Factory thinking hits the water sector

Buildoffsite chairman Richard Ogden

"imagine if we became a car industry for water," says Buildoffsite's Richard Ogden in Bernadette Ballantyne's report of the impact of factory thinking on the water industry.

AMP 6 is set to see more factory thinking in the water sector and the effect could save billions of pounds.

More standardisation and lean construction techniques are set to be used during the water sector’s next five year asset management plan say leading experts. Savings for the industry could reach billions and create a world leading industry according to offsite construction organisation Buildoffsite. The industry wide body points to achievements by companies such as Anglian Water as the kind of initiatives that could spread not only through the UK but into Europe creating a world leading industry within the water sector.

“We are not talking about fractions of thousands here we are taking billions of pounds because we don’t need to have bespoke designs. If we take this broader we are talking about the UK, Ireland, and Europe. Just imagine if it became a car industry for water,” says Richard Ogden, chairman of Buildoffsite.

Early efforts began around nine years ago and saw Buildoffsite connect members NG Bailey with Anglian Water delivery partner @one Alliance to create a standardised water booster pump that immediately brought the cost down from £100,000 per unit to £60,000. Scaled up across work programmes and water companies the impact of this approach is set to be groundbreaking.

To promote the sharing of best practice and information on the offsite approach a new Water Sector Hub has been recently established with Buildoffsite and the Water Industry Forum to bring together the key stakeholders. Major water companies, contractors, consultants and suppliers have begun enthusiastically sharing their expertise.

 Contractor Costain is one of the driving forces behind the move to lean construction having created its own factory thinking team in January.

Its remit is to promote a more systems led engineering approach which includes offsite prefabrication and the results are already clear to see. In Liverpool the GCA joint venture consisting of Galliford Try, Costain and Atkins is building the UK’s first multi-story sequencing batch reactor (SBR) with cyclic activated sludge system (CASS) for client United Utilities.By introducing modularization the team has shaved 9 weeks off the programme.   

It began with the design and installation of the high-level decanter cover steelwork platform which was undertaken in collaboration with supply chain partner and steelwork specialist Peers Ltd.  The platform was an expanse of 2800m2, sitting at the top of the SBR (18m above ground floor level), with 7m open drops to the basins below. To reduce working at height the platform was split into eight areas, (approximately 350m2 each), which were in turn split into 14 separate modules. Each module was prefabricated offsite and then installed in a completed state, each taking a total of two days to install and complete.

For the water industry heading along this standardisation path will be challenging, as it has been for industries that have pioneered this approach. Aerospace, automotive and oil and gas industries have led the way with more recent efforts having emerged in construction sectors such as retail and rail.

 Looking ahead water companies such as Severn Trent are issuing larger packages or work programmes moving into AMP 6 and Costain says this means it can start to deliver a better service to client and customers alike. “As these are awarded we will be able to contract formally with our suppliers to deliver 20 schemes instead of one. That is where we can get the real benefits,” says Matt Crabtree, water director, Costain.

This also means that the relationship with the supply chain is changing. “We can enter into longer term trading agreements of between 3 and 5 years and we have introduced this concept to our supply chain and they have warmly welcomed it,” he says.

To read more go to Features in the July issue of Infrastructure Intelligence



If you would like to contact Bernadette Ballantyne about this, or any other story, please email