Façade contracts are not without risk and, although there are some transferable skills from drylining, the world of façades is a specialised sector. Large scale residential generally goes the steel frame route; however, prefab panel systems are also gathering pace.

“Façade contracts are a great opportunity for drylining and rendering contractors but they do carry greaterrisks,” says Steve Halcrow at FPDC.

“Main contractors know the risks as well and are looking for more specialist teams to do SFS work as they’ve often had concerns about quality of workmanship.

“You need to make sure you are using the right metal, and the correct brackets and fixings. More often than not an outline design indicates line of metal. It’s then up to the specialist subcontractor to get the detailed design produced.”

Brent Davies of DCP Façades agrees: “It often falls on us as the specialist to highlight and advise on detailing and interfaces, issues that are often overlooked at tender stage. When providing a quotation we are expected to carry out a comprehensive take off and include for these overlooked items within a lump sum.

“Once on site, the design and setting out become  critical. With lead-in times of up to ten weeks on some products it is all too easy to become exposed at the end of the contract if you have under ordered. It’s also important to be aware of minimum order quantities imposed by the suppliers, particularly on bespoke colours or finishes.”

An integral part of the drive to improve the design and planning process is the advent of BIM (building information modelling). In the government’s Construction Strategy the use of Level 2, 3D Collaborative BIM has been proposed on all central government construction projects by 2016, irrespective of project value. This will involve all members of the supply chain that are involved in government projects, not just Tier 1 players.

David Philp, head of BIM implementation at the Cabinet Office, said: “BIM is altering the way that the construction industry operates and as it enters a new digital age projects are being built twice, once in the computer and then once on site. Virtually constructing buildings allows organisations to identify and resolve issues before they actually happen.

“BIM means many different things to different people and they are not all wrong! It very much depends on your perspective and role in the supply chain; however, irrespective of what you do and indeed the size of your organisation BIM helps unlock new efficiencies.”

This is where the supply chain can step in and support contractors. Metsec Framing sections can now be downloaded for direct incorporation into a project BIM file.

Stephen Ginger, Metsec’s sales director, said: “As the construction industry starts to embrace the benefits of BIM there’ll be new demands placed on design and construction teams. Metsec has been BIM Level II compliant for many years and we have resources to fully detail the cold rolled steel elements in either 2D or 3D environments. The use of 3D models becomes invaluable when detailing curves and the use of colour coding on our steel sections and construction drawings helps to identify differing stud gauges.”

“We’ve brought out a new external wall pre-panelised system aimed at larger projects. The new MEWS (Metsec external wall system) speeds up the installation process and is aimed at getting the building built and weather proofed faster. The pre-panelised system is designed to cantilever past a slab edge, providing temporary edge protection and removing scaffolding from the critical path. Preclad panels help provide early weather-tightness and there is also less waste and less risk as fewer activities take place on site.”

Finding that competitive edge is all important. Contractors report that clients continue to drive down costs by going out to more and more specialists for a price. But they also see the benefit of placing a number of packages with a single contractor. Clients also want more work done off site and brought to site for assembly which is where MEWS (Metsec external wall system) and similar products have a role to play.

With façades there appears to be less pressure use particular products. The main façades systems each give details of appropriate fixings and it appears to be less restrictive than in the drywall sector.

At Hilti, since its acquisition of Eurofox in 2011, the group now produces everything necessary to mount façade finishes; be it ceramic, metal or high pressure laminate.

Richard Blain, Hilti’s UK trade manager for interior finishing, said: “Installing façades is far more complex than drywall. You’re talking millimetre accuracy.

“We’re now more involved in the design of rainscreen systems at tendering stage with contractors, much earlier than in other sectors. We ask a contractor to provide us with project information; location, type of structure, panel type and we’ll provide design calculations for a sample elevation, a comprehensive bill of materials and a quotation for their tender.

“If a contractor successfully wins the contract and chooses to use Hilti Eurofox, we can provide comprehensive assembly and design drawings as well as site support through a team of building envelope specialists.”

Gypsum board manufacturers have also responding and recently Siniat unveiled a new board for exterior use. Mark Riley, product manager for Siniat, said: “GTEC Weather Defence has been developed for frame-based construction. Thermal efficiency is vital and the board’s airtightness makes it ideal. It is also a safe, cost effective and fast solution, allowing exterior contractors and cladding specialists on-site quicker to reduce construction time.

“The board and its colour reflect the company’s new, bright and fresh image. GTEC Weather Defence is highly visible on site representing a new look for construction; not only in colour, but as a sign of efficiency and performance of build.”

As contractors battle to secure new work opportunities going from the outside in is still an attractive option but they must be aware of the risks.