Factory built

Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell considers the trend for offsite construction.

As we learned from the recent Glazing Summit, the glass and glazing industry can change in remarkable ways, with profound results. I’m thinking of the rise in trade counters and the influence of builders, and how they have helped change the current landscape.

Go back ten years, and the glass and glazing industry was a different place, with different challenges and opportunities. However, back then, could we have predicted how the industry could have changed, and with that in mind, can we look forward another ten years to see how things might look?

There are certainly some trends that we could extrapolate, such as: the rise in popularity of aluminium and timber; or the fundamental change in window design, usually to incorporate a flush-fitting sash; or the move away from conservatories to lightweight extensions; or the slow acceptance of smart technology as part of our security.

Personally, if I was to pick one influence that could have a profound effect on the glass and glazing industry, it would be offsite construction.

Obviously, this would have very little direct impact on the refurbishment market, but there could still be wide-reaching consequences.

We are well aware of the skills shortage right across the construction industry, and it is no secret that many building material manufacturers have been designing out skilled labour for many years – ie, designing products so that anyone could fit them (even magazine editors).

The logical conclusion to this train of thought is that houses, hospitals, schools, hotels –whatever – could be built in part, or whole, in the factory before being transported to site.

This is certainly not a new idea, and there are many companies already doing it. What surprises me is, given the awful reputation that some house builders have for delivering finished homes that are riddled with problems, why offsite construction isn’t more prevalent.

And the effects on our industry could be profound, because as window manufacturers design products specifically for the offsite market, changes in design and installation could affect other areas of the market.

A report into the market for prefabricated volumetric modular buildings and portable accommodation published by AMA Research touches on this trend. In fact, the story does say: “A number of established construction and housebuilding companies have begun to diversify into offsite housing in recent years.”

It also goes on to say: “There is now a strong likelihood of an increase in the use of volumetric and other types of offsite construction methods to help meet the chronic housing shortage and cope with the lack of traditional construction skills within the construction industry.”

If you are involved in this sector, or are looking to get involved, please contact me as I would value your thoughts.

Meanwhile, despite it raining down here in the south west today (Wednesday), tomorrow looks like it is going to be a fine day in Haydock for the Glass Times Race Day. If you want to join in the fun, you can follow (or contribute to) #GlassTimesRaceDay.