Neil Ash had a vision to turn UK construction sites purple and create a fully tested through the wall system. As the head of Etex Group’s Building Performance division, which is home to the Promat and Siniat brands, he intends to continue innovating and devise products and systems that help their customers to succeed. Adrian JG Marsh reports.
“No one knows what the future of construction will look like and the only way to get there is to play a part in it.” said Neil Ash.
“We look to innovate for specific markets. So, for example, if we see hotels as a growth segment then the hotel provider in the UK could be the same hotel provider in the Netherlands, or Spain, or in Latin America, and their needs and requirements are sometimes quite similar.
“Local regulation can be different, for example acoustic performance or fire protection, but the underlying requirements are often the same.”
So does this point to a local and global approach from Etex? “Local where it makes sense, absolutely, but it also brings in the global side of things for the knowledge and power of the business,” Mr Ash added.
The Etex Group has made a huge commitment to the UK by planning to invest £140 million in a new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Bristol. At the time of the announcement Etex said it saw a growing plasterboard market as clients recognise the productivity benefits that lightweight construction offers.
According to Mr Ash looking at the future of growth it is very difficult and the best way to look forward is to look back at how markets have performed in the past. The investment decision was based on the UK growing over the next 10 years at the same level it has enjoyed during the last 10 years, reflecting strong fundamentals including ongoing population growth and demand for housing. So the recent coronavirus crisis won’t affect the long-term vision of Etex.
Off-site construction features heavily in Etex’s plans for the future. It recently launched New Ways to focus on Modern Methods of Construction and lightweight construction.
“What the New Ways division will do is decide which technologies we will develop and invest in, in different countries. We are not limiting ourselves to say, only frames or volumetric modules, but we will look at the solution that we need to have, to meet the needs of the customers in the market and adapt and innovate around that.
“The New Ways business is about assembling components that we already manufacture within the Group. It’s very much a project led business and the concept lends itself to where there is a lot of repetition, such as residential and student accommodation. Everything will be made to order.
So does this move mean Etex is going to be a turnkey provider? “Maybe one day, but we’re not ready to answer that question yet. The only way to establish the true potential of New Ways is to be a pioneer and pioneering is about trying new things. Not all will be successful and if you fail, then fail quickly and move on and learn from that experience.”
The key focus for delivering change andproviding help and support for Etex’s clients and partners is its specification team. “They work with design and construction teams to establish the right solutions for a project.
“The industry has had a tendency to try and arrive at the lowest cost solution. That’s been driven by the nature of construction and the way buildings have been built. But our approach has always been about tested solutions, where we give guidance, support and training to ensure that our products and solutions are installed in the right way, making sure that they are tested to the right requirements and standards, so they can do the job they’re supposed to do.”
The specialist exterior and interiors sector has seen a lot of changes because of Grenfell and Mr Ash says that they are seeing less specification breaking going on. “People are much more reluctant to change a specification once it has been written and installation contractors have become very aware of the risks involved in changing solutions to a cheaper alternative.”
Skills and resources are also a challenge for the industry. Mr Ash said: “Everyone has to play their part in developing skills and resources. We get asked by our partners to help deliver skills training and support. For main contractors and installation contractors there is often a requirement to recruit locally and when contracts are let, they have to turn to local colleges and training providers for help and support to attract new blood into the industry. We help where we can.”
As Mr Ash moves to his next assignment in the Etex Group, he said he was incredibly proud of the way his UK team has performed. “It’s a business that has given new opportunities to people, so they don’t have to look elsewhere. The testament to our growth is the £140 million investment in a new facility. This shows the belief that Etex has in the team we have here, and in UK construction and the great customers we have.
“With our innovations and a compelling value proposition we’ve been able to expand in new areas. We’re very proud of the innovation of Weather Defence. We had this ambition to turn the UK purple and we’ve done a fantastic job of it.
“Weather Defence was the catalyst to develop into SFS, and come up with a through the wall tested solution. I’m most proud of the creation of Thruwall. It’s a fully tested and warranted system and is the right way for our customers.”
Innovation and listening to customers has proved a huge success for Mr Ash and his team at Etex Building Performance in the UK. He’s now looking to make the same impact worldwide.