Bricks And Bytes Podcast

#39 – Daniel Leech – Transcript


you just get to a point where your brain can’t take anymore. The construction industry pretty much day to day is a battle. It’s a battle to get work, it’s a battle to get paid, it’s a battle to get information, it’s a battle to make sure that your team are supported and are in a good place, mentally and physically. Hello everybody and welcome to the Bricks and Bytes podcast, your go-to for all things construction and property technology.

On today’s show we have Daniel Leitch, the CEO of Design for Structures. Daniel has a vast experience in structural design and design for manufacturing and assembly. In this episode we talk about Daniel’s multi-decade entrepreneurial journey through the construction industry, his thoughts on off-site construction, talent, innovation and pain points in our industry. We really enjoyed this wide-ranging conversation with Daniel. If you’re enjoying our podcast, please check us out on Spotify or Apple or wherever you listen to your podcast. And if you enjoyed it, please leave us a review. This helps us to get more amazing guests to give you guys the best and most informative content on technology in the build world. Before we dive in, shout out to our sponsor, Beta. If you want to connect with some of the biggest players in the construction tech world, including tier one building contractors, some of the biggest construction tech companies, investors and advisors, check them out by visiting www.d. and this is You are listening to Bricks and Bikes podcast, where we take you on a journey in construction, technology, and business. All right, let’s get this episode started. Dan, so thanks for agreeing to participate in Rick’s and White’s podcast. So you are CEO of D4S Design for Structures. Tell us a little bit more about you and the businesses that you operate and how did you end up running D4S?

Yeah, sure. I’ve been in the industry for 22 years now. We originally started out as a steelware detailing business, which was known to many of our clients as TDF. When I joined the business, we just transitioned from drawing board to TD CAD. and we were working primarily for manufacturers of heavy hot rolled steel. And we developed the business on over probably about a 10 year period where we were doing things for heavy hot rolled steel fabricators. We were also doing a lot of architectural metal work. So things like staircases, balconies, balustrades, structural glass, things like that. And towards probably 2008, 2009, we started to transition the business from 2D card 3D modeling and then obviously when the government announced their plans around BIM and digital in 2010, 2011 we then started to try and reposition the business to get ourselves ready for the FMA and things like that. By 2011 we set up a training academy which is called CADCO and to date we’ve recruited, trained, upskilled and reintroduced over 600 young people into the industry. And the third cog in the wheel, if you like, is design structures.

So seven years ago, we were finding that we were struggling to get the business into the position that we wanted. And the information that we were receiving typically at stage four from main contractors was largely complete. And we were taking a lot of risk and responsibility in coordinating and trying to put right the stage three and four design. And obviously if and yeah, and if and when problems exist. there was a lot of risk associated to what we did. So if we got a beam or a column wrong, it wouldn’t be uncommon for us to get a fairly hefty back charge with things like crane costs and labor costs and material costs all thrown into beat. So we felt if we can’t beat them, let’s join them. So the plan was to set up a structural engineering division and over the last six, seven years, we’ve been very much marketing the three divisions independently. So TDS still providing construction modeling services to manufacturers. Design for Structures providing structural engineering services, so civil and infrastructure design, underground drainage, foundation, substructure, seed restructure, and then obviously the construction engineering team doing connection design and calculations and stuff like that. And the long term strategy was to try and bring the stage four and five under one umbrella. We’ve relaunched at the start of this year simply as Design for Structures in an effort to try and simplify the outbound marketing message to our clients. And what we now offer is effectively everything from Reaver Stage 0 to Reaver Stage 5 under one roof. And the idea is that we want to take more responsibility. It’s another of my frustrations about the industry because it’s so risky. People don’t now take responsibility. They don’t want to put dimensions on drawings. They don’t want to share IFCs and things like that. So for us, if we can provide a fully coordinated design from start to finish that takes it through to a manufacturing level of detail, then we believe we can add. huge value to the end project. And we can also significantly de-risk our own position within the construction projects in terms of the way that construction projects are contracted and procured. Yeah, really exciting times. We’re now up to 60 people, split pretty much 50-50 between our construction modeling team and our engineering team. And the plan is over the next two or three years is to take those 60 people and hopefully grow it up to about 80 to 90 people over the next couple of years. Very much on an upward trajectory. And at the moment, yeah, we cover lots of markets. We do a lot of traditional construction projects and we’ve also got quite a big MMC team. So we do a lot of offsite and modular construction projects as well. So very diverse and very wide ranging from machine structures like Oncom Terminal 2, down to two bedroom, three bedroom, four bedroom homes and stuff like that. So yeah, quite a big coverage. Just to have a personal curiosity really is how does your role as a CEO develop from when it was just you? to now having 60 people work for you?

