Meeting The Offsite Façades Challenge

As a leading supplier of façade systems and related products, the Benx Group recognizes that the transition to modern methods of construction (MMC) and offsite in particular, will require continuous evolution of the supply chain – and will take many years.

Benx began its offsite journey more than five years ago, when it introduced its in-house fabrication service. Since then, the group has been constantly adapting its processes, developing its capabilities and investing in testing, certification and machinery. Benx aims to ensure it can support customers operating at any point on the continuum, from traditional site-based activity to full volumetric offsite manufacturing.

The growth of offsite construction, driven by the need to build faster and more sustainably, requires the whole supply chain – including cladding suppliers like Benx – to continuously reevaluate how they do things. Many practices which were adopted decades ago by the automotive and aerospace sectors, will become commonplace in offsite construction, and the introduction of a manufacturing mindset is already starting to have an impact on how façades are specified, designed and delivered. Concepts such as DfMA, ‘right first time – every time’, ‘just in time’ are becoming increasingly prevalent in the façades supply chain. Benx, traditionally supplying façades for site-based construction activity, is working to embrace these concepts and has adopted some of their methodologies. Historically, Benx always delivered pallets full of the same component; Benx can now supply batched ‘work packs’ to production lines, comprising all the necessary components for a single modular unit or cluster of units.

Benx has been in the façade business for several decades, through its market-leading RCM and SPS Envirowall brands. The group’s involvement in offsite began in 2016, when RCM acquired a single panel saw to help its customers improve quality and reduce site waste by supplying pre-cut panels and boards. Fast-forward to today, the company has added three automated cutting lines, two CNC machining centres and a state-of-the art coating line – all operating from a dedicated fabrication site in Staffordshire. Benx plans to add a third CNC in 2023 and has recently set up an assembly line for its SLIPFAST mechanical brick slip system.

The Benx group supplies many of the leading offsite players with façade products and systems for a variety of offsite construction types, from LGSF panelised systems to full-blown volumetric assembly lines. The Benx portfolio is believed to be the most extensive range of rigorously tested and certified façade solutions available and many of the systems have been created, or have evolved, with offsite construction in mind. Offering value-added fabrication and coating services, allows Benx to help its customers alleviate site labour constraints and improve quality, whilst at the same time reducing waste. The company plans to continue investing in its growing fabrication capability and capacity so that it can supply ‘ready to install’ façade subassemblies direct to offsite factory or to site.

Benx believes that façades have the potential to play an important role in the offsite revolution. The group’s wide portfolio of façade options, ranging from render and brick slips to solid aluminium – and much in between – will give the offsite developer the ability to transform a standard house template into ‘unique’ homes – just like car manufacturers offer multiple colour and interior options on a single model. As Benx Group Chairman, Ian Wilson sees it, ‘working with us, customers and their clients can have the best of both worlds – all the benefits of MMC and at the same time, individualised properties’.

Benx also recognizes that integrating façade systems in the offsite environment can bring its own challenges which must be carefully managed. A key complication is that standards such as ETAG 034 were not developed with MMC specifically in mind, and do not, for example, necessarily consider the requirements for structural stability of façades when transporting and hoisting modular units into place. Tolerances, although much better than traditional site-based construction, still have to be managed carefully throughout offsite processes and although the seamless integration of modular units on site is often achievable, careful planning and consideration needs to be given to façade interface points. Benx has been helping its customers navigate these challenges for many years and has a wealth of experience to lean on.

MMC and offsite in particular, are core to the Benx Group’s strategy. The group recently featured at OFFSITE EXPO 2022, where Founder, Alan Robb presented a Masterclass session on the challenges and opportunities for façades in offsite construction. According to Robb, ‘the transition to offsite construction presents significant opportunities for the integration of façade systems, but the whole supply chain needs to work more collaboratively at an earlier stage to realise the potential benefits’.

In addition to its ongoing investments in product development and fabrication, Benx is committed to continuous learning and development to ensure its people can meet the changing technical and service level demands of its offsite customers. As well as structured training and development programmes, Benx has adopted a ‘constant learning’ philosophy to ensure that processes are continuously improved. In addition, the group is investing in technology which will provide scalability as the demand for offsite façades products and systems grows.

We are at the early stages of a long-term transformation of the construction industry, which will become increasingly manufacturing-led. Working in close collaboration with its offsite customers, Benx sees its role as both partner and facilitator, helping to ensure continued success in a constantly changing environment.