Rhys Denbigh, Head of New Business at Facit Homes reflects on the way a single home manufacturer can simplify the process of building for the custom build consumer.
Six years’ experience of designing and manufacturing bespoke, low-energy homes has given Facit Homes first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing those who wish to fulfil their dream of building and the joys it brings once realised. But the frustrations associated with finding a suitable plot and the ever-increasing purchase costs mean that often only the truly committed are making it happen. But for those that do, the reward is always handsome.
The dawn of custom build in the UK is a true watershed moment in the housing market, removing the barriers to land purchase and opening up this opportunity to a much wider audience. Our experience, combined with our innovative digital design and manufacture process, sees us perfectly placed to be in the vanguard of this movement; delivering the custom homes we know people desire.
The concept of manufacturing is one that we’re all familiar and comfortable with. Every day we rely on a host of manufactured products from any number of brands, from the bicycle we ride to the smart phone that is never far from our hand. And they’re all designed, developed and manufactured by a single company.
This gives the consumer reassurance that every element has been considered and selected to ensure that the final product will meet their expectations with regard to quality, performance and value. It also makes things a lot easier than having to buy all the parts and make it yourself.
Despite a house being the most expensive ‘product’ most of us will ever purchase, this single company approach is not often found in the world of private house building. Instead, a number of parties are usually employed in parallel to build a home, which creates overlaps, miscommunication and occasionally friction. It’s an intimidating thought for many and the concept can seem overwhelming.
But a home manufacturer can provide the focused brand experience that fosters consumer confidence and simplifies the entire process. This is something that’s lacking in the industry, and it can become a powerful force with regards to the promotion of custom build developments.
These manufactured brand products tend to have one other thing in common — a central digital design model. This is used to generate everything from the final aesthetic to the production of bespoke parts, as well as integration of third party components. This digital information drives the product from the drawing board to the shelf, helping to guarantee that the end result is a perfect and consistent recreation of the original design.
At Facit Homes we have applied these methods to the production of our homes, using intelligent BIM design software, CNC manufacturing and other techniques to digitise the build process, creating efficiencies and ensuring accuracy where traditionally there is interpretation and compromise.
Factory production, or pre-fabrication, of homes is itself nothing new and was/still is seen by some as the knight in shining armour for 21st century house building. In particular, Legal & General are investing £55m in a vast new facility which they say will produce 3,000 houses a year. But beyond the huge financial investment (and space) such factories require, they can also result in a homogenisation of design and lack of flexibility, something that already plagues the volume house building market.
Custom build by its very nature puts control in the customer’s hands and therefore it’s imperative that they should be given a significant level of choice on the look and feel of their home. It also presents a golden opportunity to create diverse, design-rich environments rather than the cookie-cutter developments we currently endure.
Facit Homes’ response is the use of on-site manufacturing — a factory-free approach that utilises the site itself as the production space by dropping in a Mobile Production Facility containing a CNC machine. This micro-factory manufactures the structural components for that particular home/site as efficiently as a mass production line, while allowing freedom of design and negating any need for standardisation.
Alongside these components we also integrate a range of items from third party suppliers, some of which are made to our exact specification using information from the digital model and some off-the-shelf.
To further increase efficiencies we adopt the ‘Just-in-time’ methodology, born of Japanese car manufacturers. This means each element of the home arrives on site at the exact moment it is to be installed, thanks to careful supply chain management. The on-site manufacturing process can also easily be scaled to meet an increase in requirements across multiple sites; rather than building a bigger factory we just get another machine.
This gives the custom build market a much greater sense of security and confidence for the customer around those key principals of quality, performance and value. It also provides guarantees on two of the big unknowns, price and timeframe. We design and manufacture it, so we know exactly what it will cost and how long it will take, and we can give the customer this information from the off.”
With so much fear and anxiety around the process, the combination of custom build plots and home manufacturing can make building your own home as simple as purchasing someone else’s existing one. It is here that we really see the opportunity to disrupt the traditional volume house building industry and leverage technology to bring a new offering that does not frighten the public but inspires them. The demand is already well established and the key now is not only in the physical supply but in the simplicity of the customer journey.
With so much potential in the sector and a growing band of developers, councils, architects, manufacturers, technology companies and even MPs all dedicated to ensuring its success, the future of custom build feels bright. By all pushing in the same direction and working together to promote a well-considered proposition to the public we can follow the example of our European neighbours and create a new generation of housing that is truly focused on the people who will inhabit it.