Yeah, really challenging, really challenging. I would say probably as recently as about five years ago, if the air conditioning was broke in the office, someone came and knocked on my door and I went and saw it out the air conditioning in the office. Yeah, things have changed quite considerably. 10 years ago, there was eight of us in one office and it was very much an SME, and owner managed and very hands-on. Every inquiry that came in, came to me and every quote that went out. went from me. I think it’s become a big challenge. We put in a senior management team around about six, seven years ago and we have now Divigno management directors. So Jonathan Locke heads up the engineering team and James McNeay, who’s been with me from the very start, he heads up the construction modeling team. And what we’ve had to do is just evolve as a business, so create a structure. And that’s been further complicated by COVID and the lockdown and everybody working remotely. and all that sort of stuff. The business is pretty unrecognizable, but I’ve gone from being very operationally involved in the business to now taking more of a vaccine, doing more of the selling and marketing of the business, a little bit more of the strategy. And I look after all of the financial side of the business in terms of money in, money out, stuff like that. So my role’s developed quite a lot really, certainly in the more recent, probably four or five years. roles and zoom out earlier, could you have a larger business even or could it? I’ll be honest, there wasn’t really the main underlying strategy and it might be one of the things that we covered today. I just couldn’t take it anymore. It’s funny to get paid, it’s a battle to get information, it’s a battle to make sure your team are supported and are in a good place mentally and physically. So it got to a point where my phone rang literally for everything. and you could only do that for so long. So the step away for me was more like, we’ve got to find more people that we can share the responsibility and we can share running the business with really. But I think I do regret, Martin, to answer your question, I do regret probably not doing it sooner. I think there is a tendency in a small business to try and do everything yourself and expect everything to be done the way that you do it. And one of the big things about stepping away and enabling other people to make decisions is you have to accept that some decisions will be wrong and some things we’ve done in a way that isn’t the way you want them done. You’ve got to discipline yourself to say if I don’t give people and enable people to make decisions then they won’t make them. But it is a difficult process to go through. Letting go, letting it go. Just another quick one, very quickly Dan, and it’s just about growing from you to the 60 people is Your process for hiring, do you hire before you plan to grow? Because I have heard this strategy from someone where they just hire people and then they’re like, then we’ll go and get the work or is it do you get the work in and go, oh crap, we’re busy, we now need to hire? It’s a little bit of both because obviously circumstances sometimes dictate what you do. For us at the moment, I think that I’m more comfortable with the position of growing the team first. I’m worrying about the work as a secondary thing because I think if you commit to work and you’re under resource, then you’re ultimately going to fail on the team. But I think what typically does happen in construction is most businesses work better when they’re at full capacity or over capacity. I think with us, we do try and plan our recruitment and we do make strategic decisions around increasing the team, for example.

But what also happens is that the team gets really busy really quick. You have to go out and recruit because you’ve got so much work on. I think what we’re always mindful of is we don’t want 120 people, for argument’s sake, working on bad projects for bad clients. on bad payment terms and things like that. So, if we reach a plateau at some point where we haven’t got enough good clients, good customers, good projects, then we’ll potentially end it there. But at the moment, I couldn’t tell you if in 10 years time we’re gonna be a thousand people or we’re gonna be a hundred people, because I think the industry will probably dictate that to us in terms of how we’re treated by customers, clients, and whether we get the breaks that we need to continue to grow the business. Cool. Yeah. Okay. Let’s touch on the technology a little bit. So you said that I think in 2008, around 2008, you went from 2D drawings to some building information modeling tools that enabled BIM and design within BIM. And now we are 2023. What’s your take on innovation in the construction and design and the tools that we as engineers, architects and stakeholders of the design process are using? Where are we going? What’s the next thing after the… BIM or is it going to be just improved slightly? What do you think? Where are we going with this? On my own personal experience, it’s the main blocker to BIM and digital technology. On a positive note, the technology and the innovation that exists with regards to some of the solutions that are coming into the market is phenomenal. There’s some absolutely unbelievable things.

