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Changing the face of construction

Hoogovens Aluminium Building Systems

Sir Ove Arup was once quoted as saying, 'When engineers and quantity surveyors discuss aesthetics, and architects study what cranes can do, we are on the right road.'

In the wake of the Latham Report, and with Sir John Egan chairing the government's Construction Task Force, it seems as if the whole industry has adopted a new vocabulary, with 'quality', 'efficiency' and 'best practice' to the fore.

At Hoogovens Aluminium Building Systems, which offers a range of products and services based on its kalregistered systems for roofing and cladding, the ambition is - quite literally - to 'change the face of construction' through a commitment to innovation and by implementing a range of policies designed to help change the culture of the specification, manufacturing and installation process.

Bill Guest, a design engineer who spent 14 years at Pilkington before setting up his own business, has been managing director of Hoogovens since 1991. In nurturing it he has been helping to fulfil Sir Ove's vision.'I think the most important factor at the end of the day is to exceed your customer's expectations,' he says. 'Not only to exceed them, but to provide him with an exceptionally wonderful building - one which is cost-effective and leaves a legacy which everyone can be proud of.'

This ambition is borne out by the fact that last year alone, eight prominent buildings where Hoogovens was a major supplier received a total of 14 architectural awards (see pages viii-ix).

The teamwork which is part of Hoogovens' culture puts paid to the confrontational approach which bedevils an industry already at the mercy of time pressures, downward trends in prices (at least during the recession) and claims. Guest says: 'You have to provide solutions which overcome whatever problems there are. The art is to try and avoid the problems in the first place.'

This involves a close working relationship with the architect in the early design stages, and simulating the installation process in the company's factory in Haydock, Merseyside, long before the materials are delivered to site.

A prime example is the process adopted for the Bluewater contract (see page iv). Another was the Asda superstore at Govan, designed by Percy Johnson-Marshall Partnership, where, through consultation with other team members, a reduction in the building programme was achieved.

'We are there to help and guide the clients and architects in achieving the best possible design. We follow that up with our teamkaltrade mark people in developing the buildability of the job, and continue to work with the main contractor and the client during the course of construction. And when it's all over, we'll inspect it, and we'll go back, at the client's request, to inspect the roof at some later stage.'

Benchmarking is in accordance with the European Quality Model, to provide objective criteria for self-assessment of performance, and all manufacturing is in accordance with iso 9002 standards.

The same attention which is lavished on individual contracts is also applied to training the teamkaltrade mark national network of installers; and to the development of partnering with the company's own suppliers, in such areas as structural steel decking, vapour-control barriers, insulation, acoustic liners and fall-arrest systems, so that the company can provide a 'one-stop shop' of total service.

New products, new materials and new safety systems are continually being designed, tested and evaluated to establish how they will perform on site. Currently being researched are zinc-plated aluminium sheets, rooflights, and guttering.

Four new regional offices have also opened, in the north, midlands and south of England and in Scotland, to provide a more local service to specifiers. All are linked to the mainframe computer at Haydock.

Growing demand for longer lengths of sheet roofing has led to a development of the company's on-site roll-forming capabilities (see page vii), first introduced 15 years ago. The longest sheets to date, for Matthew Clarke in Avonmouth, are 65m, but a number of enquiries have been received for 80m and more.

So, 'changing the face of construction' is more than just a pipe dream, as the evidence Hoogovens recently submitted to the Construction Task Force testifies. The lessons it has learned in-house could be applied much more widely throughout the industry.

'We've tried to adopt a consistent culture, welcoming change and looking outwards - not accepting convention but challenging it,' Guest says. 'We've offered clients and their architects new and exciting ways to extend the boundaries of what is possible.'

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