How Offsite Manufacturing Needs to Evolve to Compete

‘The future is digital – but why?’ is this year’s tagline of the Offsite Construction Show, taking place on the 20th and 21 of November 2018. For two days the London ExCel hosts over 90 forward-thinking exhibitors and over 2500 attendees, gathered to discuss the ‘whys, the whats and hows’ related to the future of the sector.  This year, Cobuilder is proud to be among these ‘forward-thinkers’. With special thanks to our partners from Berkeley Modular – the volumetric modular construction arm of Berkeley Group –  Cobuilder will be showcasing an innovative solution* for the offsite sector aimed at digitising product data and enhancing the flow of data across the construction supply chain.

On Day 2 of the event Graham Cleland, the Director of Berkeley Modular and Cobuilder’s CEO Peter Foster Jnr. will deliver a presentation putting the solution within the context of the changing nature of the offsite sector in light of the development of BIM technologies and international standards related to the transition from analog to digital processes.

The following summary will outline some of the main points of the joined presentation.

*The 2017 Offsite Construction Awards rewarded Cobuilder in the Product Innovation category for the product goBIM. Cobuilder goBIM today is an essential part of the integrated Cobuilder platform used by Berkeley Modular.

Beyond buzzwords

The offsite industry is highly conscious of the major new technological trends that are seen to define the future of construction. Terms like digital twins, Industry 4.0 and Building Information Modelling are flying around each offsite construction event. However,  despite the generally wide understanding of the need for digital twins and the healthy adoption of virtual modelling technologies, the information used to actually create or even record the use of a physical product (Industry 4.0) is largely provided in analogue formats.

According to the Cambridge Centre for Housing & Planning Research,

Innovation and digitisation through offsite housing manufacture will be part of the solution to delivering housing in a digital built Britain, but there is currently little in terms of an evidence base

(Position Paper 2: What is the role of off-site housing manufacture in a Digital Built Britain, September 2018)

 The benefits and technology for offsite construction are widely known and have been practised for a long while now. However, now there has been a shift towards offsite manufacture – a shift towards a more holistic approach to not only the construction but also the design, fabrication, procurement and delivery of volumetric, modular structures offsite.

Offsite manufacture (as opposed to offsite construction) is a concept that needs digitisation to help create highly productive, scalable factory environments that can deliver high quality, high performing products via efficient creation/sharing of data and information.

“Whilst much has been written about off-site construction generally, there is little information about how digital technologies are used in off-site housing manufacture.”

(Position Paper 2: What is the role of off-site housing manufacture in a Digital Built Britain, September 2018)

Digital technologies are an essential part of the solution to delivering housing in a Digital Built Britain, however there is almost no evidence of their implementation, states the report. Why is that?

Why are we inefficient in the implementation of digital technologies?

Saying that there is a single answer to this issue would be a huge overstatement. In our experience, however, all the dots seem to connect to a logical conclusion.

Many providers across the offsite construction and traditional construction sectors use BIM as a means of improving visualisation and coordination of building structure, fabric and services.

This is commendable but these approaches do not really address the real challenge associated with leveraging overall productivity. Such approaches reflect a lack of lean thinking.

The efficiency of the process of converting virtual intent to physical objects can be considered as a true measure of how lean a business is, and hence a digitally enabled agile manufacturing platform to control data flow is fundamental to leveraging enterprise productivity.

So here we come to the real productivity booster. Yes, you guessed it – it is data!

The productivity booster

An efficient approach to offsite manufacture must be founded on single sources of structured product data which flows between inter-operating and integrated systems across the product life-cycle. And who can be a more credible source of data than the manufacturer? Truly, the responsibility for bringing the value of digitisation the whole supply chain falls on the manufacturer. Is this responsibility going to boost offsite manufacturing or is it going to drive more and more businesses to go under?

In order to stay competitive and grow offsite manufacturing businesses need to adapt to the new digital environment. That does not surprise anyone.

The good news is that guidance is available.

The UK BIM Alliance for instance has produced a great report that is aimed at uncovering the specifics of structured data for digital use to the uninitiated. The report answers the ‘age-old’ question ‘Data or objects or both’ and gives important recommendations for the essential points in devising a data strategy for the construction sector.

Standardisation is paramount

Most notably, the report discusses the importance of standards. In Europe and internationally there are standardisation bodies that are devoting serious time and effort in capturing the best practice for managing, creating, defining data to enable the seamless flow of information across the supply chain. Standards are important for creating a common language for everyone be it people or machines to interpret and therefore use the data that is created, exchanged and analysed. They are important for creating a level playing field for the whole sector, where everyone can take advantage of a common approach that works every time.

So will businesses make it or break it? As per usual, this relies on the careful conceptualisation, planning and implementation of their strategies – in this case – digital data strategies. Each strategy is always facilitated by tools and tactics.

Are these available today? The answer is yes!


Cambridge Centre for Housing & Planning Research – Position Paper 2: What is the role of off-site housing manufacture in a Digital Built Britain- September 2018

Available online here.

UK BIM Alliance –  ‘A Fresh Way Forward for Product Data’ – October 2018
Available here.

2018-11-19T17:21:06+00:00November 19th, 2018|