MIDFIX podcast

In this podcast, we welcome Nigel Thompson from Sikla as our guest speaker.

  • We reflect on the evolution of steel within construction and how it has evolved from the strut-based systems used in the 1920s.
  • We look at reasons why off-site manufacturing has become the go-to option on construction projects.
  • We address the common misconceptions in the industry about modular steel.


Episode Notes:

00:06 Right, thank you all for joining us today. This is a first
00:11 podcast for MIDFIX. It should be interesting. So yeah, just a
00:16 thought, Lets do an intro on MIDFIX, Nigel is obviously
00:21 aware of what we do but it’s mainly for the audience. So MIDFIX
00:26 are wholesalers to the M&E industry supplying to building services
00:30 predominantly stocking around 15,000 product lines. And
00:33 yet it started to evolve into more offsite manufacturing.
00:37 And predominately here, using a modular system such as Sikla,
00:41 which is a great product for us.
00:45 And yes, I welcome here today, Nigel Thompson. He’s a
00:49 director at Sikla, UK.
00:51 Thank you Jake. Sikla are a manufacturer of modular
00:56 steel pipe clips and I suppose it has its own evolution story as
01:01 well. Uh. So yeah, so on that note I guess will crack on with
01:08 it. So I think today’s podcast is to discuss
01:12 The evolution of Steel.
01:16 It’s happened in all types of products. I suppose then it’s
01:21 certainly happened within modular steel.
01:24 So we move onto the first question Mr T,
01:26 So the first question is the evolution was not really
01:33 a question, is more of a statement the evolution of steel
01:37 within the construction industry from the beginnings, which I
01:40 suppose happened pre-war. It was in 1920s when the first
01:44 lightweight steel framing systems came to market which
01:47 technically have revolutionized the way pipework in electrical
01:50 containment systems have been installed. You’re going back to
01:54 the days of anger line.
01:56 Drills, welded frames and things like that strut based systems now
02:02 take it for granted. Although Sikla have our own strut
02:07 based channel systems, in 2006, we introduced something that we
02:13 believe would substitute PFC’s box sections and beams to a
02:19 degree as well.
02:21 A lot that can be done with welded steel work. Don’t get me
02:25 wrong, we’re not dismissing it in its entirety, but there’s a
02:28 way. I think now that we need or contractors need to look at cost
02:33 savings. COVID-19 obviously taught us that
02:36 there needs to be better ways of doing things quicker. Ways of
02:40 doing things, more efficient ways of doing things, and
02:42 offsite manufacturing is driving this. It’s at the forefront of
02:46 this, the same way that MIDFIX are. So before any modular
02:50 systems, it was all.
02:51 It was pretty. Everything was well, it wasn’t it. That’s
02:54 pretty much even for the smallest supports. I’m guessing.
02:57 Yeah, absolutely. He said that
02:58 happened with. Yeah, your strut based systems, so suppose it’s I
03:02 think it’s inevitable with modular systems that it’s going
03:05 to go from. You know not everything is going to be
03:09 replaced with modular. We know that there’s always going to be,
03:12 especially for primary structures and things, but
03:15 certainly you know smaller your pipe supports you know,
03:17 especially if you’ve got 1000 and they’re all the same for
03:21 example, or even all different. But I agree with you, I think
03:24 we’re talking about mechanical services and electrical
03:26 containment. I think these days, there’s an off the shelf solution
03:30 is going to play a part in the evolution of steel work anyway,
03:34 but BIM plays a massive part in
03:36 it as well. There’s a lot more detailing going on in design
03:40 work predesign tender stage. There’s a lot more requirement
03:43 these days for does it work? How does it work? Does it deflect?
03:48 Who’s going to be responsible for doing stress calculations and things
03:51 like that? And these become far more important than
03:55 ultimately become the responsibility of the contractor.
03:57 Usually there is a cost or higher cost for structural
04:01 engineers and things like that. There’s always going to be a
04:04 need for structural engineers, but if it can be demonstrated
04:08 with a proprietary or modular
04:09 system. Then why not consult the specialists,
04:14 MIDFIX are specialists in off site construction and modular steel work
04:19 and Sikla I believe are at the forefront of this. Also, yeah,
04:24 absolutely. OK, so yeah, let’s just say that we can see it’s
04:29 all about looks at things. People want things quicker,
04:32 safer. That moves on to.
