Delivering the benefits of prefabricated pipework

Published:  04 February, 2009

Pipe Center - Bob Hughes
Significant growth opportunities for offsite fabrication — Bob Hughes.

Enlightened consultants and clients are increasingly opting for off-site engineered modular pipework solutions, prompting Wolseley to launch its own state-of-the-art facility to bring design, assembly and supply under one roof.

The provision of heating, air conditioning and other services in buildings relies on extensive systems of pipework to convey hot, chilled water and domestic services. Unless the network of pipes and electrical containment is well designed and carefully installed, the resulting installation can be inefficient, unreliable and expensive.

As a result, demand for off-site assembled multi-service modules for building-services projects has been growing rapidly in recent years. Other drivers include the increasing profile of corporate social responsibilities and the need for sustainable construction practices, combined with tough on-site health and safety requirements.

Add to this the overarching need to deliver high quality fast-track projects that minimise waste while maximising quality, and it is not hard to understand why tailor-made multi-service modules assembled off-site are now emerging as a mainstream approach to the provision of building services.

Recognising the importance of the trend, UK construction products supplier Wolseley has launched a new facility within its Pipe Center business to meet the growing need for specially engineered multi-service modules on projects.

The modular engineering facility is based in a 2800 m2 dedicated site at Worcester. The company has invested in computer-aided design and manufacturing systems, capable of designing and producing high quality off-site assembled modules for the smallest to the largest construction projects.

One of the first projects undertaken includes the design and supply of over 200 M&E modules for a new hospital in the north of England. The system will cater for all the mechanical and electrical needs of the building, which includes the full range of hospital, healthcare and GP services.

Heading up the new operation is general manager Bob Hughes. With 35 years’ experience in the industry, and previous service with companies such as Balfour Kilpatrick and NG Bailey, he has a pioneering track record in modular solutions.

Modular engineered systems can include all facets of building services required in a building. They may encompass pre-insulated heating, chilled and domestic water systems, electrical containment, ventilation ductwork, fire safety systems and so on, integrated in modular units that are assembled in factory conditions.

At the heart of Pipe Center’s approach to projects is sophisticated design and product linked specification software. This enables engineers to work from original drawings to design a complete system within a proposed building structure.

The building services are then designed into modules from 1.2 to 6 m long that can be individually assembled. The software analyses a design and automatically calculates the exact amount of materials and number of components required, reducing wastage and eliminating ordering inefficiencies.

Pipe Center - Workers
Assembling pipework modules in a factory environment has many benefits compared with working on site.

When complete, individual modules are transported to site and positioned in their pre-designated locations. The modules are then simply connected up to create a complete and fully tested system.

‘The pressure to deliver a quality solution, on time and to budget, is constantly rising. Modular engineering and off-site assembly of pipework systems deliver on all these,’ says Bob Hughes.

It is not just in the design and delivery of state-of-the-art modular solutions that the company claims a technical and commercial edge. Bob Hughes explained: ‘Given our position in the market as a leading distributor of plumbing and heating products and a major supplier of building materials, we are able to offer customers a critical advantage — covering competitive component supply, design and manufacture of modules, and final delivery of modularised units direct to site — supported by Wolseley’s established supply chain. It is a compelling proposition for companies looking to increase quality while reducing costs.’

This thinking is behind the continued development of Wolseley’s other added-value services, including offsite pipe fabrication at West Horndon in Essex, bespoke valve assembly by Valvestock in Fareham, and Climate Center’s custom-build facility for refrigeration and air conditioning plant in Newbury.

As consultants and clients embrace the benefits of modularisation, Bob Hughes believes there are significant growth opportunities in the area. Key drivers are the ever-tighter timescales on projects, cost pressures and the strict requirements covering health and safety on site.

The modular approach offers a significant saving for clients and can shave off 10% compared with the true costs associated with a conventional on-site installation. Additional savings accrue from reducing materials wastage and overcoming skilled labour shortages often met with on-site.

The growing requirement for sustainable practices is another key factor. ‘The construction industry is undergoing a revolution in terms of the sustainability of materials and practices. Waste is not only a major source of inefficiency and avoidable cost, it adds to the environmental impact of a project,’ says Bob Hughes.

He adds: ‘Because of the precision of materials and component specification, modular off-site assembly is a brilliant way of keeping the use of raw materials to a minimum, saving cost and reducing the environmental impact of a construction project.’

Being able to carefully manage the build process in factory conditions also minimise the environmental impact of the actual construction phase, helping clients to meet stringent corporate social responsibility commitments.

Scott Craig, Pipe Center’s sales director, concludes: ‘I have no doubt that modular engineering is an important and growing trend in the industry, and the demand from customers will continue to increase in future. The benefits of pre-assembly in clean, controlled factory con­ditions are compelling. On grounds of quality, timeliness, cost and environmental protection, it is an approach that is hard to ignore.’

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