When you buy something and take it home and it breaks, or it doesn’t fit or it is not what the label says it is, you take it back to get fixed, replaced or your money back. The product did not conform to its stated purpose.
That’s why shops have a return policy and cars have warranties for three years or hundreds of thousands of kilometres.
But you can’t go into a shop and buy a building that is to last 30 to 50 years.
How do we deal with this situation when it is our house, or building, or part of a manufactured product, or a train tunnel carrying 100,000 humans to work each day?
We have looked earlier at the disease of Non-conformance and at the cost of non-conformance. Non-conformance can cost, big time, and often we don’t relate building failure or poor performance to product or material failure. Is there a way to understand how or why failure occurs when it is not evident or when it emerges years after the completion of works?
Perhaps if we have accurate information and better understand the materials that go into the building, the design and how it is put together, we will be better able to identify risk, failure and remedial action.
An information gap exists between manufactured product that goes into buildings and the completed building we own, occupy or pay for through tax.
At the manufacturing stage, lean methodology is a system of processes for identifying and removing waste from production to optimise value. It is customer focussed to deliver what is needed with minimum wastage of energy, material, industry, labour (EMIL) or time. It identifies non-conformance in its various forms as the product moves through the manufacturing process. Lean is one system of quality control in manufacturing.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) allows product or building attributes to be considered virtually, in a time and cost context, during design. Manufacturers, designers, architects and engineers can model products and structures as precise virtual (read digital) three-dimensional images. Design, material and dimension errors become more evident. BIM is one system of controlling quality in buildings.
But this approach relies on materials conforming to specified quality metrics. The outcomes of using BIM systems - the buildings - are compromised if non-conforming, discrepant and fraudulent material, product and assemblies are used.
If we minimise discrepancies through process control and reporting at the manufacturing stage, product arrives at the point construction with known qualities.
Lean methodology and reporting during manufacture, plus accurate systems of building information modelling during the construction process, may help address these issues of non-conformance. For the owners and consumers of built assets – homes, offices and underground train stations etc., eliminating non-conforming products will lower risk.
Technologies are available today to map the product life cycle into the built environment and to report to consumers what they purchase or use.
This principle is not too different from what we expect when we buy our food. We want to know what is in it and where it has come from.
Food manufacturers and car makers have brands, loyalty and return customers to motivate them to produce responsibly and maintain quality.
Most builders do also, but they have the challenge of communication links between the manufactured product and the built asset.
If we understand the economic cost in lost productivity, building occupancy, public trust and well-being, we can see that non-conforming building products are an enemy to the Australian manufacturing industry, and to the value of buildings and to the trust and safety of consumers.
There are also ‘deemed to satisfy’ provisions within the NCC where expert advice, engineers, designers and testing authorities verify that a product does meet appropriate codes and standards. A significant challenge for manufacturers and builders is to interpret the National Construction code as it reads across the seven states and territories.
State and territory governments have the role of implementing regulation while the local government has the role of inspection and enforcement.
What we have in this country is three levels of government regulatory authority, two of Australia’s critical industry sectors, many industry groups and certifying authorities all working toward bringing a compliant, conforming and fit for purpose product to the consumer.
At each link in the supply chain there is risk added in the transfer of product and building information, which needs to be managed.
The information is largely available to provide consumers with confidence in the system but it, like the regulatory framework, is fragmented, disconnected and not competitive.
We need all parties to operate within integrated communication systems and through the life cycle of the product from source to procurement if the customer, the investor or taxpayer is to have ‘warranty’ in built assets.
We also need these systems in place for Australian industry to remain competitive in a global marketplace.
Australian jobs have been and will be secured on what we produce. The nation will develop and succeed based on our ability to imagine, make and moderate waste of resources, or, without transition technologies and open governance, we will be dependent on imports and subservient to foreign industry.
Australian manufacturing industries are key to prosperity and to the value of our built environment.
Products and buildings may be verified through the labyrinth of government, industry, inspection and certification bodies and the consumer has the right to know the contents and origin of what they are paying for.
The consumer needs to demand that product and building information is available and deliverable when they make their purchase of a home, an office space or tax payers money is spent on critical infrastructure.
It is our money. It is our choice.