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Has offsite manufacturing's moment arrived?

Rich Matthews, managing director at Siltbuster Process Solutions, believes it is time for the water sector to reap the full benefits of design for manufacture & assembly 

As the industry comes under greater pressure to deliver more responsive and more complex investment programmes, this is prompting many to review how they manage and deliver them.

Given this, and the recent compliance and resilience issues raised in the media, AMP7 could be the tipping point – and a real opportunity for offsite manufacturing, with all the benefits it brings, to be widely adopted. 

There are many reasons why the water industry is well placed to go down the offsite manufacture route. Firstly, several sectors, including the construction industry, have advanced their skillsets in offsite manufacturing.  

This gives the water industry plenty to draw on – it can capitalise on this knowledge and skill, adopting the key lessons and taking advantage of supply chains that have already been developed. 

There’s the added impetus of the Project 13 initiative, which is seeking to boost productivity in UK infrastructure through increased engagement and adopting more enterprise thinking to delivery models. 

Offsite manufacture is ideal for repeatable projects. Given the commonality of investment programmes to be found across the water industry, the opportunity for repeatability is clear, particularly if you consider assets in terms of assemblies and sub-assemblies or ‘modules’. 

So the sector’s projects are well-suited to the opportunities offsite manufacture brings. However, to take advantage of these, there needs to be a greater appetite to approach solutions differently. Procurement approaches need to be adapted so that they’re more closely aligned with the supply chains already serving other markets in this manner. 

To see where the offsite approach is working well, companies would do well to look at the oil and gas market. The sector is particularly relevant to water and wastewater infrastructure as, within oil and gas, sub-assemblies are an underlying principle of asset build programmes – you don’t build an oil rig in situ, after all. 

For those thinking that an oil rig is very different from a treatment plant, there are sectors closer to home deploying offsite manufacturing to build treatment plants. For instance, food and beverage companies, where plant throughput is king, are under considerable pressure to ensure their effluent treatment plants maintain compliance at all times. Like the wastewater sector, such food and drink sites are often space constrained and they cannot afford downtime while plant is maintained or upgraded.

For a number of years, these companies have relied on offsite manufacture, deploying systems that use pre-assembled package plants and ancillaries, either to minimise downtime or as an effective contingency planning solution. 

So what can we learn from these sectors? The full benefits of adopting offsite manufacturing for treatment plants are achieved when companies effectively implement design for manufacture & assembly (DfMA). This requires the following to be considered: 

Minimising site activities: During a treatment plant project, the majority of problems, and therefore risks, arise from activities completed on site – the company’s financial performance, health and safety and even the overall investment programme can all be affected if things go wrong. However, if DfMA principles are implemented, onsite activity and therefore risks are focused on and minimised. That’s because when manufacturing is completed offsite within a factory, it is much easier to manage the working environment, putting in place effective control measures and procedures. Minimising site works, by pre-assembling components as skid-mounted solutions or package plants, also means other construction materials can be considered, though this requires conventional build philosophies to be challenged. 

Standard products & sub-assembly design: Standardisation is another key discussion point within DfMA but, to identify where it is best placed, you need to first consider the DfMA hierarchy. Focusing standardisation around parts and components allows for predictability in procurement, but seeking to standardise a complete sub-assembly or asset could constrain the solution’s ability to adapt to site specifics and require significantly more investment time. A key part of sub-assembly design (an optimum offsite solution area for AMP7) is working with defined battery limits/interfaces. Sub-assembly design also requires consideration of logistics: overall size, weight and how it can be installed given the site constraints. 

Implement a production process to procurement: Essentially, the primary benefit of production-based delivery is that the factory-built assets (or sub-assemblies) can run concurrently in the construction programme. Production programming means understanding lead times and supply-chain interactions or dependencies – working smarter with the key links. As a result, contractual relationships need to be defined much earlier in the delivery process, to secure the knowledge and experience to fulfil the efficiency opportunities.

The progress with the Project 13 initiative across the wider construction industry demonstrates the importance of this alignment as a key success criterion. Aligned with the Project 13 objectives, the integration of information is critical to the management of interfaces, design parameters or programme constraints. The integration of BIM into the delivery process will help but must not be relied upon solely as the driver for DfMA. 

When evaluating the suitability of offsite manufacture for your own situation, it is important to consider whether production is to be at the component level, sub-assembly or a fully packaged plant.

This will be affected by site-specific considerations (access and the available working area) or process requirements (flow, load and consent). However, with the primary DfMA driver being to minimise site activities, there is an opportunity to implement some offsite manufacture on every site. 

Working across municipal, industrial and construction markets, our Siltbuster team has seen offsite-manufactured modular treatment solutions successfully work in scenarios ranging from supporting short-term compliance and capital maintenance programmes through to providing complete design and build systems. 

The solution can range from a specific package plant through to a complete treatment stream being deployed with programme constraints. Whilst the deployment can often require extensive logistics planning, the savings on site assembly are considerable, with complete treatment systems installed and commissioned in a matter of weeks as opposed to months.  

The offsite manufacture of effluent treatment plants also gives the UK water industry an opportunity to futureproof upgrades. For instance, having the plant made up of a series of ‘modules’ means elements can be added – to provide increased capacity or to deploy different treatment technologies – as the demands of the catchment change. This futureproofing flexibility of modular or phased construction is an important consideration for a water industry, especially as it has such a long investment horizon during which so much could change.  

The fact that offsite manufacturing fundamentally delivers on so many fronts means that surely its moment has come. It ensures project times, and therefore budgets, are met. It minimises site risk – a key health and safety benefit. Furthermore, by drawing on a systemised, production-style approach to plant manufacture, it instils quality control to the delivery process.   

There are other sectors to learn from and a tried-and-tested supply chain well-placed to present and deliver these solutions to the water industry. The political climate plus scale and challenges of the AMP7 programme present the ideal opportunity for the water industry to draw on this experience, realise these benefits and for DfMA to become its ‘business as usual’.

This article originally appeared in the September issue of WWT

Topic: Innovation
Tags: DfMA , offsite manufacturing , Siltbuster


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