With the recent acquisition of Suiko by Turner & Townsend, The LMJ spoke to managing director of Suiko, Andy Marsh and Managing Director of Turner & Townsend , Jon White.

Suiko was founded back in 1997 and initially focused on continuous improvement by putting an emphasis on people in production environments. The firm now focuses more on operational excellence and has a wealth of knowledge in Japanese manufacturing techniques, the word Suiko actually means polish in Japanese.

Turner & Townsend is a project management firm that provide advice and help to safeguard clients embarking on investment programmes in real estate, infrastructure and natural resources. The firm started out as a single quantity surveyor in the UK back in 1946 and now has over 90 offices across the world.

So how did the two come to join teams?

As anyone with any involvement in business improvement, lean or operational excellence will tell you, culture is one of the defining factors in any change project. An acquisition is no different; T&T and Suiko ensured that the culture was in place before the takeover happened.

Speaking about the cultural from T&Ts point of view, Jon said, “It’s about identifying an organisation that you feel has the right cultural fit with your organisation. I met with the senior team and could see the way they manage the business and the relationships they have with their clients and we felt there was a good cultural fit there.”

Construction poses all kinds of problems, including health and safety issues, image courtesy of APS

Construction poses all kinds of problems, including health and safety issues, image courtesy of APS

From a Suiko point of view, Andy feels that, “it’s all cultural fit. There is a deep realisation that this thing is current, hot in manufacturing and there is a real desire to embed it and make the most of it at the moment. That was music to our ears really; it was a great fit, the timing worked out.”

“What we’ve seen firstly is that, culturally construction is slightly lagging behind what we have experienced in manufacturing,“ Andy goes on to say.

“In manufacturing there has been a shift to a more collaborative and open way of working, a more joined up supply chain with an end to end approach, applying lean principles etc. I think in construction they are absolutely trying that, but there is still a way to go.”

Construction faces some very unique problems when it comes to implementing lean methodologies. One of the first issues can be getting tools, material and personnel to site. If it is a project that is difficult to get to, then simply getting materials to site and storing them can be a massive inconvenience and lead to large amounts of inefficiencies and waste.

Jon gave us a bit more of an insight in to what he thinks are the areas in construction that have the most to gain from lean thinking. “The way we use design information is one example. Typically on a construction project we can rework design through the supply chain one of the areas that I see an opportunities is to become more efficient using technology as well.”

He goes on to explain, “In the construction industry we have a new technique, which is rolling through the industry called BIM, building information modelling. This is essentially modelling in three, four of five dimensions and that can allow you to be a lot more efficient in the way you manage your design information, so certainly there’s an area focus on lean in terms of looking at the movement of design information and how that is used throughout the supply chain.”

So the areas that lean and operational excellence can influence the construction covers almost all the difference facets of a construction project. This then prompts the question, which tools will be the most useful for the industry?

“For us it starts with really great measurement, transparency, truly understanding what’s going on and what standard work is because without that you can’t understand variation,” Andy tells us, the goes on to say.

“Then it’s about looking at variation to standard and trying to get control. Then it’s about getting a culture of improvement, challenging issues. Also starting to look forward and not back, getting people to problem solve and look at issues that are occurring or going to occur.”

Off-site manufacturing is a technique that is often employed in the construction industry. With sites often cluttered with equipment, resources and personnel, there often isn’t enough room or space to build a structure on site. With construction in built up cities this requires more of a reliance on off-site manufacturing.

“The industry has been very aware of the benefits of off-site manufacturing, the challenge that we have is that sites are congested there’s probably more we can do with off-site,” according to Jon.

“A lot of that actually feeds back in to the design stage it’s not just about construction, I would certainly see that off-site manufacture will become more prevalent.”

The accessibility of a site can pose a problem, as can the culture of a site or project. If one part of a project runs over time or cost, it can have a huge knock on for the rest of the project. The classic example that everyone knows is when you see a site full of builders who don’t look to be doing a lot.

“On a building site you’ll often see people standing around waiting because the works aren’t always as synchronised, as they should be. Then you find people are synchronising on-site, almost as it goes so the plans are changing and then you get that knock on effect that creates more waste,” Andy explains.

“There is quite a bit of debate and activity around our area, I think again, some of the construction firms are trying this but I don’t think anyone has truly cracked it and I think they try offsite, which is almost a factory, you don’t necessarily have the skills to run their offsite production or how to optimise this end to end process to make the most of the idea.”

Getting materials to and from site can be a huge hindrance on large sites.

Getting materials to and from site can be a huge hindrance on large sites.

After agreeing which areas the two firms could collaborate on to bring improvement to the industry, there was also a ‘courtship’ process, as Jon called it.

It is a huge time of change in the manufacturing industry in the UK, the government recently announced that smart technologies and green construction needed to be implemented and improved for 2025. The government has also set a goal of achieving 33% costs savings as well as releasing a report that showed areas in the supply chain where there savings can be achieved.

Jon thinks that Suiko’s expertise in lean and operational excellence can help find those savings that the industry needs, “only so much can be delivered through traditional measures so we need to be more expansive in the industry in terms of driving change to achieve those types of savings.

“We think that lean, collaboration and technology are the key areas for us where we believe the industry can derive more value for clients.”

Lean has always found a way to adapt and make itself relevant in other sectors and industries. Whether it is healthcare, law or some other industry, lean has now been adapted so that it can be incorporated in to these industries. The construction industry could be the next industry to take the plunge and embed the tool sets in the culture of the sector.

This merger between Turner & Townsend and Suiko could herald a new era for lean and possibly bring new techniques to the construction industry.