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Hoogovens Aluminium Building Systems

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In this report, the fourth in a series, we look at how Hoogovens Aluminium Building Systems is responding to the new Egan recommendations through its commitment to 'changing the face of construction'; its forthcoming teamkal conference for registered installers and suppliers alike; quality assurance; a range of new products - insulation, fixings and louvres; the performance of aluminium roofing and cladding systems in fire; recycling and sustainability; thermal imaging; coating technology; and the concerns of one small installing contractor

Egan - a manufacturer's response

The recommendations for achieving improvements in quality and efficiency put forward in Sir John Egan's report 'Re-thinking Construction' make sense. When they are implemented throughout the industry then there is no doubt that clients will begin to get what they want from uk construction - good buildings (with zero defects) delivered on time, within budget and with minimal lifecycle costs.

Reaction to the report has, by and large, been positive, but some critics contest Egan's premise that the construction industry can be analysed, restructured, simply 'kicked into shape' like any other manufacturing industry. The construction industry is a special case, they say. It is diverse, its structure is too complicated, that is not the way we work, etc.

As a manufacturer and ex-contractor myself, I cannot see why the construction industry cannot learn from and follow the example of successful reforms in other industries. Construction is like any other industry - a collection of operations who research, design, manufacture, deliver and assemble products for a customer. A building is only the sum of its component parts.

'You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs' - if implementing Egan means that we have to tear down the traditional structures and demarcation lines within the industry, then we must. How else can we create an 'integrated project team' that is focused on the client's needs and determined to work together to deliver a first-class product?

Nobody can avoid the change that is going to take place - nobody will be able to cling to the comfort of the old ways of working. Change began with Latham. Latham suggested we build the team; Egan follows on logically from this with his 'integrated project team', but Egan is far more hard- hitting in terms of the targets he sets and his demand for measurements of performance. Everybody will have to prove that they are fit to be in the team - if their work on previous projects doesn't come up to standard then they won't be re-selected.

Manufacturers are in a unique position within industry and we can be influential in achieving the successful implementation of Egan's recommendations. As active members of the project team, we can have a strong influence both 'up' the supply chain with the client and his customers, and even the end users, and then 'down' the supply chain to designers, main contractors/co- ordinators, installers and on-site operatives.

To begin with the latter. Under Egan we have a responsibility to ensure that our products are manufactured to the highest standard and meet the requirements of the specification. I believe our role and responsibility must extend to cover the installation of product on site. If the installation is rubbish, the product is perceived as rubbish and it won't get specified next time round. It is in our interests to ensure that the contractors know how to handle and install products and systems correctly.

Manufacturers must be prepared to invest in the supply of first-class training - either on- or off-site. Only trained and certified operatives will then be allowed to install our systems. At Hoogovens, we have invested more than £500,000 in a purpose-built training centre at our Haydock manufacturing facility. More than 20,000 hours of training have now been completed here, not just by our teamkal-approved installers but also by supervisors, specifiers, clients and our staff. We have also developed a mobile training programme which provides project-specific training on site.But clearly we must still do more.

Having raised the standards of installation, we have also taken steps to ensure that improved performance is repeated on every project - work is inspected from conception to completion and beyond. In line with Egan, we are taking practical steps to measure and provide proof of performance. Again, there is more to do.

From set-up in 1991, Hoogovens has been directly involved in 'partnering' across the whole construction processes - latterly with Lend Lease on the Bluewater project and also in association with asda on many retail developments. Close teamwork on a recent asda project resulted in a substantial reduction of the building programme - the store opened early - and this represented an enormous financial bonus to the client. We charted the progress of this particular project from conception right through to completlon as a detailed case study and we have been able to analyse 'what went right, what went wrong and when', and to develop a recommended routine for the team to implement on future projects. What emerges is that the effort put into detailed planning and preparation before going on site results in a well co-ordinated and efficient building programme capable of delivering on or ahead of schedule. Common sense, really, but the success of this approach depends upon the willingness of every member of the project team to focus on the desired end result - client satisfaction and improved client profitability. To achieve this we have to work together on a basis of trust and mutual respect.

However, I think manufacturers have preferred, traditionally, to stand aside from the industry's notorious combat zone. We manufacture product, we supply it to the particular specification, we deliver to site or to the builders' merchants - why get further involved?

I have already looked at how we should have more control over the installation of our products and systems, but how do we actually go about getting more involved with the client and the design team during the early stages of a project? Manufacturers must put aside their reservations and recognise that they can have a real and significant contribution to make which will result in more successful projects and more work for them in the long term.

Designers and manufacturers of building materials are often more closely in touch with the preferences of clients and the end-users of buildings than anybody else in the project team. The market research which drives our product development programmes gives us valuable information about trends and opinion - the client and the whole construction team can learn from this. We should have the confidence to share this knowledge with them in the interest of creating buildings that people will not only actually like and enjoy using but which will, in time, add to our national heritage.

It is widely acknowledged that good construction depends upon sound interfaces between different products and systems. If we are prepared to take responsibility for the interface of our products with other components and provide typical interface details, this will give us a valuable opportunity for dialogue with the design and constriction team. Grateful for our input and respecting our knowledge, they will discuss other design features with us. This, in my own frequent experience, allows us to extend the design potential of our products by rising to the challenges posed by existing projects. We work with the designers, not to 'find a way round a problem' but to create an effective design solution with proven buildability.

To support this interaction we must ensure that we have the appropriate technical and it resources in-house to allow us to respond quickly and efficiently. Technical support teams, product development units capable of producing scale models to test buildability, well-written technical literature, cad facilities and other on-line services may all be appropriate. Care must be taken, of course, to ensure optimum compatibility with the systems of recipient parties.

We must also have the confidence to 'brand' our materials, products and systems - to firmly differentiate them from 'the rest' and define them as 'the best'. We must stop selling on price and focus instead on quality and long-term performance benefits - this is what really represents value for money, and the educated client will recognise that it is products of this calibre that he wants in his building. With the end of competitive tendering in sight, now is our chance to benefit, in real terms , from our expertise and experience. But, we must invest in communicating to the client.

Innovation in methods of both factory and on-site manufacture and site logistics can also be 'sold' to the client and the construction team during the critical early stages of the project. As manufacturers we should investigate to a greater extent the possibilities of sub-assembly and pre-fabrication. The client will have to be educated into accepting that while the initial outlay might be greater, the premium will be more than offset by throughput benefits.

Nobody puts this better than Eliyahu M Goldratt in his book, Critical Chain: 'Price is important. But lead time is not less important. Sometimes more. That's where the change should start. We must understand the financial impact of delay. We must understand that to delay sometimes costs us more than giving another 10 per cent to all our vendors. It's not the cost we save on a project, but the money we can make for the client.'

If it means less time on site, less need for skilled labour on site, less risk of interruption by adverse weather, etc, then we are looking at realistic means of achieving shorter building programmes, which may at the same time help to achieve higher standards of build and installation.

By just these means we will 'Re-think Construction' - but only if we are all part of the process. Manufacturers must recognise the level and value of the input that it is within our power to make - this is no time to indulge in a confidence crisis - if we don't act to implement Egan, we will, quite simply, get left behind.

Bill Guest

Chief executive, Hoogovens

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