04:34 The second question
04:37 So why is offsite manufacturing becoming the go
04:42 to option for for most construction projects, the
04:45 opposite. We’ve seen a bit of a trend, you know there’s all this
04:51 buzz, the acronym DFMA, all this you know people are talking
04:54 about. This is more and more important, but why do you think
04:57 that you know why is it now the let’s say the go to well? I
05:02 think you’ve got to look at it from the DFMA or design for
05:06 manufacture and Assembly is something that’s been going on
05:09 for almost as long as I’ve been doing this and I’m into my
05:13 17th year. I think it stems from automotive
05:17 average I think. Do you think I’m sure before it’s so that DF
05:21 now think? A typical recess. I think they applied it to.
05:24 Mainly automotive OK. It’s only in the last 10 to 15 years
05:28 It’s now in construction.
05:37 This is something you’ve got look at. The rate of knots. Take
05:41 something like your fast food restaurants and things like
05:44 that. They’ve been off site for years. They don’t build any of
05:48 these quick yellow Ms on site.
05:50 It is exactly they build it all off site. They bought it
05:53 together and then just do the finishing and snagging on site at
05:57 the same way is going with construction projects even when
06:00 you look at the way that civils is done. If it can be cast off
06:05 site and delivered in a modular fashion, the central
06:07 reservations on the new Smart Motorways. As an example, the
06:10 majority of those are built off site and installed, although I
06:14 do see machines from time to time pouring concrete but
06:17 ultimately the biggest benefit with offsite manufacture is.
06:20 The cost saving on site and you’re taking away that
06:24 responsibility in health and
06:26 safety issue. Offsite manufacturing is the future
06:30 we’ve been doing this quite a long time. Anyway, I think my
06:34 First off site project with modules in particular was
06:38 probably as far back as 2007 and that was the first like fan coil
06:43 unit module and stuff like that. And then we look at the modules
06:48 that we’re doing now. We’re doing large plant skids were
06:52 doing multi service modules, mechanical modules, and we’re
06:55 doing full arrays of supports for large farmer and energy from
06:59 waste projects. There is a reason why we’re having the degree of success with off-site
07:07 and that’s because the design process demands that.
07:11 There is a need for
07:13 Full design compliance.
07:17 It’s just natural. I think it’s far easier to do that up front,
07:22 isn’t it? rather than reto fit it after on site. Of course
07:26 You know you’ve got a reduction of Health and safety
07:29 issues. You’ve got reduced labor and rates. We’ve got a reduced
07:33 number of deliveries you’ve got on time, deliveries. We’ve got,
07:37 sustainability, we’ve got carbon
07:38 footprint. Exactly, the biggest problem that I see as well is
07:43 that when you get booms in the construction industry, there
07:47 becomes a limited number of skilled workers, now obviously
07:52 welding in particular, is a very highly skilled profession and
07:57 if you can do it with a semi-skilled labor then why not? If
08:03 With a welder for
08:05 example.
08:09 You get diferent quality welders you know you get better welders
08:13 than others I supposed.
08:15 Is a good thing about the module system. It doesn’t matter who
08:18 built it, and as long as they follow the drawing and then
08:22 we’re going to get the same result. Well, you’ve got
08:25 compliance and even things as far EN1090 and CE compliance
08:28 and things like that. You know it makes it more viable.
08:31 technically, I think I suppose the biggest problem with offsite
08:34 manufacturing is to make it beneficial for anyone that you
08:37 know you’ve got to be engaged early enough in the project to
08:41 get it detailed and planned. I think from my perspective I see
08:45 still see a lot of last minute decisions
08:49 For example, I see a lot of
08:54 Takeoffs generated with strut based Systems rather than steel
08:57 based systems, and then you get into this commercial discussion.
09:00 Why is a proprietary steel framing system more expensive?
09:11 what we have to do really is educate. You know there is a
09:16 better way of doing it. There is a more efficient way of doing
09:20 it, whether or not the
09:22 contractor knows that. That is available. You know that is available, that is
09:26 the job of MIDFIX and Sikla to put it out there. this is what we
09:31 do. No, actually I said off site for us said.
