“Pipeline certainty is key to offsite sector having the capacity to meet market needs”
Declan Murtagh, CEO of LGS structure manufacturer Framespace Solutions, believes the Irish off-site construction sector is well placed to help meet the output goals of the Housing for All strategy, but manufacturers need a secure pipeline of work to give them the confidence to make the necessary investment.
In April of this year, Framespace Solutions officially opened its new manufacturing facility in Longford, following an €8m investment, where it employs about 100 people. It also announced that it plans to hire an additional 150 more staff, with the goal of doubling its capacity and ramping up to deliver 1,100 homes per annum by 2025.
Framespace Solutions specialises in the design and manufacture of light gauge steel (LGS) structures for use in the residential construction sector throughout Ireland and the UK. With its new 120,000 sq-foot facility, CEO Declan Murtagh says that the company will achieve the milestone of delivering 550 residential units per annum within the next 18 months.
Declan Murtagh believes that while the Irish offsite sector is in a good place at this time, there are still a few not insurmountable barriers that need to be addressed if it is to confidently increase capacity to help meet the output ambitions of the Housing for All (HfA) strategy
“Offsite construction accounts for maybe 1% to 2% of total Irish residential units compared to the UK, where it is between 8% and 10%. Offsite has grown in the UK because, over the past 15 years, government policies and framework structures focused on moving toward offsite construction. This has helped its construction sector address labour challenges and improve quality and efficiency.”
He adds that the big challenge for Irish offsite manufacturers is that, unlike contractors, they cannot turn off supply at the end of a project.
“Pipeline certainty is key to offsite having capacity to meet market needs,” Murtagh comments. “Continuity of output is vital in terms of investment in facilities and human resources. To scale up, we need to have guaranteed pipelines in place. The development of new frameworks that include offsite companies in Ireland would be a huge step forward. We can respond to the demand, but this is not feasible unless we see a continuous pipeline.
“Framespace has moved into a position where we are partnering with clients for larger projects, and this is giving us a clear pipeline of work.” he continues.
“While a number of contractors have invested in off-site facilities, there is going to be a point where there will need to be partnerships between developers, contractors and offsite manufacturers to achieve the annual HfA completions goal of 33,000 units. Offsite manufacturers need to be part of the frameworks rather than a supplier tendering for work from a contractor. Being in a framework gives the pipeline certainty needed to invest. This is why inclusive frameworks are so important.”
Declan Murtagh explains that Framespace started out manufacturing and building one-off houses and that it still provides that service. But its primary market is developers building housing for Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) and private sale.
“We recently completed a 16-unit scheme in Leitrim Village. This was a fast-track programme that we started in January, and the units were let on the market in June. “We are currently on the second phase of a scheme in Co Kildare with Alchemy Homes, which has 90 units, comprising a mix of housing and duplex apartments. Some of these are for Cluid Housing and the rest for private sale.
“We also have a 29-unit six-storey apartment development in Dublin 8 on the factory floor at this time, and we are looking at some exciting and innovative projects for the coming year.”
All Framespace units are built to NZEB standard with A2 and A1 BERs.
“We provide a complete turnkey service, or a frame and façade service whereby we provide clients with a fully weatherproofed and sealed building, which they then fit out. “In jobs of greater scale, we would partner with a main contractor to ensure that the project is delivered on time and budget.”
Framespace has a successful track record of partnering with clients. It has a strategic partnership with Tetrarch Capital’s housebuilding affiliate Tetrarch Homes, which is planning to use offsite housing to accelerate the delivery of elements of its pipeline. Framespace is also looking to partner with AHBs and local authorities as well as contractors and developers at this time.
Framespace Solutions Resources
Declan Murtagh explains that Framespace prefers to come on board on projects at the earliest stage possible.
“The earlier we are involved, the better. You can’t fast-track the construction process without putting in the effort at the design and planning stages. With this in mind, we invested in the people, technology and plant to ensure that our expertise and digital capability can benefit projects from the earliest stage.”
Framespace also has an apprenticeship programme in place, and Declan Murtagh highlights the point that the traditional role of the apprentice has changed, with modern digital and lean construction skills being an essential element of any apprentice’s training.
“I am delighted to see that a lot of effort has gone in at Solus and CIF level to modernise our construction training programmes. I am also delighted that Enterprise Ireland is now playing an active role in the modernisation of the sector.”
Referencing once more the importance of partnerships in the delivery of large-scale projects, Declan Murtagh says that developers want to partner with contractors and suppliers because of the huge investment required from them to get projects shovel-ready.
“Project delivery is not just about construction costs anymore. Huge investment is required at the front end of projects and across the full life cycle of a building or scheme. Getting through planning and putting finance in place is an enormous challenge. As a result of this, the construction element of a project must work to tightening timelines. And the shorter the construction period is, the quicker that the contractor will get paid. As a result, developers and contractors are looking at offsite for solutions that will deliver projects more efficiently.”
Materials price inflation has been rife in the market this year. Declan Murtagh comments that while it has been documented that some costs are stabilising slightly, price increases have been astounding.
“The cost increase of oil-based insulation products has been particularly phenomenal, with as much as 120% increases in the price of some products since the third quarter of last year. Tying people to fixed-price contracts is not viable at the moment, and this is delaying project delivery, with projects either slowing down or being put on hold. There is also a situation where developers have to go back and renegotiate for extra money on pre-sold units. This is probably a short-term issue and will resolve itself. But it points to the importance of having a fast and efficient delivery system.”
In closing, Declan Murtagh says that in order for housing targets to be met, the adoption and acceptance of new technology by the Irish construction sector is critical. However, independent third-party certification of new technologies and systems is also vital. An increase in resources for the National Standard Authority of Ireland (NSAI) and the Irish Agrément Board is key to ensuring the timely adopting of these technologies.
“Having an efficient certification process is essential. To enable the offsite sector to grow and increase capacity, the government needs to put resources into the NSAI and the Agrément Board and ensure there are more accessible certification processes. Testing and certification is a continuous process due to the innovative products and materials coming on line all the time. A properly resourced certification process is essential if the offsite sector is to grow,” he concludes.
About The Framespace Solutions Building System
The Framespace Solutions building system allows for the manufacture of high-quality and environmentally sustainable buildings in a factory-controlled environment. Prefinished floor, wall, and roof panels are manufactured in the facility in Longford and then delivered to site, where they can be assembled in a matter of hours.
The system is certified for use in buildings up to six storeys, and Framespace says it can reduce onsite construction durations by as much as 40% when compared to more traditional building methods. Framespace Solutions can provide an environmentally sustainable solution that dramatically reduces the waste produced in the construction process.
To learn more, visit www.framespace.ie