As the Light Steel Frame Association (LSFA) continues to grow and gather momentum, we caught up with two founding members for a quick Q&A about the steel frame sector and the offsite market.
Q: How important do you feel the creation of the LSFA is to developing the steel framing sector as a key provider to construction UK?
Mike Fairey (MF): "It's something the industry has been lacking over the last 20 years. We've been working in the light steel frame sector for that length of time, and without an industry body, progress has been slower than we would have liked. With the LSFA in place, we'll now be able to co-ordinate advances being made via digitalisation, material technology, on-site quality checking and share new opportunities with the industry and with our clients."
Q: Is the continuing commitment and support of offsite by Homes England (HE) creating an upswing in interest surrounding light steel frame technology and offsite in general?
MF: "Homes England has achieved significant levels of success by unlocking more development opportunities, from which both the offsite industry as a whole and light gauge steel manufacturers will be able to benefit. However, to realise our full latent potential and enable offsite businesses to invest in manufacturing at scale, we need to have confidence in the continuity of supply and I would encourage support by HE into manufacturing 'infrastructure'. This will be crucial in securing a successful future for offsite."
DE: I do believe Homes England's focus is offsite wherever possible, but I feel their interest is slanted more towards volumetric modular than light gauge steel frame. Perhaps the LSFA can look to promote the benefits of light steel frame directly to Homes England for the larger residential apartment schemes?
Q: To those unfamiliar with what light steel frame technology can deliver, what are the performance and productivity benefits of using offsite steel solutions?
MF: "Light steel frame systems can be designed, engineered and manufactured to a high degree of accuracy. This enables it to be integrated with other accurately produced components, making it the perfect skeleton around which to build a digital construction offer. Light steel frame systems are a platform for a step change in both material and labour productivity with safer sites, faster, more reliable programmes don't need and greater assurance of performance/quality, plus a digitally integrated supply chain leading to lower project costs overall.
Q: How important is BIM and new digital tools including AR/VR to developing more efficient manufacture? What do you think of the new PRISM app - what benefits will it have for the manufacturing community and the steel sector?
MF: "A few years ago the introduction of BIM was viewed by some as a new 'tick-box' requirement to secure business. Our approach has been the direct opposite; we have invested into software throughout all areas of our business, which is now proving to be highly significant in our ability to manage the requirements of the Hackitt Review: Applying 'Golden Thread' methodology to deliver a virtually integrated supply chain from concept, to design, to completion on-site. When this is coupled with other modern software innovations, we'll be in a position where we can provide total quality assurance and regulation compliance throughout the construction process.
"The new PRISM app is a positive step forward to achieving a digitally-led industry. I have heard a number of initial comments and in general they are all positive. The ability for anyone to access PRISM via an app on an open source basis, which will assist them at a very basic level with project benchmarking and to review designs from concept stage against a number of potential offsite manufactured systems, can only be a step in the right direction. I'm sure over time the app will be developed and improved as feedback is received."
Q: Where do you see the light steel frame and offsite sectors heading in the next 18 months? What key projects are you presently working on?
MF: "The adoption of the recommendations of the Hackitt Review will be a game-changer. I see the industry heading further towards digital integration and, in turn, enhanced quality and compliance requirements. We'll see evidence of Golden Thread methodology through virtual supply chain integration delivering highquality design and site installation. I think we will also see changes in procurement models - challenging compatibilities and consolidation, which we've worked on for the past seven or eight years to reach a level where Golden Thread thinking is fundamental to each project.
"In terms of Fusion Building Systems, we will continue to invest significant sums into R&D in order to optimise our service and product offerings, looking to further develop supply chain partners to continually provide proven and tested solutions that drive the Golden Thread thinking. I foresee little change in our key markets: housing, medium-to-high rise apartments, student accommodation, care facilities, hotels and schools but huge change driven by the adoption of offsite solutions and the Hackitt Review which will impact interaction with funders, developers, consultants and main contractors."
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