Half baked and badly made…It’s time to re-set the dial on construction
Suppose I’m planning on taking up baking as a sideline (it’s quite popular on television at the moment): nothing too complicated mind, victoria sponge rather than zachertorte, because I know my limitations, and I’ve got a good deal on ingredients as well as a handy shop window. So here’s what I’m going to do…I take four pounds of flour and twelve eggs, throw four eggs in the bin, pour a pound of flour over them and mash the mixture into an unappealing slurry. The other eight eggs go into my bowl with the rest of the flour: then I take four spoonfuls of sugar, throw one of them out the back door, put the rest in the bowl, and stir vigorously with no butter: spilling another quarter of the mix onto the floor in the process (my technique needs some improvement): and then its into the oven, five hours on maximum heat until it's burned right through. And then to the shop window, where I leave the lights on all night in case someone fancies burned sponge on their way home from the pub…OK, I hear you…the business case might need a bit of tweaking.
But, with some minor variations, that’s exactly the business model the construction industry has been using for the last two hundred years: except, instead of eggs, flour and sugar, they’re using bricks, steel and pipes, and just like my half baked cakes, contractors routinely waste 25% on every project: despite the fact pipes, steel and bricks are a hell of a lot more expensive than sugar, flour and eggs.
Steelwork, for example, is conventionally delivered at the beginning of a construction project, followed (rapidly) with deliveries of bricks, timber and pipework, which are all then piled on top of the steel. And when the buried steelwork can’t be found (unfindable as it is in some corner of a muddy field), still more steelwork is ordered, only for the original delivery to show up at the end of the project when it's too late to use…so off it goes to a landfill, along with 25% of the brick and pipework deliveries, because they’re mostly unusable too. Any leftover bricks are almost invariably broken or clogged with mortar, and nobody can be bothered sifting out the one in ten that isn’t. Added to which materials are routinely over ordered on a traditional project, or else badly stored (leading to weather damage), or damaged in transit before they even get to the site. You wouldn’t make a cake this way…
According to a recent survey conducted by WRAP (wrap.org.uk), a leading waste management company, the construction industry is still by far the biggest consumer (and waster) of natural resources in the UK: producing 100 million tonnes of waste every year, which is an astonishing figure when you consider that’s more than a third of the annual total waste produced in the UK.
The Silent Sector
It's why Resource Futures (“RF”: https://resource.co/) has called construction “the silent sector”, because in the absence of the glare of publicity given, for example, to plastic pollution across our oceans and riverbeds “…construction is failing meaningfully to manage waste responsibly…With poorly enforced compliance measures, inconsistent procurement clauses, and a prevalent theme of passing responsibility from client to contractor” (according to Allan Sandilands of RF).
And it's not just raw materials that are wasted on an industrial scale: dinosaur construction is profligate with labour resources too. Just think about all those workers spending days wading through mud, sheltering in a hut from the rain, or just waiting idly for the next delivery truck to make its tortuous way through congested inner city streets.
It’s not exactly a model of efficiency…but it doesn't have to be this way: there must be a better way of building in the twenty-first century.
It’s why modern, enlightened construction companies (not to mention far-seeing commissioning clients) are increasingly moving away from dinosaur technologies: prefabricated units off-site in climate controlled conditions, to reduce lead times (without the hazards of mud and rain); precisely calibrating material orders to avoid wastage (no more half buried steel), and embracing faster (way faster) delivery times that are up to 40% quicker... we’re talking about Modular Construction.
According to McKinsey, modular buildings can be completed up to 50% more quickly than their traditional counterparts (www.mckinsey.com), radically enhancing the bottom line and securing margins in excess of 30%, compared with as little as 0.17% for traditional contractors, which is why we don’t see Carillion on the News anymore…perhaps they’ve taken up baking cakes.
It's a simple enough truth: nothing is worse equipped to meet the shifting demands of our modern world than dinosaur contractors: wading through mud and hiding from the rain, as the waste piles ever higher.
Which is why, in a nutshell, Modular Construction is capable of making such a difference: we simply can’t afford to ignore its potential.