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More for less for suppliers: Shock of the new

Suppliers hold the key with their ideas, not just their prices, says Jo Stimpson.

More from: More for less

It is not hard to see why suppliers could be key to getting more for less. Any cost savings made at the roots of the supply chain can add up significantly at the top. Clever selection of products and services can bring real benefits − if done wisely.

The biggest hurdle is the need for a change of mindset. Getting more for less often depends on trying new methods, which is no mean feat after doing things the same way for years.

ASI Solutions director Archie Robertson has experienced timid attitudes towards new products first hand. “There are a lot of people in the construction industry whose success is based on applying tried and tested methods,” he says. It is important to take risks, he says.

In fact, says 2K Manufacturing head of sales Peter Ball, a recession is a great backdrop to innovation, encouraging open-mindedness and meaning innovative technologies are more likely to emerge. “When things are tough [customers are] more willing to try new things,” he says. “I think it’s a great time to launch a new product.”

“If you really want to change the cost base you’ve got to do it before you start building things.”

Archie Robertson, ASI Solutions

ASI Solutions sales and marketing director Barrie Simpson says the industry would benefit from an “early adopters” pioneering mindset with new ideas. Robertson agrees: “Those who win out are those who do the thinking a little differently and earlier.”

Being active in seeking out products that can deliver savings is important. Ball says consultants and contractors would benefit from having someone designated to do just that. And it doesn’t need to be at odds with the sustainability agenda.

2K Manufacturing’s own product is an example of how the drive to be sustainable can beget innovation.

Ecosheet is a board made via a process called Powder Impression Moulding, from plastics that cannot be recycled and would otherwise go to landfill − including worn out hard hats.

Archie Robertson

Archie Robertson

Designed as an alternative for plywood, the boards can be used for hoarding or concrete formwork. Not only are they cheaper than quality plywood, they are water impermeable and can be reused.

At the end of its life the product can be returned to the manufacturer in exchange for a rebate on future orders. Products like this deliver more for less in every sense, and are well worth discovering.

But to make the most of innovation, it may be necessary to change the way a project is planned. ASI supplies Rhinophalt, a surface preservation treatment which extends the life of asphalt and macadam and is based on the idea of preventative measures rather than what Robertson calls “breakdown engineering”.

By reducing the need for (and costs of ) maintenance work down the line, Rhinophalt brings additional cost savings by reducing traffic disruption, lorry movements and aggregate waste and extraction. But only those who take a long term perspective will enjoy those benefits.

“We do have a struggle where people have just got a vision for five years out,” says Simpson. “Look beyond five years to 10 years, 20 years.”

“Good software can also produce the optimum design, providing the most cost effective solution”

Peter Coombes

In the case of a 20-25 year motorway management contract on which Rhinophalt is used on both carriageways, savings could be around £180,000/km − or as much as £320,000/km for a 35-40 year contract.

If suppliers are to make a significant contribution to getting more for less, they often must be involved from the beginning. If a project is to incorporate products or services that require a different way of working, they need to be planned into the works from the start. “Innovation needs to happen at the specification stage,” says Simpson.

Robertson agrees: “If you really want to change the cost base you’ve got to do it before you start building things,” he says. “After that you’re stuffed.”

Further savings can be found in places that might be overlooked. The run-of-the-mill aspects of a project are worth scrutinising to see if they can be done more efficiently.

Hoardings are a prime example of this. Industry standard plywood hoardings are unsustainable and their disposal leads to waste and expense. A change to something like Ecosheet brings myriad benefits with very little effort.

“There’s not always a lot of thought given to the hoarding,” says Ball. “Think about preliminary works, and what happens at the very end as well as the beginning.”

“Good software can produce the optimum design, providing a cost effective solution.”

Peter Coombs

Other tools such as using the best and most appropriate software can also help by minimising the risk of further costs down the line, speeding up work and lessening the chance of errors.

Flood software specialist Micro Drainage marketing manager Peter Coombs says appropriate technology in the hands of a trained engineer can bring considerable benefits to a project. “Good, industry standard software can ensure that a design will comply with the latest regulatory requirements, such as SUDs,” he says.

“Getting it right first time and gaining technical approval will minimise the risk to the client of costly delays. Good software can also produce the optimum design, providing the client with the most cost eff ective solution and in a timely manner.”

Forethought, in the form of early planning and active exploration of alternatives, and courage, in terms of breaking with tradition and trying innovative products, are the keys to getting more for less from suppliers.

Rethinking your supply chain is worth the trip outside of the comfort zone, says Ball: “There is so much potential − especially in a recession where you can’t rely on profit margins to get you through − to make savings.”

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