Again, 15 years ago I would go to site with a digital camera, take some photos of what we were surveying. Now you can go to site with your phone, you can do scans with your phone, you can do play point surveys and scan to BIM technology. We’ve seen stuff like virtual reality where you can literally wander around the model with a set of goggles on and put yourself actually in, immersively into the model. But I think the reality is a lot of these things are really powerful opportunities, but they’re just not being utilized in the industry. And I think the main reason for that is because of the way that we procure jobs and the way contractually we set these projects up. So I think it’s been exciting in one respect to see how the technology is developing but I think it’s been incredibly frustrating in another respect in that we’re just not utilizing the tools. Even when you talk about BIM, it’s fairly common for us to bring an ISC in from an architect or an engineer or another subcontractor and that ISC is absolutely littered with caveats about what you can and can’t use. So you end up remodeling. redrawing, redetailing, the same thing for a multitude of times. So by IFC, this is the BIM model, right? Yeah. So typically speaking, everybody’s working in slightly different environments. So it’s fairly standard practice for architects and engineers to do the stage up to stage core in Revit. But when we’re modeling structures, if we need manufacturing data, we would typically use Tecla. Now if Tecla and Revit are two different products, two different software, so the universal sort of file format that all of those software users is ISC. So typically we would get an IFC file in Revit and we would be able to import that IFC file into Tecla and in theory then run the job on. The problem that you’ve got is they give you the IFC file, so they say here’s the model, but by the way you can’t use it. And you’re kind of, so what’s the point of BIM there? And the reason for that is primarily because they don’t want you to use their model because if there’s anything wrong with their model, They get the blame, they get the penalty, they get clobbered with… For me, the big stage change that needs to happen is if we’re all going to trust the technology and enable the technology, then it will limit the chances of things going wrong. And I think that’s the bit that people just can’t see the wood for the trees at the moment. We’re not going to share the information because we don’t want to be liable for any mistakes or issues. Don’t you think that it is a little bit like… So you said that in the last few years the technology is like… become very good and brilliant tools are coming out. I feel like there’s, as an engineer or architect, you have to operate on complex IFC models and you need to learn how to use it. And it’s not like a one month course or it’s much longer process, I would say. And obviously you need to practice it. And to me, I have a feeling that because it is complex to use it and share it with other professionals, other stakeholders, it becomes a very difficult task. So… My feeling is that the reason that people don’t want to share this stuff and there’s lots of caveats is that because Oh, maybe I have made a mistake and I don’t want I don’t want anyone to pick up this mistake and then claim for my insurance so I still feel like we’re not there in terms of technology and the way things are presented in this in the BIM environment that it’s still difficult to spot these mistakes because otherwise people people would just share it because it must be right, it must be correctly done. Yes, I think you’re absolutely right. It’s all about risk and mistakes and problems and people not wanting to open themselves up to commercial risk. But the best analogy I can give you is it’s a bit like your house is on fire and you’ve got a fire engine in the garage, but you’re trying to put the fire out using buckets of water. from your garden tower or your garden hose. What infuriates me and frustrates the life out of me is when you look at all of the, what we all know as like the unbelievable architecture across the world, and you think like all the monasteries, the churches, even if you look at the London Underground, the scale of the ambition to build and construct some of those projects is mind blowing. And it was all done before we had all of this construction technology available to us. And it feels like we’ve made all these improvements with regards to the technology and the tools that are available, but we’re not actually improving the way that we construct and design buildings. And it’s crazy, it’s absolutely crazy.

The thought that someone actually came up with a London Underground as a concept and said, let’s dig a load of tunnels under the city and stick a load of railway lines down there and we can transport people around. When you consider that decision was made with the technology that was available to them at that point, it’s mind blowing. Absolutely mind blowing. Yeah, you’re making me quite mad. Yeah, and yet we can’t get the basic fundamentals of BIM agreed. You touched on a good thing Martin when you said about BIM’s new to people, like everybody’s learning, so when you bring new technology to any market, it’s new to everybody. So when you go to the construction seminars and you hear the contractors and the clients saying, we want our supply chain to innovate, the problem is, if we go away and we try and write some script or some code to develop… say design automation tools or parametric modeling, which is stuff that we’ve done before. If we write some code or some script and we roll it out on a project and we’re supposed to be issuing 15 ton of steel on Friday, if that bit of code or script throws a wobbly on Thursday night and we can’t issue 15 ton of steel out on Friday, we get 50 grand backyards. So the environment isn’t set up for me to go write things, go and write some scripts and some code and look at making ourselves more efficient. the environment is you’ve got 50 hours to deliver that piece of work, how do we deliver it in 49? So everybody’s just trying to work as quick as they can to get the job off their desk and onto somebody else’s. We’ve got this sort of ironic situation where everybody’s become so risk averse that we’ve created now a culture and an environment that’s riskier than ever. Because no one’s actually willing to take responsibility for what they’re doing for fear of getting chastised or blamed or commercially penalised for what they’ve done. So it’s really frustrating. At the end of the day, the cost is shared by the customer, I think, because if everyone has to redo someone else’s work, then obviously the one who pays is the end user, right? It’s not ultimately good.

How do we overcome this? Is there any way that you’re taking your experience within the industry, like what needs to change? Culture, in simple terms. We’ve got to change the way that we procure jobs. We’ve got to make the environment less whiskey for everybody. We’ve got to enable people to take risk. educated risks because if we don’t then nothing’s going to change. In simple terms what we’ve done with our business is my solution to the problem which is if we can’t bring in information from the engineer or the architect let’s become the engineer or the architect. So we’re in control of the whole process and we can share information with the other. One sub shop. Absolutely. But in terms of the industry we find that our offering of zero to five under one roof, for example, has been taken up more probably by the MMC world, by the offsite world, because a lot of the companies that we work with in the modular spec, they take on the role of principal contractor on the jobs, they do the turnkey. So because they know they’re going to manufacture the modules and install the modules, they’ve got a vested interest in the stage four and five information being correct. So they buy into the fact that we’re doing zero to five. And I’m not going to make a sweeping statement, but what we’re finding more regularly with, let’s say, the traditional main contractors, they’re still going down the route saying, we’re sending the stage three information down to our supply chain, and it’s down to them to make the stage four and five work as part of their deliverable. If they build it and it works, we pay them. And if they build it and it doesn’t work, then we screw them. So again, a mess. unless we change that model fundamentally because you’re in a you’re in this situation where an architect and an engineer does a stage three design and it’s not their fault that it’s a generic design or that it’s that in a lot of cases it’s fundamentally flawed because at the point where they’re doing their stage three design they don’t know who the multitude of different contractors are going to be or the materials and products that are going to be on the building. So. You end up the stage redesign and go there to all the different main contractors and the main contractor that gets their price the most wrong based on that information wins the job. Yes. And then the main contractor then takes that stage redesign and goes to all their supply chain and every single supply chain company that gets their price the most wrong. also wins the job. And then we wonder why we can’t construct and build in an inefficient way. But how do we change that? We’ve either got to get earlier engagement in terms of the development of the stage three.

