Rethinking construction

Steve Thompson shares his perspective on perfecting the offsite process

Recent government announcements, underpinned by a number of industry reports and major investment declarations – are advancing the offsite sector. Driven by the demand for more predictability throughout the construction process, the resurgence in the offsite construction has resulted in increased levels of market activity and innovation. Whilst the housebuilding industry appears to be grabbing many of the headlines – offsite construction is also rapidly expanding in other sectors.

Steel Framing Systems (SFS) make up a substantial part of the offsite solutions portfolio. Beyond the traditional steel framing markets, the development of volumetric modular and pod products is becoming increasingly important. Steel framing systems provide many of the characteristics that the design and manufacture of these solutions require.

Many of the advantages of steel construction are applicable to all building types and sectors. Building design and construction is the sum of many parts – some projects demand unique and one-off solutions but for many, rapid and robust systems are required to get buildings onstream and ready for occupation or commercial use. As the adoption of offsite technology by what has previously been a traditional industry is gaining momentum – now the transition to more repeatable, Design for Manufacture and Assembly led solutions, is the next logical step.

The growing use of volumetric modular solutions is seen as an evolution in systems types. The main types of modules are light gauge steel, capable of six to ten storeys depending on the system type. With the greater demand for a medium to highrise applications, corner columns with hot-rolled or cold-formed stronger steel sections and more robust floors, often using concrete – have emerged.

Developments in volumetric modular building technology are opening new opportunities for companies such as EOS Facades, to design, manufacture and supply entire solutions or form part of a hybrid structure.

Volumetric pods on the other hand are typically nonloadbearing, factory finished internally, complete with building services but not generally finished externally. Most commonly the framing of the structure is either light steel frame or hot-rolled, hollow steel sections. Types of pods include washrooms, bath and shower rooms, kitchens and plant rooms.

EOS has been involved in the development of prefabricated utility cupboards too – these systems, which are similar to volumetric pods, can be used on any project and there is no limit to how they can be customised to meet project requirements for fit-out of any space that requires building services. The preplumbed modules include a selfsupporting frame, plumbing, waste connections and typically underfloor heating manifolds and MVHR solutions. On site the modules are lightweight and easy to handle, making installation even faster.

Digital age
The prefabrication of the individual steel elements takes place under controlled, highly regulated and safe factory conditions where the use of leading edge systems delivers precision-engineered components. With so much work carried out offsite, the onsite construction programme is reduced, and the build programme is relatively unaffected by adverse weather conditions. Furthermore, steel components can be preassembled or fabricated into modules either offsite or at low level onsite, which reduces the need for working at height.

It is clear that there is an imperative to improve industry performance, with increasing requirements to design and construct in a more detailed manner and at a rapid pace – these processes are reliant upon effective communication. Construction professionals must work together, as knowledge transfer can be mutually beneficial to all those involved along the design, manufacture and construction journey.

EOS’ own state-of-the art manufacturing facility has changed beyond recognition, with further expansion planned for next year. EOS has extended its section capability with a significant investment in new advanced rollforming machinery that has been specifically commissioned.

The digital age is evolving. We are constantly adapting technology in order to enhance all aspects of the modern world. We have changed the way we socialise, the way we travel and the way we work in order to integrate the latest technology into our everyday lives.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is at the forefront of the latest digital technology in today’s built environment. There is now almost a universal recognition of BIM within the construction industry, as well as widespread private sector investment in the implementation of BIM.

These advancements also involve CAD/CAM systems that control this new manufacturing machinery to produce an offsite optimised frame or cassette design. By manufacturing offsite for onsite installation – EOS is able to create much of the finished product in the factory – ultimately minimising onsite labour.

As the adoption of offsite technology by what has previously been a traditional industry is gaining momentum, however a common problem still rests in ‘migrating’ the efficiencies of offsite to the construction site itself. It has to be an end-toend continuation – rather than a process of offsite methodology to the factory gate and then being subjected to a traditional approach on site.

Certainly ‘education’ is required at all levels of offsite manufacture – not just its commonly understood long-term benefits but throughout the supply chain and how each stage of the construction cycle is touched by offsite methods. Architects, clients, main and sub-contractors need to understand more about the offsite industry as a whole, including the philosophy behind its use as well as the disparate range of suppliers and products.

This is one of the main reasons why EOS Facades has opened its factory doors to construction professionals and welcomes visits from main contractors, architects, designers and specifiers.

The company understands engagement and information transfer is the solution and after all ‘knowledge is power’ – the power to collectively take the industry forward and deliver better buildings in a more productive and efficient way.

The manufacturing environment is far different to the construction environment – the lack of traditional skills in certain parts of the construction sector is a problem easier solved in the offsite sector – that is, within the factory-controlled environments rather than on construction sites

We are operating in exciting times for the built environment – from my perspective modernisation is more than an option now, it should be seen as an obligation. Historically construction has been compared unfavourably with the automotive and aeronautical industries and a change had to come.

There has never been a better time to capitalise on the raft of benefits that factory-based solutions deliver. As an advanced high performance offsite solution, Steel Framing Systems are perfectly positioned to meet construction industry demands – they are future proof and future ready.

Steve Thompson is Managing Director of EOS Facades. EOS Facades is running a CPD accredited factory tour at its facility in County Durham on the 20th September 2018. Hosted by the EOS technical team together with the Siniat specification team – the event is completely free to attend.

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