Student accommodation blocks now slot together like Lego, housing estates appear in a matter of days, and pre-assembled water treatment works are plugged in with minimal disruption. Innovations like modular building, predictive maintenance and BIM offer the chance to revolutionise the construction sector. But few firms are ready.
Construction firms continue to run against tight margins. Deadlines are often scrutinised and customer demands are increasing. Management is often so distracted by the day job that they don’t have the headroom to take advantage of big bang innovations. Change is so incremental that, to many outsiders, the sector largely operates just as it always has.
If firms are to take advantage of new, more efficient ways of delivering assets, they must first improve their processes - efficient and innovative firms are better able to take on the risk that comes with adopting new approaches. The consequences of doing nothing are clear: young challenger firms and new entrants from abroad are already snapping at the UK constructors heels. Unburdened by legacy operating systems, they have the agility to secure first-mover advantage in the modern construction space.
How should firms improve their internal processes? Solutions will vary, but ‘lean thinking’ can play a key role. Better known for its success in industries such as manufacturing, automotive and aerospace, lean thinking can be equally applied to construction and infrastructure organisations. It is underpinned by the idea that lean construction is a way to design processes to minimize waste of materials, time, and effort in order to generate the maximum possible amount of value for the customer.
Lean thinking can be applied throughout organisations, from external customer and support functions to operations, design or even commercial applications. It will ultimately become an integral part of delivering change – a tool to fully integrate new ways of working, like whole life asset management, BIM, predictive maintenance and mobile.
That said, firms can’t expect overnight success. Lean construction often requires a cultural shift away from reactive problem solving, to greater empowerment, collaboration, problem solving and customer focus. Everyone in the organisation has a role to play, not just those at the front line. We help companies identify and implement lean in a way that is contextualised to their business, not just a lift and sift from manufacturing firms.
However, alongside clear leadership and management commitment, lean thinking can help firms take their first steps towards large-scale change. Modular building will soon be usurped by another disruptor. Firms need to make sure they’re ready to take advantage of it.
To learn more about applying lean construction and what to consider, register your interest here.