So one of the challenges we’re trying to overcome is that engineers don’t manufacture. So they don’t have manufacturing knowledge. So Alton Arm constructs a modeling team that have worked with manufacturers for 30 years. brings that manufacturing level of experience to the engineering team. And then what we’re trying to do, impart our engineering knowledge into our detailing team. So they’re coming up with better details and better ways of working. So it’s not, not, not, not a hundred percent. And that’s why I say a lot of people do say, why aren’t you taking a lot of risk by doing the whole project? You shouldn’t be in construction. We’re actually taking less risk. We’re taking more responsibility. But by coordinating the design, we’re actually taking less risk because. there’s less chance that things can go wrong. So like stepping outside of engineering only for a second, is it not the answer for this problem, design and build concept in general, because then you have one entity dealing with everything, like the whole process from the design to up to the completion, is it not? Because what you did with the forest and others, it’s like consolidation of the design process with an engineering remit, I feel like, but like broadly speaking. if the process is taken over by one and it’s designed and built concept, that should avoid these problems of passing the risk onto someone else. Yeah, whichever way you look at it in terms of the way that you contract and build projects, whether it be D&B or whether it be other forms of contract, everything’s about selling the risk down and moving the risk down. So for me, while that continues to be the case… all you’re going to have is problems and you’re going to have, you’re going to create an environment where everybody is out to protect themselves and the environment isn’t to build the best project. If you were building your own home, you would want the best possible outcome to that home. Now if your budget’s half a million but it costs 525,000 but you end up with the best version of that home that you’re going to live in for the next 25 years, I’m sure the majority of people would accept that. It almost feels to me like if you’ve got a half a million pound budget… but someone comes along and says, I can build that for 450,000. You go great, I’m 50 grand to the good. But you end up with a home that you’ve got to live in for 25 years that you’re gonna have to knock about, you’re gonna have to maintain, you’re gonna have to keep. And so in the longer term, it becomes more expensive. But again, talking about BIM and digital before Martin, even on the jobs where BIM is happening and digital tools are evolving. It’s still only being used in my experience on the coal phase. It’s only being used to design and construct the building. We’re not looking at what about the next 40 or 50 years.

What about the life cycle of that building? How do we use that technology? Most 100% because so much more could be done. But at the moment, we don’t have the time to do it because it is your building. We’ve got to be on site in eight weeks and you’ve got to go and put all the design issues that you know you’re going to inherit. but we’ve still got the on-site in eight weeks, or five weeks, or 16 weeks, or six months, whatever it might be. So it feels to me like we’re on this hamster wheel, and no matter how quick we run, the wheel just spins faster, and so you’re never catching up. So it feels like the whole industry needs to slow down. And what we’ve done is we’ve sped up to such a speed. If you go back, again, 20 years, when you had a drawing board, and you had eight columns, you had to physically draw eight columns. When we transitioned from drawing board to CAD, you drew one column and you copied it eight times and then just modified it. So we sped up the efficiency of our work tenfold. But what happened was instead of going, right, everybody can slow down, we’re working loads faster. What they started to do was go, I want my drawings on Tuesday. I want my drawings on Wednesday. And all of a sudden we used to put drawings in the post and so clients would ring up and say, where are my drawings? They were posted on Monday. Sorry, they’re not with you. Now we get, we’ve got this thing where someone comes, yeah, someone answers an RFI now this morning at 11 o’clock and then goes, can I have my drawings this afternoon? Because they want you to update the model, recreate the drawings and then issue the PDF this afternoon. We’re just all rushing around like idiots, like absolute, endless chicken. Yeah, I like your insights, Dan, on procurement and I think that’s totally right. Like Martin, you said is D&B not the answer, but if you’re a client and you’ve got this like tower to build, say, and you get like, you’ve got you’re going to go and competitively tender to four main contractors or whatever, because you want to get the best price at the end of the day.

