Merchants urged to grasp opportunities offered by offsite manufacturing

Published:  20 July, 2018

Offsite manufacturing offers merchants a “valuable” opportunity if they are prepared to be resourceful and take it.

They must become just-in-time suppliers to offsite manufacturers, developing very close relationships with them and integrating with their operations.

That was the message yesterday from the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, which has published a report on offsite manufacturing in construction.

The committee is calling for the UK construction industry to embrace offsite manufacturing, to increase productivity, raise standards, and help achieve the government’s target of 300,000 houses built a year.

It is also urging the government to make sure young people coming into construction have the digital skills needed for modern construction methods such as offsite manufacture, and drive its development through funding and key performance indicators.

Members acknowledge that the proposals set out in Off-site manufacture for construction: Building for change will require the industry to make significant changes, but say the benefits are significant.

Speaking exclusively to Builders’ Merchants News at the report’s official launch in central London yesterday, committee member Lord Fox (pictured) said the challenge for merchants, as part of the supply chain, was to be able to become just-in-time suppliers to offsite manufacturers, following the example of industries such as car manufacturing that relied on local suppliers for their materials.

“Builders’ merchants have to mesh with off-site manufacturers’ factories, including things like automated call-outs,” he said.

“To some extent offsite manufacturing will drive change but it could also lock merchants into long-term contracts with manufacturers that could be valuable - there’s an opportunity there. Merchants have been resourceful in the past and they can do it again, by partnering even more closely with their customers.”

And Mark Reynolds, CEO of construction company Mace, said the “big gap” in the drive to increase the amount of offsite manufacturing being done in construction is the supply chain. “They need to be stepping up and getting involved.

“The question for merchants is whether they have the capacity to deliver for offsite manufacturing. They have a role to play. Construction has to move from being a components-based industry to an assembly-based one, but the manufacturers will still need components.

“I don’t think offsite manufacturing is a threat to merchants, I think it’s an opportunity.”

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