August 24, 2019

Masonry Frame Systems – From small acorns…

It is testament to Masonry Frame Systems’ progressive approach that the past 15 years have seen the company evolve from relatively small beginnings into a thriving business, in the process attracting industry recognition in the form of two Construction Excellence Award nominations.

“We started out as a pretty humble thin joint blockwork contractor in partnership with H+H Celcon, with which we developed the Ra Build system as a masonry alternative to timber frame for low rise residential housing,” explains Norman Hinckes, Managing Director. “As the business advanced, we quickly recognised that to get the true value of the system we needed to adopt an all-encompassing integrated approach comprising floors, roofs and, most importantly, the design. As a consequence, the foundations of what we do today were laid. 15 years on we are proud to say that our relationship with H+H Celcon is still as strong today as ever.”

Further underlining its forward-thinking approach, Masonry Frame Systems has recently added the Xella Silka Element system to its portfolio. “One of the primary benefits of the Silka system is that it’s 25 N/mm2+ strength, which allows us to take the system medium to high rise, in turn opening up another marketplace for us to move into,” adds Norman.“We essentially describe ourselves as a specialist masonry frame contractor that builds structural envelopes of buildings in a quick, efficient, cost effective manner using lean management, innovative intelligent engineering, critical path analysis and the latest construction techniques, saving both time and money. 

“We nowconsider ourselves as one of the leading innovators in the marketplace and are leading a campaign to change the way in which the industry builds.”

Norman’s claims are supported by the fact that Masonry Frame System’s approach has also attracted recognition at the Construction Excellence Awards within the Innovation category. At the heart of its submission was the Silka Element system that the company has brought in from Europe. 

“The attitude and approach to Health and Safety in Europe is vastly different to that within the UK and whilst we saw much merit in the Silka system, we knew we had to develop much safer working practises before it could be widely adopted here. As a result, in partnership with Lissmac GmbH we have developed the first 110v mini cranes in the world for the specific requirements of the UK market.      

“We are also finalists in the Offsite category of the Construction Excellence Awards thanks to the strength of our DfMA offsite solution. Latest Government forecasts suggest that nearly 300,000 homes need to be developed annually for the next 20 years to meet future need and address the current shortfall. If we are going to get remotely near this figure as an industry, we undoubtedly need to change the current model of housing production.

“Over the past 12 – 18 months there have been a number of very credible offsite manufacturing solutions coming to market. Whilst they will all have apart to play in meeting that demand, it’s a question of horses for courses as there is ‘no one size fits all’ solution.

“The industry hascome a long way from the prefabs of the 1940s and 1950 and many of the ‘offsite’modular solutions will have a very big part to play, although they do have their limitations too. As a nation we are wedded to bricks and mortar, and our designers and town planners love the nuances and variation that you can achieve with a more traditional approach. We believe our DfMA approach offers the flexibility and robustness of traditional masonry, but with the speed, quality and consistency of offsite manufacture.”     

In terms of recent projects where Masonry Frame Systems’ skills have been utilised, it recently completed a 59 apartment extra care housing facility where it halved the main contractor’s structural build programme, taking 17 weeks off its early weather tightness date. It also developed another 118 apartments where it rationalised the build programme to advance the ‘Golden Brick’ milestone handover dates by 12 weeks.  

Masonry Frame Systems’ customer base has historically been major house builders and developers, along with the occasional self-build. However, this is changing now as it increasingly looks at medium to high rise flats, apartments, care homes, extra care housing, retirement homes and student accommodation, as well as hotels and motels. “The Silka Element system is appropriate for any development that stacks,” says Mr Hinckes. “With the recent changes that have been made to the building regulations, it is particularly relevant for projects of six storeys or more.

“With regards to the current marketplace, it has to be said that we live in some very interesting times. We haven’t built enough houses for the last generation and a half, which is why we have a gross imbalance in the housing supply and record high levels of unaffordability. Thankfully, at long last, we have a Government with cross party support that has recognised this issue and is committed to changing it. However, to reverse this overnight is an impossible task.

“For the first time in 40 years, however, I see the need, the political will and a desire to embrace change. What’s more, in our conversations with many industry leads we see change at the top of the agenda for every major developer in the UK. 

“However,on a more negative note, we have an industry that has been severely scorned, an endemic skills shortage and an ageing workforce propped up by a significant proportion of Eastern Europeans. 

Brexit or no Brexit, this represents a massive challenge for the industry, but one I’m am sure we will rise to. But in the meantime it remains very much the ‘elephant in the room’. It isn’t so much the consequences of Brexit that is damaging, it is the ongoing uncertainty that is proving so problematic.

“For us asignificant proportion of our product, as is the case for many construction materials, is imported from the continent. Whilst I have little doubt that a degree of common sense will prevail in the fullness of time, the fiasco of the last nine months or so can only be described as farcical.”   

While it remains to be seen how the wider political picture pans out, from Masonry Frame Systems’ point of the view it is committed to playing its part by continuing to uphold the values it has been built on over the past decade and a half. 

“In terms of what sets us apart, at the heart of our business is a real passion and desire to make a difference in all that we do. We leave no stone unturned in an effort to improve the way we build, to improve quality and productivity. What differentiates us from our competitors is our willingness and readiness to embrace change and develop a mind-set for continuous improvement.”

With the Brexit situation hopefully becoming clearer sooner rather than later, Masonry Frame Systems is striving to not become distracted, instead concentrating on delivering ‘more of the same’, while at the same time continuing to be a driver of a change that will allow the business to grasp the opportunities that come its way.      

“I am a firm believer that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ and feel that our industry is ripe for disruption,” concludes Mr Hinckes. “I’m sure the next five years will herald unparalleled change in how housing is delivered in the UK and we want to be at that party!”

Given the experience and expertise it brings to the table, not to mention its innovatively proactive approach, Masonry Frame Systems is sure to play a major role in how the UK construction industry develops moving forward.