09:35 We are very much if we can engineer as much as we come
09:38 before it so much it’s far easier because if we just send
09:42 loose material to site is normally an issue and there’s
09:44 something we have to go back
09:46 and. That cut it to the wrong length. You know when it’s
09:50 definitely, it was far more control, isn’t it? Yeah, of
09:52 course, yeah. OK, right? So we kind of touch on it then really
09:57 so I think in the industry there is a bit of a.
10:01 A bit of a preconception of
10:04 modular steel. Particularly that
10:07 it’s expensive and you know, let’s look at it. You can look
10:10 at that system. It looks more expensive than a piece of angle
10:14 iron ore and I-beam. You know it looks like it’s engineered, so
10:18 yes, it is going to be more expensive,
10:21 How can we put it across that? You know, it’s not just
10:25 the product is at the end of the day, it’s not, and I think
10:28 you’ve got to break it down Jake and the simple way of
10:31 looking at it is that if you are a buyer and you look at, let’s
10:35 take a 100mm box section for
10:36 example. So the first thing that we’re going to look at is the
10:44 the Mail delivered to your door.
10:47 Yes, cheaper far far cheaper.
10:50 And then you’ve got the cost of.
10:52 The welding, the jigging it and the material handling of it
10:57 you bearing in mind proprietary systems like see from OR.
11:01 Lightweight you know the 50% lighter in some cases so.
11:06 raw material. We’ve got the jigging we’ve got the welding
11:20 gotta finish it now. Where is it being installed? Is it in? Is it
11:24 in a riser is in a plant room? Is it outdoors? If it’s
11:28 outdoors, there’s a high likelihood that it needs to be
11:30 hot dip galvanized, so then you’ve got the transit from
11:33 where it’s fabricated to the galvanizer and back, then you’ve
11:36 got. The cost of broaching tools and Mac drills and and all these
11:40 things, and when you think about the time and effort that it
11:45 would cost to calculate this beying matrix
11:46 If you Add all of that, you add it all up. Then
11:51 it’s either going to be equal to or greater than something that
11:54 can be done. Now we know you and I that a length of section with
11:59 holes already in it that can be connected with. You know, nuts,
12:03 bolts and washers. Is far more
12:05 efficient. It can be done very,
12:08 very quickly. And the biggest benefit that we’re off again
12:11 here is there’s no hot works. You know we’re doing this with
12:15 semi skilled labor. You know it doesn’t take a great deal of
12:19 knowledge and science to be able to build these cumbersome
12:22 complex frames. The same skill set that someone assembly new strut
12:26 based product would need. Yeah yeah yeah now. But I
12:30 think that is definitely.
12:31 That’s the only preconception I think. I don’t think there’s a
12:34 doubt that people say it doesn’t work, but I think it’s more the
12:38 cost and I well I always says
12:40 I think. Yes, if you’re
12:42 building. One little frame. OK, probably wouldn’t build out of
12:46 modular steel. Probably have something found that because
12:48 when you always if you’ve got a whole project and they’re all
12:52 different size frames, there’s no way I don’t think especially
12:54 so. Basically, I think the more modular still using a job then
12:58 more cost saving. You get just so I mean so if you have if you
13:02 save more over 1000 rockets than 10 brackets, but you’re going to
13:05 see this and This is why. This is why it’s important not only
13:09 for earlier engagement, but if you look at the big jobs we’re
13:12 talking big modules, riser carcasses we’re talking
13:15 energy projects, farmer projects.
13:16 And you look at these large projects that have a high volume
13:20 of steel, right? There’s 20 tonnes of steel involved in this job.
13:24 For pipe supports, yeah great. We know we got a kilo rate. It
13:28 can be proprietary systems can be calculated in the same way.
13:32 So Yeah Alright so it’s £4.00 to kilogram for galvanized steel
13:35 frames. Yeah maybe a little bit more expensive but we have to
13:39 remember that proprietary systems are having a half the
13:42 weight of traditional steel sections. So even if we double
13:45 the cost per kilogram it doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter ’cause
13:49 you half the weight. So when you look at it that way rather than
13:53 looking at it. This is an end bracket. This is a piece of
13:56 section. This is a screw. This is an end plate. If you think of
14:00 it like a strut based system.