You’re not going to be willing to take a risk on someone that is slightly more innovative because it’s good for the industry, but it’s going to take six months longer because they use the sexiest latest innovative tools and that’s going to cost you more because they got paid for software, whatever you’re going to go for the company that is like proven is on this hamster wheel that you mentioned Dan, and I can just get it done for like a cheap cheap price, but is more wrong and wrong as it goes down. So it’s a lot of subjects in construction, like sustainability. And one reason for like mass adoption for that is probably because the government don’t drive it or whatever. So we need like more, more influence from the top down really for the, for these things to be implemented. But then in the same sense, innovation is, you read books like the innovators dilemma is like companies with that smaller can innovate harder because like they’re more agile and so. It’s like a big conundrum and dilemma, but I don’t know what the answer is. You just said something really profound Owen, and probably don’t realize. So you just said you want the bet that the client wants the best price. Okay. So what is the best price? Yeah. The culture within construction at the moment, is he the best price? It’s the lowest price. Yeah. Anybody that tells you any different is absolutely talking nonsense because it happened time after time. Well, I’ve argued for a long time when we talked about that stage three information going out to the main contractors and those that get their price the most wrong win the job. The crazy thing is if five companies are on any rung of the ladder, whether it be the main contractor or any of the subcontractors, when they price work, you don’t end up with an expensive price, a mid-range price and a low price. You end up with three different prices because everybody’s guessing what the client wants. on what’s required. So to me, what you’ve got to do is improve the information that everybody is procuring and quoting to. Then by doing that, you will end up with more accurate information. So again, flipping to where we are as a business, if we do the stage four and five information for the main contractor, they can take all of our manufacturing information, NC data files, cutting lists, GA, fab drawing, the whole shebang. They can go to a fabricator and that fabricator can go, okay. There’s 9,364 tonnes of steel, there’s 46,000 nuts, bolts and washers, and they can price absolutely accurately what’s required. Whereas at the moment what they get is they get a stage 3 design, with maybe the section size sorted, and a generic layout of the steel. But they’ve then got to go, okay, we think there’s 9,436 tonnes, but by the end of the job there’s 9,863 tonnes and they’re out of pocket. But the one tool that I have seen in the last… five, six years that I think would make a huge difference. And that’s integrated project insurance. So having integrated project insurance, IPI. So the facility that we actually train out of for CADCO that we teach our students in is a building called Advanced II at Dudley College of Arts and Technology. And that was built and constructed using an IPI model. And in very simple, what it means is you create a contract and an insurance mechanism that all of the consultants. pay into, so you end up with a project insurance policy. So instead of everybody insuring everything 10 times, you end up with an insurance policy that covers that one project. And in the event that there is an issue with that project, the insurance is there to protect all the relevant stakeholders that are designing and developing the project. And it was done in an open way that if the budget for the job, if the ceiling wasn’t extended and ultimately it costs less to construct, there was a shared gain. across the consultant. If it cost more, there was a shared pain across the consultant.

So we win together, we lose together, we’re a team. And I think what that invariably would have done was knock down those walls if we don’t want to share information or… Instead of sitting around in a table and saying we’ve got a problem with the facade, or we’ve got a problem with the steel, or we’ve got a problem with the concrete. At the moment everybody stares at the floor and goes, hope it’s not me, hope it’s not me, hope it’s not me. You take away the finger pointing, they’re the ones that have made this mistake, they’re going to pay the bill. It turns into, we’ve got a problem, how do we fix it? And how do we fix it quickly, and how do we end up with a better solution? But I’ve just not seen, I know IPI exists on certain projects. I don’t know what the reason is as to why it hasn’t taken off, but I think it’s a real viable solution to the problem that we’re talking about. You know what, I think there’s something interesting that I think I mentioned to you also when we initially chatted a few months ago. So my experience is born and raised in Poland and I started working in construction over there. So in Eastern Europe, at least you have like architectural practice, engineering practice, QS practice within one thing. Yeah. So the problem of this integrated insurance is solved in these locations, that there is one business which kind of have different people and they take the project on board and then deal with it. I’m actually now in Dubai for a few days and I spoke with some architects and engineers as well and there’s the same concept. So people are within one practice. There is one where there is engineer, there is architect, there is M&E consultant and of work to get the project delivered. So this is interesting because actually… comparing to the UK is very like fragmented and very specialized. You’ve got engineer who does only engineering. It was very new to me when I moved over and experienced that. So maybe there’s something in this as well. Yeah, there’s never been more companies. Again, you look at the volume of products and solutions that are out there, it’s fantastic, but it brings another problem to the table, which is again leading back to that stage redesign. If you don’t know what those products and systems are, I’m not. in any way, shape or form criticizing architects or engineers because they’re part of a process and a system that’s fundamentally flawed. And we’re doing some amazing work. There are some unbelievable architects, there’s some fantastic engineers. Buildings get made and go up.

