The stringent but essential social distancing restrictions introduced by government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have created unprecedent challenges for UK construction. With building projects in every corner of the country facing varying levels of disruption, Coronavirus has sent shockwaves of uncertainty through the sector, and indeed the UK and global economies.
History has shown however, that periods of crisis are often followed by critical turning points. As Britain starts building again, we have a unique opportunity to lay the foundations for a better and more sustainable future in the construction sector. We have a chance to leave behind outdated practices and processes, and embrace new, better ways of doing things, with quality and efficiency becoming our new mantra.
This may seem like a tall order, but the good news is that much of the groundwork for this change has already been laid. Over the last few months, the Construction Innovation Hub – a UK government-backed initiative under the UK Research & Innovation Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund – has been developing a new process which seeks to adapt and embed first class planning practices which are commonplace among leading manufacturers.
This new construction quality planning (CQP) process will support innovative products being brought to the market by firms that feed construction with components for offsite builds. In the simplest sense, CQP will ensure that parts conform to the fit, form, and function needed by the industry as well as upholding crucial quality standards. Its methods and underlying toolsets will provide a standardised process with measurable quality data and outputs. In turn, this could help to pave the way for future accreditation schemes, providing confidence to clients, insurers, lenders, and contractors.
The feedback and problem-solving mechanisms within CQP would bring the industry together in identifying corrective and preventative actions as well as documenting lessons learned. As an industry-wide quality planning process, it will also ensure an intensive and standardised approach to quality is being adhered to throughout the supply chain. Given the challenges which lie ahead for construction, we need the sector to not only embrace, but also champion quality processes that are stringent and structured.
The groundwork for CQP has been laid by the Hub’s unique blend of expertise, bringing together experts from across the Manufacturing Technology Centre, Building Research Establishment (BRE), and Centre for Digital Built Britain. Our team, which includes engineers and quality specialists from sectors ranging from aerospace to automotive, have examined how the efficient processes of these industries can be applied within construction, to drive a significant change in construction’s approach to quality.
CQP is an adaptation of advanced product quality planning (APQP), a process already in use throughout the manufacturing industry. APQP enables the introduction of new, complex products through a standardised quality planning process. Regardless of peculiarities in a new product being introduced, consistent tools are used to evaluate and mitigate the overall risks. APQP has supported a shift from a firefighting, defect-checking culture, to a proactive, defect-prevention approach.
For sectors like manufacturing, aerospace and automotive, following industry-specific guidelines to enable smooth implementation of new product introduction projects is considered not just best practice, but standard practice. Through CQP, we want to embed this same way of thinking in construction so that our schools and hospitals of the future can be built to an equally meticulous quality standard as an airliner or a car. This may seem somewhat farfetched, but it is entirely achievable and indeed essential. Through CQP, we are providing the sector with the tools it needs to work towards a zero defects mindset.
What do we mean by zero defects? In the aerospace industry, extremely stringent regulation has created an ethos for structured problem solving, continuous improvement and defect prevention. While buildings may not have wings or jet engines, much of what works in aerospace can be applied to construction, delivering not just better buildings, but better societal outcomes as well.
To meet the unique needs of construction, the CQP process will follow 5 key phases, with detailed toolsets applied across every phase. A gated approval process will embed further rigor in the final sign-off. Overall, the approval process will ensure that quality is deep-seated, results are monitored, and targets are achieved at every stage of the process.
To illustrate its wider impact, CQP will be instrumental in the delivery of another of the Hub’s flagship initiatives, the platform design programme. A dynamic collaboration between the Hub and the industry, the programme will follow a pre-defined kit of parts manufacture and assembly-style approach to configuring new buildings. CQP will support progress of the programme every step of the way, in turn ensuring better quality and on-time delivery of some of society’s most vital buildings.
As with every other part of the Hub’s transformative programme, we depend upon industry support for CQP to succeed. That’s why in July we launched an open consultation in order to give businesses and experts right across the construction sector their say. Alongside this consultation, we recently hosted workshops, and will be developing proof-of-concept case studies to demonstrate the applicability and value of CQP for the sector.
Although the future looks uncertain, we have a critical window of opportunity to put the sector on the right course and avoid a return to business as usual. As a solution which strives to provide better foresight into potential issues, ensure improved quality and on-time delivery of new products introduced to market, CQP has the power to emerge as a permanent game-changer in the sector’s post-recovery landscape.