14:03 Which you can compare it to the philosophy of it. Yes, what you
14:08 need to do is break it down into. Actually this frame looks
14:13 like this. It weighs this and it costs this because when you
14:18 compare them in the same format cost per kilogram, it will never
14:23 be more expensive ever. And we’ve got case studies to
14:27 demonstrate that. Obviously from our history together we know
14:30 that and that’s something that we’ve pitched very, very
14:34 effectively. The other thing is, well, you know with the system
14:37 you know it’s always going to be perceived to be expensive.
14:41 Because of the way that it looks, yeah, I was going to say.
14:45 People will see as a will compare it to strut because
14:48 they’re looking. Or you can Bolt it together. Let’s compare
14:51 notes. They should actually. So that’s the preconception. But
14:54 they actually it’s replacing welded states, whereas strut
14:56 system won’t work. And everything I’ve gotta go to get
14:59 it fabricated or hey, look at, but it’s a lot shinier off the
14:54 they actually it’s replacing welded states, whereas strut
14:56 system won’t work. And everything I’ve gotta go to get
14:59 it fabricated or hey, look at, but it’s a lot shinier off the
15:03 shelf. Fresh out the galvanizing, you know it looks
15:06 it boxfresh. It looks brand new and you know, yeah, brand-new.
15:10 Does come at a cost? You know, it looks great, and it’s
15:14 engineered. It’s already pre engineered, of course. And
15:17 again, when you’re talking about pre engineered configurations
15:20 and frames to be able to say that I’ve got a goal post frame
15:25 of these dimensions and it’ll do XYZ load and you haven’t got a
15:30 consult. Structural engineers and stuff like that. And these
15:33 are often perceived to be
15:35 expensive. But you’re missing out on certain things you don’t
15:38 have to consult structural engineers. Is there some paper
15:41 in black-and-white? Yeah, I’m sure you could, but you could
15:45 probably buy the components of a Bentley car individually
15:48 cheaper, but you ain’t going to build into some kind of
15:52 concept. You’re basically there. there is that, I don’t have the time to
15:57 build a Bentley, one day mate. That’s next steps. Small steps.
16:00 OK, moving on then.
16:03 So what are the Key advantages of modular Steel work? So we’ve touched on the
16:07 benefits of off site, but I now suppose it kind of is a bit of
16:13 blends in in this area space, but what are the main advantages
16:17 of modular steel themselves? There’s no, there’s no single
16:20 answer. Jake and it’s, you know, there’s quite a long list,
16:24 starting with the fact that it’s off the shelf.
16:28 We need to build a frame. I need that frame built tomorrow.
16:33 Yeah, getting a welder to jig it or make it, to Weld it, to finish
16:37 it can’t be done. You know what? That’s a good point. ’cause
16:41 quite often when we are speaking with contractors design stages,
16:44 they always say, you know I’m worried that the design is slipping
16:47 and we’re going to get this made him like that’s the easy bit
16:50 because what they’re thinking is it with traditional methods.
16:53 Safe design takes 3 set. They’ve got six week program.
16:56 Still we could take five weeks with design and
17:00 still meet their six week, yeah?
17:02 Traditionally, if that design goes out, that’s when they start
17:05 to worry. Nothing. That’s when it’s perception. So don’t worry
17:08 bout we can. We can build that in a day. I mean the frame we
17:12 doing right now. I think we’ve
17:14 literally built. 20 metres riser in a day, it’s that quick. You know it’s that quick.
17:19 And I think that this is something that you can’t be
17:22 taken for granted, you know the fact that we’ve got something
17:25 here that’s off the shelf. You can come to MIDFIX you come
17:29 Sikla and you can have what you need to build a frame very,
17:33 very quickly. You know, from instigation of have you got it.
17:36 Of course we’ve got it. We got about 180 tonnes sitting there
17:40 in a warehouse, ready to be called off. And a very, very high
17:44 number of the end supports that connect all together. You know
17:47 it’s a compact range, you only
17:49 need feet. Angles and section, and most importantly the screw.
