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The rise of ‘just-in-time’ construction: tips for de-risking deployment

3 April 2020

At the start of 2020, it was all systems go for construction companies. With the global population predicted to hit 9 billion by 2050 – and two out of every three people living in cities by 20501 – the demand for construction had never been greater.

As a society, we’re adapting to social distancing and the current lockdown has presented challenges for the construction sector. However, not all work has come to a standstill, especially for those contractors engaged in offsite construction and prefabrication. Planning and bidding for new work remains highly active as companies prepare for life during and after Covid-19.

Regenerating buildings or constructing new builds in busy cities pose huge challenges for construction companies (Singapore currently boasts the record for the tallest modular tower built offsite2). Open sites are constantly live environments so it’s not hard to see why building offsite and prefabrication is a growing trend.  

Fortunately, we can stress test a network with the associated components (BMS/Lighting/Door Access Control/HVAC/Security being good examples of this) and work with IP partners to de-risk the technology long before it goes to site and before it is put into production. But how do construction contractors reap the benefits of just-in-time construction and minimise the risk? As you continue planning for post-virus recovery, here are some points that are well worth considering:

#1: organise 'just-in-time' materials delivery systems

Most building sites are very busy environments with multiple contractors each carrying out their own deliverables, all needing to skilfully work around each other. Site constraints typically mean on site storage can be limited. Giving careful thought to re-engineering your supply chain to work with partners that understand the model and buy into getting the timing and communications right is key. Understanding what your suppliers can realistically commit to in terms of deliveries, and the impact of delays is also worth considering.

Also, with many developers, clients and contractors taking ever more pride in proving sustainability, many sites have a requirement that equipment is delivered with no ‘single-use’ packaging. Making sure that your supply chain is proactively thinking about managing waste effectively and offering recyclable options is key to its success. For example, we can deliver pre-configured IT equipment to site in highly-ruggedized mobile comms racks. This means that all of the packaging can be responsibly and certifiably disposed of without ever coming to site. Instead of a wall of cardboard boxes and a myriad of problems, we deliver equipment that can be easily transported around site in a way that decreases the carbon footprint of a construction project.

#2: test, test … and re-test off-site

To enable you to meet the programme requirements of construction projects, you need a highly structured process to build and test solutions. The best way to do this is to stage off-site. Ensure you work with suppliers who have the capability to offer staging environments, either at their site, and proven processes where they can pre-configure solutions and carry out repeatable testing.

A benefit of this is that you and other dependent suppliers in the chain (such as the examples listed previously), want to be able to jointly witness all testing away from the pressures of being on a busy site in a potentially live environment. This means you can all proactively address issues and de-risk deployment by reducing the risk of early life production failures. Ultimately, we can then be fully confident that solutions are delivered right-first time – music to any contractor’s ears!

#3: unify delivery teams with a culture shift

The construction market is a complex web of stakeholders, who traditionally have operated in silos.  Construction projects are only delivered on time and within budget when all parties work together. Establishing clear communication paths is critical for the value chain to work, but not only are robust systems needed - a mindset and approach to collaborate are also essential.

Contractors need to move beyond transactional supplier dealings to partnership-based relationships. Start by seeking out trusted companies that share your values around safety, ethics, environmental policies, customer satisfaction, and importantly financial control. They need to truly understand buy into the critical dates that come with just-in-time construction and the associated financial boundaries. Aside from having deep industry expertise, seek out the partners that have proven credentials and won’t let you down.

#4: align planning methodology

Aside from culturally unifying delivery teams, it’s important all stakeholders use standard methodology to track and deliver the critical elements. Off-site construction has the potential to reduce whole life costs and provide greater predictability. And construction in a controlled environment can greatly enhance quality control.

Effective planning must underpin structured process and project management to coordinate and integrate all the logistics. Right from design to installation, being able to carefully plan, monitor and log all activities is crucial. But more important is sharing this information so there’s 'a single source of truth’. Making it clear and transparent what’s involved at each stage and how the elements come together to achieve the client’s end objectives gives you a better chance of success.

#5: perfect the model virtually

Technological advances are now revolutionising almost all points in the lifecycle of a built asset, including before it’s been built. More and more construction projects are incorporating systems of digital sensors, intelligent machines, mobile devices, and new software applications to facilitate better design and help identify and eliminate risks. 

The concept of a ‘digital twin’ isn’t new but cloud-based computing has put it within reach of construction companies. In fact, the technology is so advanced that complex developments and cities can have digital twins, and the Centre for Digital Britain is already developing the information management framework that will underpin the creation of a national digital twin3. By seeking out technologies that enable you to create an exact mirror of the asset, you can spot and correct potential issues before ground is broken.

Just-in-time construction currently accounts for less than 10% of total construction output but is on an upward trajectory4. And it’s no surprise why: it can increase productivity, reduce timescales and lower build costs compared with traditional construction. Make sure you’re one of the first to de-risk deployment and reap the benefits.

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  1. Future of Construction – 4 challenges facing the construction industry
  2. Build Offsite – Bouygues Batiment builds 140-metre-high tower
  3. Centre for Digital Built Britain
  4. Construction Industry Training Board – Offsite Construction Report