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Last edited 29 Dec 2020
5 things construction can learn from automotive
On a recent visit, Constructing Excellence was hosted by Tata Steel at its distribution and processing centre at Wednesfield, West Midlands, the largest in the UK. Tata Steel has invested heavily in the facility including more than £12m in a dedicated Automotive Service Centre to produce sophisticated differentiated steel products.
 1. Long term relationships
Suppliers invest in production facilities on the basis of long-term and certain demand based on standardisation and systemisation, making it easier to make long-term investments in manufacturing facilities.
It can take two years of discussions with clients before a part gets put on the production line. The steel industry is not without risks but those risks are clearly identified and understood so investments can be justified.
The group were struck by the limited number of people on the shop floor, prompting a debate about whether reduced labour requirements associated with the manufacturing revolution was a good thing. Levels of automation mean a higher level of training and therefore opportunities to improve the workforce skillset and flexibility. High quality production and just-in-time service also require resources and training in quality assurance, planning and health, and safety to support the supply chain.
 3. Manufacturer-led construction?
The aim for manufacturers like Tata Steel is to change the perception of steel as just a commodity and to add value to get closer to its clients and really understand their requirements and how they define value. This requires a movement away from traditional supply chains towards more integrated supply chains.
 4. Can existing procurement practices support this?
Procurement processes are in place to manage risk, and particularly in the public sector to ensure fairness and transparency. There was a heated discussion about whether the existing complex supply chain can be open and whether they do deliver transparency and that current processes were skewed towards traditional delivery.
It was suggested that existing procurement processes can get in the way of early manufacturer engagement and limit some of the advantages of offsite. Moreover, passing risk down the supply chain has the effect of multiplying risk.
 5. Generative design tools
Generative design tools and a platform-based approach with a pallet of products will help construction take better advantage of manufacturing and its added value. This relates to the work that Constructing Excellence member Blacc has been undertaking to identify a kit of parts for the education sector that can be configured to suit specific site and client requirements, while still meeting Education Funding Agency requirements at higher spec and lower costs.
Alex Lubbock, head of digital construction at the Infrastructure Projects Authority, led a discussion on how the IPA’s Transforming Infrastructure Performance programme is designed to support government engagement with industry to shift to a presumption in favour of offsite outlined in the autumn budget of 2017.
Some of the key areas include:
- Finding ways to enable early manufacturer engagement while remaining compliant with European procurement regulations. This will enable tenders and procurement to be delivered in a way that supports innovation and SME involvement.
- Generating a pipeline of repeatable projects and elements that can unlock long-term investment and enable the industry to build on knowledge and transfer learning more effectively between projects.
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