Mapping the Route Ahead

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.

With a remit to influence legislation and regulation to support the objectives of the steel framing sector, the LSFA is an important industry mouthpiece. Raising awareness of light steel frame technology, its members are promoting and positioning themselves to best meet the busy demands of the construction industry. We posed a few questions on how the light steel sector is faring and where it may be heading to Mike Fairey, Director at Fusion Building Systems, David Ellison, Head of Business Development and Anthony Longbottom, Design Director at Sigmat.

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."

David Ellison (DE): "Any trade association working for the benefit of the steel framing sector has to be a positive. Raising awareness is key and the LSFA gives credibility and recognition to successful light gauge steel frame companies to build projects and the sectors they're successful in."

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.

DE: Light steel frame can offer a better cost plan in terms of an upfront commitment to finance when compared to volumetric modular. When appraised against more traditional methods of construction, the on-site health and safety benefits that a small installation team can offer are greatly under represented. The build process can be circa 40% quicker than traditional methods of construction and allow the introduction of follow-on trades to accelerate the build programme. It also results in an earlier return upon investment for the client.

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."

Anthony Longbottom (AL): BIM is an invaluable tool for speeding up the approval process especially when considering integrated services and increased collaboration with other disciplines. The implementation of AR/VR will only help to improve this process. PRISM looks more like software that will be good to visualise the building but not necessarily for use in manufacture. Sigmat is a highly accurate system and as such is modelled with bespoke components within Tekla Structures - a structural detailing package. At present, we do not have the facility to manufacture direct from PRISM but it may be something to look at in the future.

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."

DE: If you ignore the prospect of a troublesome BREXIT, the light steel frame sector will continue to grow. Sigmat are planning to expand our manufacturing efficiencies and in turn our output in order to service what we see as a growing market and appetite to build in this way. New players are entering the market - so they obviously see the potential of this growing market. Sigmat are working on a number of key projects and are happy to share our successes with the LSFA at an appropriate time.

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