17:52 The other thing that you have got to bear in mind as well as there’s
17:55 absolutely no hot works really needed. There are options for
17:58 heat works. Don’t get me wrong, we can integrate it into plant
18:02 room skid. So if you’ve got a welded base and you want to
18:05 build everything above that base as a proprietary system then
18:08 that works. Same with risers, the riser modules. These days
18:11 they’re large structures. You know you’re talking 15 metre in
18:14 height and some of these mega rises or you don’t build the
18:18 whole thing out of the
18:19 proprietary system. We build it out of a system or a steel
18:23 profile that works and you integrate the smaller parts
18:26 within it. Again, the Assembly can be done with semi skilled
18:30 labor. We’ve got a reduction in weight, up to 50%.
18:34 One of the things that we do seem to see now if you go to
18:38 visit a customer. In the city, as an example, they might ask
18:42 you how far you’ve come and how did you get here. You know
18:46 carbon is becoming really important, so obviously because
18:49 of the weight. The fact that it’s in stock in the UK we are reducing
18:52 carbon where reducing the time that’s needed and supposedly
18:55 cases rather than if it’s not going to be entirely built off
18:59 site with modular rather than shipping fresh air around the
19:09 then just finish off the rest of it on site. But we see this in
19:13 MIDFIX in particular had a great success with AHUs and chiller
19:17 support frames. With flat packing it, made to measure.
19:20 It’s really, really simple. We can connect. We haven’t touched
19:23 on the fact that you can connect to almost any surface. We’ve got
19:29 concrete. We’ve got steel. We’ve got non-penetrative roof
19:32 supports, you know, and everything is finished outdoors
19:35 anyway. It’s already hot dip galvanized to C4, it’s corrosion
19:39 resistant. Next one, if there is a potential client that you know
19:43 they didn’t. For example, they didn’t want bolted and they
19:46 wanted to know it’s gotta be to the primary structure. They only
19:49 went welded. What can we do there?
19:53 We’ve got loads of means of integrating much. Like I said,
19:56 You know, you can use.
19:58 The proprietor systems get involved with welding
20:02 adapters. Welding connectors, MIDFIX are able to develop and
20:05 have developed their own custom connections to the section. You
20:09 know, we’ve seen this with Qmexx and that’s something that we
20:13 haven’t really touched on as that is a good thing about it.
20:17 You can. You can add interfaces, you can add adapters to the
20:21 system. With it from a system, she’s the elongated hole in it.
20:24 you can
20:27 create interfaces. I suppose your thing as well, but a
20:30 modular system. All the components are individually
20:33 tested. We’ve got component data. You know what you’re
20:36 working with exactly. You could
20:38 get in. Where’s that steel from you see what I mean? You’ve got
20:42 you’ve got a Peace of Mind with
20:44 a modular system. Everything’s 10:90.That’s a fancy marked as well.
20:50 In terms of the
20:54 standard. Their factory production control to execution
20:57 cluster as well. So in theory you know you’re making a support
21:02 from a proprietary system that meets all the accreditations and
21:07 compliance.
21:08 Our supply chain works perfectly in that way.
21:13 That’s good. OK, so another question we haven’t. I
21:16 suppose it’s another preconception really are.
21:20 What generally in the industry, especially for the large
21:23 applications and especially your bigger pipework, high pressure
21:26 pipe work steam work? The reason welded systems are
21:31 Always needed is because they know they got a solid connection
21:35 with hot pipework. You’ve got a lot of forces, you can’t
21:38 necessarily just have a through Bolt, nut and washer. In most
21:42 cases that won’t work. So obviously we know with the
21:45 framo system we’ve got the self
21:47 forming Screw, But. Why is that so? Why is that so important?
21:52 You know, the connection itself because we know there are other
21:56 modular systems, but I suppose it is the connection. Would you
21:59 say is the most important part? the beauty of sikla’s
22:03 proprietary steel system is the screw. It
22:08 is that simple. The system is
22:10 great. But the reason it works
22:13 so well, Is the screw and there are many benefits with the
22:17 screw, number one. Let’s have a little bit of history about the
22:20 screw, where it comes from and if you look at the technology
22:24 that holds gearboxes and engines in cars, it’s this technology.
