If the Construction Industry built cars

Sitting in the Four Cylinder building of BMW’s HQ in Munich were leaders from across the Construction industry. The event, organised by international consulting and project management company, Drees & Sommer and infrastructure industry network, acumen7, was titled ‘From Construction to Production’ and provided an opportunity to learn from BMW’s approach to high volume, zero defect manufacturing in an attempt to do something about the Construction sector's woeful productivity levels.

Dr Jochen Wagner, BMW’s Global Head of Real Estate had a unique perspective. Responsible for delivering and operating BMW’s manufacturing estate, he sat firmly on the divide between BMW’s manufacturing mind-set, on one side, and the Construction industry that designs and builds BMW’s factories, training centres and warehouse facilities on the other. The pressures were clear. He described how BMW operates in a global market that is more volatile, uncertain and complex than ever before - one in which a tweet from the US President on trade tariffs can result in BMW’s Board considering a overnight switch in manufacturing from one region to another. “The Board tell me they need increased factory capacity in three days when I know it will take three years to build”. In a factory that produces 850 cars a day on a cramped site in the centre of Munich’s crowded city, Dr Wagner needs the Construction sector to be more responsive, offering innovative ideas and levels of quality that match BMW’s own.

Dr Wagner’s colleagues from BMW went on to give their perceptions of the Construction sector, a sector they see defined by long lead times, poor quality, escalating costs, late delivery and a lack of team working and collaboration. Tongue in cheek, they showed a slide of a car built by the Construction industry. Predictably, it was depicted as expensive, delivered late, in the wrong spec and with a raft of snags.

The automotive industry has transformed itself. No longer are bespoke vehicles built in sheds using craft skills. Henry Ford in 1914 and Toyota in 1975 brought seismic changes to the sector. They introduced a manufacturing outlook that sought speed, standardisation, continuous improvement, process stability, innovation and resulted in zero defect delivery on time, all without limiting the customer’s choice - BMW currently offers 1023 different vehicle options. They developed modularisation and platformisation that brought simplicity and efficiency and facilitated automation.

As Dr Wagner contemplates his challenge to deliver better quality infrastructure for BMW faster, cheaper and more predictably, he was asked what lessons the Construction sector might take from the automotive industry. He responded:

  • "Transform your mindset. Move from ego to Lego and get away from the belief that all buildings have to be prototypes

  • Offer your customers existing solutions, it need not reduce their choice

  • Embrace digitisation and collaborative working

  • Be obsessive about learning, invest in the skills and qualifications necessary for a digital world

  • And strive for zero defects"

In his parting shot he added: “And if you can’t change the people, change the people.”

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