Factory thinking - a car industry for the water sector?

By embracing standardisation the UK water sector has the potential to save billions of pounds and create a world leading industry.

Richard Ogden does not mince his words when discussing the importance of standardisation in the water industry. As the chairman of Buildoffsite, an industry wide organisation that encourages offsite techniques for construction, Ogden has seen first hand the benefits that this approach has and is passionate about the importance of this for the water industry, and in fact global stability. “My belief is that we will be fighting wars over water in the future, not oil. It is very precious and it is a commodity that costs a huge amount of money and we are quite wasteful with it,” he says.

Being more efficient is therefore paramount and Ogden describes the approach that has historically prevailed in the industry – where every item is designed as if it were a prototype – as utter madness. “Every product is treated as being unique but in this market place you don’t need to do that because it is done in a very mechanical way.”

Look no further than the pioneering work undertaken by Anglian Water’s @one Alliance. Ogden points to their achievements as being the kind of replicable work that could spread not only through the UK but into Europe. 

Early efforts began around nine years ago and saw Buildoffsite connect members NG Bailey with @one Alliance to create a standardised water booster pump that immediately brought the cost down from £100,000 per unit to £60,000. Scaled up across work programmes and water companies the impact of this approach could be groundbreaking. “We are not talking about fractions of thousands here we are taking billions of pounds because we don’t need to have bespoke designs. If we take this broader we are talking about the UK, Ireland, and Europe. Just imagine if it became a car industry for water.”

To promote the sharing of best practice and information of the offsite approach, the Water Sector Hub has been recently established with Buildoffsite to bring together the key stakeholders. Major water companies, contractors, consultants and suppliers have begun enthusiastically sharing their expertise and the next meeting is scheduled for late June.

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