But I think it’s just become like a not very enjoyable environment to work in with things like mental health and all the things that COVID has just thrown up. I think a lot of people have taken stock during the lockdowns and stuff like that. There’s a lot more emphasis on work-life balance and stuff like that. And if you’re operating in an environment that’s toxic and construction can be toxic, if that were your mate, if that was your friend or your family member, you would stay away from that friend or that family member because they’re causing you problems and issues. And so we’re in this situation where if we’re going to attract the next generation of talent and this is going to be a generational change, then we’ve got to use the really good stuff. So I think there could be a lot of cross-pollination from the gaming industry, for example, because of the way that the industry is moving. But if the technology is great and the environment that you can work in is amazing, but actually the culture that exists, so 80% of your day is made up of just a nightmare. Fighting, arguing, all that sort of stuff. Basically, you’re not going to be able to attract people in. And I think some of the older generation have been in the industry for a long time. I know a lot of people that have gone, you know what, I’ve reviewed things. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m going to go out and do something else. And I think that’s a real problem. Yeah, that’s a real problem for the industry. We’ve got to make it a more attractive place to come and work and to come and develop a career. And we’ve never had a better opportunity to do that. When you look at some of the construction technology that you’re following, it looks from the outside in a really attractive place to come. But then you roll your sleeves up and get stuck in and go, this is a nightmare.

We’ve got to really move things forward and try and turn things into more of an open and positive framework. We are starting to see things like design partnerships and design frameworks coming through now. People are starting to talk more about partnerships rather than some contractor or supplier. And I think that’s really important, changing that mentality where… We’re a design team and we’re a partnership and we win together and we lose together. I think that is fundamental to meeting some of this stuff forward. Dan, you touched on technology then, so it’s probably a nice way to segue into this next question. So a company like Deep4S, obviously a large company, large number of employees or mid-size, whatever you want to call it. How do you stay on top of innovation? You obviously do a good amount of research and development, but is it risky for you guys? Like you gave an example earlier about having to get out. do drawings on Friday and a script breaks on a Friday. Is that just because you’re not willing to take a risk or is there like other things that need to be considered when a company like yours is trying to implement some new technology? Yeah, I’d like to say and think that we’re early adopters. I think we’re in that small window of people that will try stuff as it comes out. If you look at stuff like augmented reality, we were going to show eight, nine years ago where you could hover over one of our drawings and the model would pop out of the drawing. And it was very gimmicky and it was more about provoking interest rather than actually being part of our deliverable. But yeah, I mean, the same with BIM really, as soon as the government announced it within six months we were looking at BIM accreditation, how do we implement it, how do we upscale our guy. We’re very much at the front end of it. But the reality is as a business, if you’re not being asked to utilize those tools as part of your delivery, then it is only going to be a gimmick. It’s great to see, and we’ve been in meetings, when you’ve put a VR headset on and you can go into a federated model and you can be in the boiler room that you’ve just been designing. It’s amazing.

But is anyone actually really utilising that on live construction projects? No. So at the moment, we do a great job, I think, within the industry of saying, look at all this great stuff we can do. Look at all this capability that we’ve got. But the reality is, until someone actually stands up at a seminar and says, look at this fantastic model that we created for this project. And instead of saying it was all a roar in success, say, actually this was bloody hard work for everybody that took place because we had issues with ISCs, we had issues with naming conventions, we had issues with model sizes. Those are the things that we’ve got to talk about as an industry in order to make the changes and improvements that we need. But we don’t. It’s all smoke and mirrors. Look how great we are. And we’re all guilty of doing it. And I think that’s where we’ve got to talk a bit more openly, In answer to your question, we go to the seminars and the activitions, we go to digital construction week, we go to future build, we go to the London Olympia to the construction seminars and stuff like that. Every now and then you see something that you go, oh wow, that’s an interesting bit of technology, let’s go and do a bit more research in it and let’s make sure that if there’s something here that is potentially going to impact what we do, let’s make sure that we don’t become obsolete. If we’ve got to move with the market, let’s move with the market. Yeah, it’s difficult because if you don’t know something exists, you don’t know it exists. So you have to be, there’s an element of luck as well, I think, going that you meet the right people or you see that you watch the right webinars and you see this new technology evolving. And it’s then down to you as to whether you’ve got hawk in the road, whether you go, we’re going to go that way and we’re going to go that way. We had directors of the business in 2010 that retired because they didn’t want to retrain. They didn’t want to move from 2D to 3D.

Yeah, they’d overseen the transition from drawing boards to 2D CADs in the late 90s, but didn’t want to transition from 2D CAD to 3D BIM. Some people… decide to go that way and some people decide to go that way. He was right and he’s wrong. You probably find out five years down the line. Okay. I want to touch on definitely one more topic, which is modular construction in general. Dan, what is the percentage within D4S or in other businesses? What’s the percentage of residential and commercial projects that you deal with? Is there any data that’s more or less? We’re probably running at about 40% MMC, flash off site, and 60% traditional. But I would say on the MMC side, we do everything from residential housing to medium-rise, high-rise, student accommodation, hotels, schools, hospitals, all manner of things. Okay, so within this DFMA, which is designed for manufacturing and assembly, how do you see this technology of modular homes being? more widely adopted as the UK has around. The target from the government is I think 300,000 new build homes every year and apparently we are not keeping up with this number.

