T&G apply flat-pack principles to overcome local logistics challenges
It’s not everyone’s idea of fun. Open the box. Lay the components out. Count the fixings. Gaze in puzzlement at the instructions. Flat-pack furniture: it’s certainly not everyone’s idea of fun.
But it is a damn good idea. And it’s one that’s over 50-years old.
It was Swede Gillis Lundgren who first really came-up with the flat-pack principle. Exasperated after unsuccessful efforts to squeeze a large table into a small car boot, he had one of those light bulb moments.
What about removing the table legs and laying alongside? With such an adjustment, the table slipped easily into place. And once at the destination, re-attach the legs. Simple. The flat-pack furniture concept was born. And Gillis Lundgren? Well, he went on to help develop IKEA, the ultimate flat-pack company and took a hand in designing some of its most popular products.
Convenience aside, flat-packing also has the advantage of lower transport costs. By reducing the volume of items it’s possible to fit more of them into a container. And when that container needs shipping by sea, the economic benefits certainly, well…stack-up.
Here comes the interesting part. As Jersey imports most of its goods by sea, the local cost of many items is correspondingly more expensive than their UK counterparts. The construction industry is one that especially suffers from this paradigm.
So, can the flat-pack principle be applied to building materials, and thus lower the cost? Well, yes, according to Marcus Taylor, Associate Director at Jersey-based T&G Structural Engineers, given a deal of willing cooperation and a dose of entrepreneurial engineering.
‘For many years, the UK construction industry has benefited from using large-scale pre-fabricated methods,’ Marcus explains. ‘Suppliers can manufacture entire building components to order – wall sections, roofs, flooring slabs, and so on, even whole bathrooms – with the work taking place away from the building site. These components are then transported by road for use wherever they are needed, carried on lorries capable of handling the significant size. This approach reduces time, cost and the amount of labour required – all things that significantly impact on the Jersey construction industry.’
Unfortunately, however, it’s not an approach that conventionally works well for the island, given the stretch of water that lies between Jersey and overseas manufacturers. Shipping large pre-fabricated components is both difficult and expensive. Which ultimately means continued high construction costs, and, in due course, higher property prices and rents.
Yet, there’s now a solution, as Marcus continues, and it involves the flat-pack principles championed by Gillis Lundgren and his IKEA products.
‘Being such a relatively small market, at the end of a relatively problematical logistics chain, requires the application of some out-of-the-box, or rather, in this case, in-the-box-thinking. Our clients expect cost-effective solutions – we expect clever engineering to find answers.’
The answer, in this case, was not shipping the large prefabricated building components to Jersey, rather their constituent parts. In a ‘flat-packed’ form so to speak. Once here, work with a local building supplier to reassemble them, then move to the site and use it on the construction project. The approach reduces time, cost and the amount of labour required…all things that significantly impact the Jersey construction industry.
‘It’s a great example of smart thinking and willing collaboration,’ Marcus concludes. ‘‘We are in constant liaison with suppliers, both local and overseas, looking at the latest construction techniques and materials. Our aim is to find practical answers to some of the building challenges Jersey presents. Perhaps some of them come courtesy of an idea borrowed from IKEA, but I’m sure they wouldn’t mind. That company was founded on the principle of improving people’s lives – in our own small way, that’s what T&G enjoys doing too.’