Improving productivity and efficiency in construction has always been a challenge. Indeed, government figures state construction productivity has only increased by 1.4 per cent since 1997. We know that time and  material wastage impact the bottom line, but what isn’t clear is how to fix this. Gareth Dunn, innovation manager at British Gypsum, explores.

UK’s labour productivity has been relatively stable over the past five years but construction output has been less reliable. An area most affected is repair and maintenance, with outputs decreasing by 3.6 per cent from July to September 2016 – leading to an overall dip in construction output of 1.1 per cent compared to the previous quarter.

Having spent time on-site with installers, it’s clear that a lot of time is wasted waiting for materials to set, increasing the completion time of smaller repair jobs and decreasing productivity.

Electricians, plumbers and  decorators, as well as plasterers and multi-trades, frequently do small jobs to repair holes, fill in pipe or cable chases and finish the walls. Professionals use an undercoat or patching plaster to complete the repair; however, this can mean waiting up to three hours for the product to set before skimming it. To overcome this, many professionals modify the mixture, adding ingredients like dirty water or cement to force quicker setting times. While this might make it set faster, the exact setting time can vary and it may not set at all.

Understanding these issues can help improve construction  productivity by influencing  manufacturers’ product  developments. Our trade patching range, for example, reduces time spent on smaller repair jobs by  decreasing setting time by as much as two thirds. Other quick-drying products, like paint and cement, similarly boost productivity by giving  installers time to complete more than one job a day.

While productivity is a large-scale issue in the construction industry, the whole supply chain should consider what they can do to make a difference. This means everyone, from manufacturers to tradespeople, working together to pinpoint areas where time savings can be made and taking a fresh look at innovative ways to solve them.

Gareth Dunn
Innovation manager
British Gypsum