How a ‘production line’ approach can transform the water sector

Water sector, production line approach,

The water sector needs to embrace a “production line” approach, Modern Methods of Construction and offsite assembly to futureproof the industry and secure supplies, says Chris Tyerman, managing director for infrastructure at Tilbury Douglas

As the industrialist Henry Ford once said: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” While Ford may have been talking about the motor industry, this sentiment also applies to construction generally and specifically to infrastructure.

As the country starts to recover from the unexpected pandemic, we will increasingly rely on our infrastructure to help get the country moving again – whether that be by road, rail or in the day-to-day provision of vital utilities such as water.

Many things change quickly in a crisis, necessity is a great motivator and agent of change. During the initial Covid-19 crisis, we built the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the NEC in Birmingham, completing the first phase in under 13 days. Many others in the industry also achieved significant feats and came together, delivering for the country in a time of need.

Water and its provision are an area where we also need to come together, embrace change and deliver better and improved solutions across the sector. For too long we have not always embraced change and as the pandemic and recent flooding in mainland Europe have shown, we must expect the unexpected and be ready to futureproof our industry, protecting the supply of water to our communities.


In this regard we must now embrace the huge technological opportunities on offer and move towards a more “production line” approach and mindset, accepting that the traditional construction approach may not always be fit for modern times.

Why change?

But why change? Not everyone wants change or sees the need for it. To not change our approach to project delivery now would mean we may not be doing our best for our customers, communities and indeed the country. By embracing new methods, specifically a “production line” approach and by using offsite assembly, in conjunction with Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) and Design for Manufacturing, we can save significant amounts of time, reduce risk and, of course, save money for our customers.

At Tilbury Douglas, we are excited to be at the forefront of this change, working in conjunction with our customers in a partnership approach. Using a cloud-based design and performance platform to oversee all parts of a programme, our aim is to ensure that 70% of a programme for a project is delivered away from site using MMC. The remaining 30% occurring during the assembly on site.

A key part of this process is the manufacturing plan, which dictates the standard components to be used in a project – we source components from a UK-based supply chain in an open, competitive market. This is followed by the pre-assembly phase, which makes up 70% of a project’s programme (and therefore running cost risk). Our manufacturing partners deliver products to our pre-assembly hubs for assembly, which involves different suppliers working together collaboratively under one roof. By assembling as much of a project away from the site as possible, we also reduce health and safety risks for our people.

A “plug and play” approach

For our Thames Water framework, we are using existing facilities at our strategic partners for our assembly hubs. Our first one is located at Bridges Electrical yard and we are planning to establish similar strategic pre-assembly hubs for all our frameworks across the country. Our aim is to drive out risk, improve quality, save time and reduce costs for our customers.

During the onsite phase, we use a “plug and play” approach to assembly, which will increase productivity and enhanced quality. Once operational, the use of intelligent asset management and standardised operation and maintenance will increase efficiencies further and provide real-time data to improve future projects.

We have recently undertaken a project at Wolsingham Sewage Treatment Works for our customer Northumbrian Water – where, through early engagement, we were able to produce an improved site layout and also produce a manufacturing plan selecting all of the proposed subcontractors, thereby providing a full solution for our customer. With many of the components built and tested offsite, we saved over three months on the original projected plan duration. This reduced costs significantly for our customer and reduced the risk we held for construction in a site environment.

This is just the beginning of a new way of working that offers significant opportunities for the sector in the future; a future we must embrace.


Water sector, production line approach

Chris Tyerman

Managing director for infrastructure

Tilbury Douglas


LinkedIn: tilburydouglas


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