Prior engagement

With most construction projects following the traditional sequence of design, specification and procurement, Andrew Cooper of Senior Architectural Systems looks at how getting suppliers on board early can lead to plainer sailing for everyone.

As highlighted in the influential Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model, collaboration is a term often discussed in the industry but not a practice that is routinely adopted. One barrier to achieving greater levels of supply chain collaboration is undoubtedly the industry’s long-standing reliance on competitive tendering, when budget constraints often see contracts awarded to those that offer the lowest bid rather than the greatest value.

The advantage of early supplier involvement in a project 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. Much more than just a buzz word, supply chain collaboration offers real, tangible benefits – but what exactly can product manufacturers bring to the table?

Reducing risk

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 manufacturers’ 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 water tight 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.

Product performance

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 under floor insulation.

Supplying support

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 to help ensure best practice and that all specification and technical matters are being correctly adhered to.

With the rise of BIM and its reliance on shared information, it remains to be seen how far the industry can comfortably embrace true supply chain collaboration and if the nature of the more traditional supplier agreements will change. There is strength in numbers though, and by working together to realise a shared goal, every member of the project team can reap the rewards of successfully delivering a contract from conception to completion.

Andrew Cooper is national specification manager at Senior Architectural Systems