The role of logistics in the shift towards offsite construction

The construction industry’s transition towards offsite manufacturing-led approaches requires consideration of many facets. Logistics is one such area that can play a pivotal role in the sector’s transformation.

Whilst the footprint of the logistic chain spans the entire lifecycle of a project – from the design and manufacturing stages of a project to the delivery, assembly and operation of a final asset – it is a process that is traditionally only considered at a later delivery stage, not early in the planning phase. However, it is crucial that design and logistics planning engineers collaborate as early as possible to unlock the benefits of manufacturing-led approaches.

To explore the barriers and opportunities presented by construction logistics, the Construction Innovation Hub completed a Gap Analysis, reviewing the main stages of the construction process through a logistics lens, from planning and design to transport and assembly to identify the gaps that industry – along with relevant government departments, policymakers and research programmes – need to address.

Some of the relevant topics identified in the Gap Analysis included:

  • Communication and information flow throughout the logistics process;
  • Lifecycle approach and early planning;
  • Inspection, auditing, and handling protocols for components in offsite construction;
  • Policy & Smart Regulations; and
  • Definition of role and responsibilities.

To discuss the findings of the Gap Analysis and brainstorm cross-industry solutions, the Construction Innovation Hub, together with Buildoffsite, gathered a range of industry stakeholders – from logistics experts, contractors, designers, tier 1 contractors, manufacturers, consultants to building control – in a collaborative workshop.

The workshop addressed pre-prepared questions across three main topics, allowing participants to share best practices and challenges that they are currently facing. The main outcomes were:

Early planning and lifecycle approach

  • Consider a lifecycle approach to logistics to unlock the benefits of offsite construction.
  • Identify best early planning practices that consider logistics aspects, including sequencing, transportation, storage and interface management.
  • Explore the development of product templates that incorporate information requirements for logistics.

Auditing and inspection

  • Attain clear communication of data in order to assess manufacturing and logistic capabilities.
  • Develop unified approaches to data management and record keeping for logistics activities, to align with the industry shift to information management frameworks. Different protocols for record keeping and the wide range of recorded data were identified as barriers.

Digital tools for logistics

  • Ensure interoperability between digital tools adopted across the supply chain to allow information flow and transparency.
  • Integrate carbon footprint assessment of logistics strategies within a digital tool, to support the decision-making process from an early stage of the project. This will need to be supported by the capturing of real data to support assessment procedures.

The workshop reached unanimous agreement that construction logistics is a key enabler for the offsite manufacturing industry, reinforcing the vital need for a collaborative approach that focuses on early planning and the engagement of cross-functional teams which include logistic professionals.

The workshop confirmed the main findings of the Gap Analysis research and set the path for future development of an efficient and sustainable logistics framework that will directly contribute to the reduction of whole life costs, delivery time and environmental impact of offsite construction projects.

Projects: Platform Programme