Is procuring offsite manufacture harder than traditional construction? No, but it is certainly different, requiring a quite different supply chain, timescale and planning process. This can be quite a challenge if not planned as an integrated part of the design and construction process.

At WSP, we’ve been developing the necessary skills in-house. Procuring offsite is all about identifying the right supply chain that can deliver sufficient quality and quantity on time.

Our biggest challenge is supply chain investment. Here, the industry is in something of a Catch 22 situation – there’s reluctance from offsite manufacturers to make the upfront investment in production lines unless they have a strong order book. But there’s not enough commitment from clients until that investment has been made.

“Procuring offsite is all about identifying the right supply chain that can deliver sufficient quality and quantity on time”

This lack of supply chain maturity can very much hold us up. As the industry pushes to go to the next level of offsite capability, the pool of suppliers it can call on is still quite small. Another factor is reluctance from main contractors to really embrace off-site.

Timing is a bigger issue with offsite. The supply chain needs to be in place much earlier – you may need to place an order six months in advance in order to secure a slot in the production schedule. This requires an earlier upfront investment and commitment from clients, and will take some getting used to.

Assembly on site takes a great deal of planning. This is normally carried out by the main contractor, which needs to have demonstrated that it has the right skills and experience for the job. WSP creates a 3D model of the assembly process in virtual space and we always advocate building a prototype. In this way, the main contractor’s assembly team can test the process by building and disassembling. Cranage, in particular, takes a lot of planning and sequencing. Close attention also needs to be paid to controlling the interface between off-site and on-site elements.

Can offsite flourish? Yes, but it needs help. There needs to be more incentivisation for the supply chain to invest in their factory environments and labour force. The government is helping by in effect mandating the use of offsite on its capital projects as the default position. But I think more still needs to be done to evidence and promote the considerable benefits of offsite to clients, in terms of cost, speed, quality and predictability – at WSP we are committed to understanding and delivering these benefits.

Interested in talking to us about using offsite in your next project?