Although the construction industry was never in full lockdown like other industries, with essential projects and manufacturing continuing throughout, it is fair to say that it has been far from business as normal since the outbreak of COVID-19. With any construction project, work begins way ahead of getting on site, and those early conversations around product specification, performance and compliance are critical. With many office-based teams displaced and forced to adapt to a more isolated and remote way of working, we may not have been able to have as many face-to-face meetings as usual, but that has not stopped us from being on hand to support our customers.
Much more than just a buzzword, supply chain collaboration offers real, tangible benefits – so how can product manufacturers assist specifiers in these challenging times?
A clearer view
With so much uncertainty, not least following the UK’s departure from the EU trading bloc, maintaining regular communication with architects, main contractors and fabricators is essential. As we are a UK-based manufacturer, we have greater control than most, but it’s still important that we regularly update and advise our customers about any potential changes in terms of product availability, price points and deliveries. We can also provide access to a number of different resources, from detailed product information and technical datasheets, to relevant testing and certification documentation. We’ve always tried to work as an extension of our customer’s in-house team, and that ethos certainly hasn’t changed, even if the location and style of our meetings have.
Providing information is one thing, but working together to apply it to meet the individual requirements of a project is another. The advantage of early supplier involvement can’t be underestimated, as it provides the perfect forum for manufacturers to contribute specialist knowledge and facilitates an environment in which innovation and problem-solving can thrive. If a project has already been designed before all the options have been considered, it follows that many vital opportunities for reducing risk, time and costs could be missed.
One of the greatest plus points for supply chain collaboration is that it can bridge the gap between design and delivery so that the completed scheme performs and looks as originally intended. Early engagement with manufacturers, who are of course well placed to advise how products can be used most effectively, can help to highlight any potential risks prior to work commencing on site and reduce the likelihood of expensive and time-consuming redesigns when these problems resurface later on.
In terms of designing and delivering the building envelope, tapping into the manufacturer’s extensive product knowledge can be vital in ensuring that all the different interfaces, such as curtain walling and cladding, work together effectively to create a watertight building. It makes sense to take time to iron out any potential issues at the design stage rather than incur delays and expense to fix them on site but, unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. As a result, projects being delivered late and over-budget is a common occurrence.
Improved product knowledge
As well as reducing risk, effective collaboration and communication within the supply chain can also highlight opportunities for innovation and value engineering. Indeed, talking to suppliers and specialists at the earliest opportunity can often give greater design flexibility to projects that are subject to strict performance criteria.
This is particularly true with regards to the specification of fenestration systems where there are often a number of different requirements to meet, from aesthetic appeal and durability to acoustics and thermal efficiency. The benefits of early discussions with those members of the supply chain that will be directly involved in the delivery of the building envelope means that if appropriate, the original specification can be changed to a product that can better meet some or all of the performance criteria. For example, by switching specification from a standard aluminium window system to one that offers improved thermal efficiency with only a nominal price increase can not only lead to greater reduction in a project’s carbon calculations but can also give additional cost savings by eliminating the need for other potentially more expensive energy-saving elements such as photovoltaic roof panels or underfloor insulation.
The technical knowledge that a product manufacturer possesses can also add significant weight to a contractor’s tender document, as can the reliability of having recommendations to get an experienced and trusted installation team on board. Once a project is secured, the benefits of such early engagement can continue to be felt throughout the build programme, with suppliers attending design meetings and site visits when restrictions permit, to help ensure best practice and that all specification and technical matters are being correctly adhered to.
These are conversations that we have with both the specialist contractors who fabricate and install our products and the main contractors who specify them – and by maintaining positive and productive relationships with both, we’re able to continue to work closely, even at a distance.