to infrastructure and everything in between. We have seen significant uptake of offsite techniques in education and now healthcare – infrastructure has embraced offsite techniques for decades and now with major projects such as Hinkley Point, Heathrow and HS2 we will see even greater innovation and upscaling. Retail, leisure, hotels and student accommodation sectors have all been huge consumers of offsite technology too and offsite methods are now the norm – not even debated but now assumed. One of my biggest frustrations is the lack of technology migration and knowledge transfer from some of these vertical markets across to housebuilding, so we end up seeing a lot of ‘reinventing’ the wheel instead of ‘evolving’ the wheel.
WWW.OFFSITEMAGAZINE.CO.UK | SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2020