So is modular construction a solution to the problem of lack of housing or not? And maybe you can share some insights from the design point of view. Is it better, worse, cheaper, anything? Fairly open question and an awful debate. I think one of the mistakes that we see regularly is like the, again, the cost comparison of modular against traditional and is it going to save me money and stuff like that. I think when you look at the modular industry, there’s no doubt that is a growth, high growth sector. There are more companies invested in that sort of approach. There are more companies building with that kind of methodology. the stigma that was attached to modular in maybe the late 70s, early 80s, where it was seen as like cheap prefab pipe stuff. When you go and look at modular construction now, in a lot of instances you wouldn’t know whether it had been constructed traditionally or whether it was done in a factory and it was modular and I think it probably echoes some of the things we said earlier about making the industry a nicer place to be. But if you were manually constructing a home, would you rather be me deep in concrete in the rain, wind and snow? or in a nice warm factory in a controlled environment with nice conditions. I know which one I’d pick. So I think with regards to modular, it can definitely be a massive help to addressing those housing shortages. But I would say in my experience, a lot of the already established modular companies aren’t necessarily looking at residential as a market. They’ve got their foot in another door that they’re quite happy with. And I think that the one challenging point and tipping point for modular, if it comes to housing and residential is… It’s very challenging to funders are nervous about MMC and it’s difficult to insure because insurers are nervous about it. And then you’ve also got the issue around things like pipelines. So there’s some companies have come to the fore in the last five, ten years, it’s a really innovative solution. But then when they’re talking to local housing authorities or larger clients, they say, where’s your factory? Where’s your work for? Where’s your modular house that I want to come and have a look at? So you almost, it feels at times like you’re in this kind of chicken and egg scenario where there’s appetite to go and build a factory and to build a team that could make modular homes. And there’s an appetite from the purchaser to buy modular homes, but the purchaser wants to see the factory before they’ll buy and the factory want to see the pipeline before they’ll invest 100 million quid in building a factory to make it all work. But yeah, the speed at which you can construct off-site and modular It would certainly enable us to develop and design standardized design, which would again be with things and roll it out on masks. I think unfortunately at the moment we’re in this kind of chicken and egg standoff where, as you mentioned, the warranties, you’ve got to have Bopac, you’ve got to have NHBC. Again, why?

Why isn’t there a universal certification scheme that modular house builders can follow? But I think there’s a huge opportunity for modular to help address those issues, but… At the moment, there’s a number of challenges that the industry needs to find solutions for. Do we think, this is a question that bugs me, do we think modular is the answer? I said this to Martin and he was like, absolutely, or something like that. Yeah, it can be the answer, but it’s not the only answer. I think the industry and the demand for housing is so big that not just one solution is going to be the answer. I think what you’ve got to have is a multiple of different solutions. If you had a bottomless pit of money and you had a client that was really open and engaging and they were happy to support setting up some of these factories, absolutely. Do I think that the modular industry will be a massive contributor over the next 10 years to addressing those behaviors? Yes, I do. I think that the momentum there, there are obviously lots of things that could change that, but at the moment, unless there’s any massive kinks in the road, I think that the offsite and modular industry is on the trajectory that’s only going one way. But ultimately, like I said before, it’s going to take lots of investment, deep pockets. We’re going to have to find ways around funding. MMC as a word, has really, in my opinion, it has complicated things. Somebody somewhere at some stage in the last three, four, five years decided MMC was going to be the new word for offsite constructions. Now, anybody that’s doing offsite… says that they’re doing MMC. So you have the funders go, if it’s modern methods of construction, we need more information about what the modern bit is before we send you the money. In reality, if you’ve got a business that’s still doing the same thing that they were doing 20 years ago but calling it MMC, all they’re actually doing is creating a bit of confusion and a gray area. I think we’ve got to look at that as well. It’s like calling timber frame housing MMC really. It’s not because… Obviously there is a difference between open panel and closed panel, SIPs, et cetera, but there’s not much innovation. Yeah. I started reading an article yesterday actually about Modular and it was, I can’t remember what the article was, but I just remember spotting a pattern in it. And it was essentially that like the words you use are extremely important for you in order to get insurance and funding and whatnot. And I was just like, this is absolutely ridiculous. You just change a word.

Yeah. Yeah, one of the things, one of the step changes we saw about five, six years ago was in one of the government report. I think it was, I can’t remember, but there was a white paper that was released and they started to refer to offsite and modular as precision manufactured housing. And that is just like a way of making it sound more intriguing and it probably in fairness is a better representation of what’s being done. It is precision manufactured and they are working to really small tolerances, but It is ultimately a better way of saying offsite construction or modular, which maybe has a stigma attached to it possibly. But some of the stuff that you see now, modular, we did a project for a student accommodation in Bath about probably about eight years ago now. And you would think that building had been there for 150 years. The facade was cloaked and it all looked like a historic building. Yet behind the facade was the load of… rectangles and squares. So a lot can be done. And I think that’s again, something that we’ve seen move forward. It isn’t just boxes and squares and a lot more can be done aesthetically with buildings now in modular. So it feels to me like the industry is certainly on the up and it’s certainly an area of the market that we do a lot of really great work. As I say, the clients in the main are absolutely superb. We’ve got one design partnership in particular with a company called NAR, Ryan Geldar and his team. And the way that they deal with us as a supply chain, customer. We are seen as partners in the project. Everything is open and transparent. The teams meet up regularly to discuss feedback in both directions. When there’s problems on jobs it’s dealt with fairly and sensitively and they respect the work that we do for them. It clearly shows to me, and Ryan’s a fairly young guy himself and he’s in his 30s, but it just shows that with the right approach and the right respect in both directions that things can be done.

