Fortune Favours the Brave

Plasterboard is almost entirely used for construction and has conceptually little changed in the last century – boards are supplied, cut and fixed onto framing on site then trimmed and finished. V-Cut engineers plasterboard to reduce site activities,cut waste and make site installation quicker, better and cheaper but has occasionally found reluctance in some contractors to change from the traditional way of doing things. Yet the product of folding plasterboard is proven from experience in mainland Europe to be a better drywall technique. It’s time to adopt modern methods of construction if the industry is to improve.Fortune favours the brave to quote Pliny the Elder.

Improving the industry’s performance requires not just the process reengineering envisaged by many industry analyses but a change in attitude at all levels and, more importantly, in the approach to greater off site manufacture. The process of delivering a building can only get better by reducing and, to some extent, deskilling site operations. When more is done off site, the result is better quality, a faster process, lower waste, fewer defects, reduced noise and safer site activities (HSE Report 2009).

Arguably, central to this approach requires moving away from the traditional way things are done and adopting products which encompass through innovation opportunities for repeatability, faster construction and less ad hoc site activities that ultimately do not depend on extraneous factors such as environmental conditions and the availability of motivated skilled operatives. The Egan Report recognized product development and supply chain partnering as critical in this respect and this involves full integration of the specialists.

The clearest example, and arguably extreme, of process re-engineering and technical innovation resulting in reduced site activities can be seen in China with the company Broad Sustainable Building. BSB plans to build in around 3 months the tallest tower in the world (Sky City) using its 95% prefabricated modular construction method. The system was proven already when BSB constructed a hotel in 15 days. Sky City’s appearance may not be to everyone’s taste and it has vocal critics but it demonstrates what’s possible.

The UK construction industry has far to go before there is a homespun company like BSB. Whilst there are a small number of successful players in the prefabricated sector, others have tried and failed particularly in the housing market but there may be complex reasons for that other than just a lack of innovative thinking either of method or the components used by the fabricator.

Historically there has been a top down structural/managerial focus to improving the building industry. That’s possibly the wrong focus, just as it was for the UK car industry, and, as a result, it may not be too long before there is a foreign BSB leading the way here. The general industry must take even small steps to change from the bottom up. Small steps can eventually be big leaps. It is time to change, to think outside the box and be brave. V Cut, and many building product suppliers like it, are doing exactly that.