22:26 It’s a self forming Bolt. If you look at our
22:30 section as it stands there are no there are perforations, but
22:33 there’s no threads so it forms its own thread is totally
22:36 airtight, it is totally shakeproof. Suppose the proof is no-one’s
22:39 Gearboxes has fallen out whilst they’re driving along. There’s not
22:42 much driving anymore at the
22:44 motorway, but there’s going to be. There’s
22:47 going to be less likelihood that you will crash into someone because their
22:50 gearbox dropped out. The fact because the screws came out, it
22:54 will never happen. And you know, it’s one of these. One of these
22:58 questions, why is the screw so good? It’s a really, really high
23:01 quality, high tensile screw that has come from something like
23:04 Automotive. It’s finish. If you look at the bolts in your
23:09 engines in the car, this matte kind of Grey looking thing. You
23:13 know it’s that.
23:15 You don’t galvanise a bolt like that. Stop the threads clogging
23:20 up and stuff like that self forming technology
23:22 forming technologies. When you look at the connections you were
23:26 talking about, simple, very quick connections. You can
23:28 connect a normal end support on our system for bolts in less
23:32 than 30 seconds with the right tool you know the other thing is
23:36 we gotta look at is when you apply these things we have talk
23:40 settings and things like we can do that automatically now with
23:43 the right power tool. Now nobody wants to be doing systems like
23:47 this up with a normal calibrated torque wrench. You know you got
23:50 first hand experience with this. Use the right tool. You do it
23:54 quickly. And that first demonstration I remember the
23:57 first time that I was shown a text screw going into a piece of
24:01 sheet steel on a power tool demonstration thing. You know,
24:04 it’s great, but it’s the same technology, but you were talking
24:08 about something going into 3mm steel rather than 10mm
24:11 steel. I suppose as well with the with the framo system it’s
24:15 it’s the internal plugs in it. You know we making when we make
24:19 a connection. I’m guessing the internal plug. The reason it
24:22 goes inside the steel as opposed to outside. If you imagine
24:22 goes into a sheet steel in a power tool demo. If you imagine
24:25 clamping around yet, I’m guessing that gives it a lot
24:28 more. It gives it a great rigidity, but one of the things
24:32 that you miss him with that is that if you have a connection on
24:36 the outside of the steel, you’re not able to use the false
24:40 exterior surface of the section.
24:42 The beauty could you look up one side exactly? The beauty of the
24:45 Framo system is that you can use every side of the face
24:49 all the way up, flush.
24:51 So they ended the support. So for example, if you want to
24:55 maximize space for, say, a series of pipe shoes as an example
25:01 be the likelihood, we can use the full surface area to connect the
25:05 supports, and we’ve got the full adjustability on it as well.
25:09 Yeah, OK, so is there a way you know in regards to the
25:12 connections, can it? Can we prove it? Can we prove that you
25:17 know if the contractors comes to us and we do a design you know,
25:21 let’s say it’s a module. OK, so we structurally we’ve checked
25:25 the dead load. It’s pretty simple. We know that the
25:28 expansion forces are fine, but if that’s being lifted up by a
25:32 crane, how do we prove the connections work there? Of course you can,
25:36 you engineer a structure made from proprietary system in
25:39 the same way that you would do with structural steel? The same
25:50 principles. You gotta look at the for example the lift, How do you get it from the
25:55 bed of the truck vertically into the shaft? You know you look at
25:59 horizontal gantry modules or pipe racks on farmer and energy
26:03 projects and things like that. These things are often 6 metres
26:06 long, have heavy pipework in them. You know they’re lifted.
26:10 We’ve even developed lifting points that can be very, very
26:13 easily connected to the frame.
26:15 Exterior on a module.
26:18 These are tried and tested pieces of equipment and they’ve
26:21 become a standard product that we have off the shelf, so we’re
26:24 talking about a riser module.
26:26 You build it offsite. You populate it with your pipework
26:29 or electrical containment. Lifting points go on, it gets
26:32 lifted up to where it needs to go, but the benefit with a
26:36 proprietary system, you can recycle these lifting points.
26:38 You know you don’t have to use a different lifting point
26:41 every time you are set up four or a set of six, and we’ve seen
26:45 this with large plant skids I think the largest we’ve done.
26:48 Plant skids wise, we are talking 12 tonnes without the weight of the
26:51 frame, so that’s a lot.
27:01 That largely covers today, thank you for listening, we are doing a few with key suppliers
27:35 You can find more details on our website www.midfix.co.uk