Do we still have problems? Of course we do. and I put an article out last week about mistakes. How do we tackle mistakes? Mistakes will happen, we all make mistakes. So how do we dim or turn down the volume of what happens when mistakes are made to make it more palatable and more fair and reasonable for everybody? Because if we don’t, imagine if every time a doctor did a surgery on a patient and it didn’t go well or that he didn’t fix his knee or his arm. Imagine if that doctor was sued by the patient’s family Yeah and got financially penalized because he couldn’t fix it You wouldn’t have any doctors would you? And that’s in construction There’s so many consultants and people that work in construction that when they make a mistake, an honest and simple mistake that’s not necessarily even their fault they just get absolutely chastised and penalized to an unsustainable level and I think that’s a… I don’t know what the answer is to that other than trying to… limit the amount of mistakes that could and can happen. I think it’s obviously the starting point, but how we solve that whole issue of you made the mistake so you’re picking up the bill, you know, it’s a real problem in construction. Massive problem. Obviously you’ve been in construction, I think you said 20, 22 years was it? That’s why I’ve got no hair mate. No, that was my question. That was my question.

How do you relax? How do you relax? That was my question. Sorry, go on. Go on, answer that one. That is hard. I probably, like everybody, being guilty of neglecting myself at times. I’ve built a business and a career. And once you start to realise that you are struggling with mental health or stress or anxiety or whatever it might be… you have to ultimately you have to go and find ways and means of co-investors. So for me now, trying to turn off from the business is really challenging. I think anybody that goes into business for themselves, you have to conceive that all of the good things that you get from it are equally outweighed by the bad things. So the bad thing is that it’s with your 24-7. So even when you’re on holiday, you’re not on holiday and things like that. But what I try, I tend to do now in my own spare time, we’ve got a young fat and a dog, so I do a lot of walking now and try and get as much exercise as I can. Try and eat the right things because again, I’ve made a mental correlation between eating the wrong things. and might feel nice in the short term, but he’s seen he doesn’t feel nice in the long term. So yeah, I can tend to try and focus my time around playing a bit of golf, watching a bit of football, exercising, and just running my gills around to all the various appointments that they’ve got, and that’s it, it keeps me busy when I’m not away. Nice, we have to sweat around a golf. I said this year is like the golf year for me. I used to play quite a bit and I haven’t done it for a while, and now I need to get back into it because my mates are doing it and I’m just getting extremely jealous of getting out and getting some fresh air. just like stepping away from his top. Oh, it does talk to her. Yeah, I don’t want to sound a bit feeble here, but I definitely reconnected with nature during COVID. So when there was nothing else to do other than go out for a walk, you start to realize that just going out and being out in the fresh air and surrounded by trees and animals and stuff like that, there’s a lot to be said on your mental health and wellbeing. I think golf is a great sport for that. You get to go out and… You can just toss your ball around the golf course, you walk in, you breathe in fresh air and all that good stuff and you’re getting a bit of sun on your face as well, so a bit of an ND that we all know is very important during those winter months. Bonus point, you can do a bit of business on there if you’re smart about it. We’ve definitely done a bit of business on the golf course, there really is, yeah that definitely works. And in the pub as well to be fair mate, we’ve got a… We’ve got a really great set of guys in both teams, to be honest with you. And all of them work hard but enjoy a beer and play hard as well. So we tend to find a lot of clients and enjoy our company, nine to five. And then having a laugh afterwards with a beer in the pub or whatever. So that’s always good fun. Sounds like a good balance.

All right, Dan, so I was going to ask you about if you were not in construction, what would you do? But I’m conscious of time. Maybe just give us a one word answer and then we can wrap this up. I was very nearly a professional table tennis player, would you believe? Oh wow, okay that’s cool. Yeah, I decided not to pursue that. I don’t know whether that was right or wrong. No, who knows. Yeah, who knows where I’d be. Alright Dan, so where can people find out more about you and your businesses? Yeah in simple terms it’s or if it’s skills and training and stuff like that. But yeah, really interested in always connecting with new people. Clients, customers, suppliers, and obviously, been great meeting you guys during the fact. So thanks for having me. Perfect. Thank you very much, Dan. Thanks so much for tuning in to this episode of the Bricks and Bytes Podcast. If you are enjoying the show, please feel free to rate, subscribe, and leave a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. We really appreciate it, and we’ll catch you in the next episode.

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