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Technology gives house design the personal touch.

Byline: By Darren Richards

Off-site Construction (OSC) technology is driving the potential for a new revolution in the 21st century. It undoubtedly has a significant role to play in the future.

Manufacturers, software developers, engineers and architects are promising to transform the construction industry with a mixture of computer-aided design and the latest in industrial manufacturing technology. These ideas could turn the industry's traditional hierarchy of clients, contractors and architects on its head.

A vision for the housebuilding sector is that new homes could be designed and built in a completely different way ( a way that puts the responsibility for design not just on architects but on the people who will purchase the property and occupy it. This is the radical opportunity that OSC technology presents, with efficient design processes, CAD/CAM linked production facilities and even the possibility of `on-line' designs. To make this happen we need ways to simplify ( or even partially automate ( the design process.

Just as important, there is a need for cost-effective ways to translate designs into innovative construction solutions, as well as a requirement for new manufacturing techniques for the construction industry to produce custom-shaped elements in whatever size and material the designs call for.

One current example of OSC technology rising to the challenge, is the number of modern fast-track cladding systems being developed by manufacturers in response to the drive for energy-efficient homes ( an area where traditional construction techniques and materials lack innovation.

Flexible production systems, supported by lean manufacturing strategies, will need to underpin an ability to satisfy unprecedented levels of customer choice, with properties of extremely high quality and reliability at affordable prices. As part of this, good design is recognised as an essential prerequisite for a successful product and this is the opportunity facing the manufacturers of the new OSC solutions.

The efficiencies of mass-customisation really begin to emerge when you take automation beyond the design stage. The panacea is to integrate a customer's on-line design with flexible computer controlled manufacturing. The information generated on-line should drive the production line ( this is the ultimate in process integration, and it may not be as far away as we might think. Whilst striking the all important balance between commercial affordability and stylish design, the visionary housing developer should be looking to OSC solutions to offer homebuyers real involvement and choice in the design of their new home. Taking customisation several steps beyond the tired realms of ceramic tiles and carpeting, buyers could one day soon be able to specify room configurations and layouts based on standardised footprint dimensions.

Computer-controlled mass-customisation using OSC solutions can free design and choice, opening up the possibility of creating new homes from an unlimited number of individualised parts. The elements of architectural composition need no longer be translations, rotations and reflections of simple shapes. Once computer-aided design and automated assembly plants are integrated, the possibility of radically new architectural languages opens up.

This is one of the latest innovations and developments being covered by the Chartered Institute of Housing Exhibition 2004 at Harrogate from June 15-18.

Mtech Group Ltd is the UK's leading specialist consultancy in the development and application of (OSC) technology. The company is based in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, but operates throughout the UK, Ireland and Europe. Tel: (01743) 357377 Other useful sites include and www.constructingexcellence.

* Darren Richards is the operations director at Mtech Group Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 11, 2004
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