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£1 million Project to Improve Quality of New Homes

Robin Davies and Rajat Roy
Robin Davies and Rajat Roy
Originally Published 10 September 1999

One of Britain's top 10 housebuilders is working with the University of Warwick to improve the quality of new homes. The £1 million Hobman II (House Building as a Manufacturing Process) project between Westbury Homes and the University's Manufacturing Group, follows the success of an earlier programme, credited with setting out the direction for Westbury's five-year plan. "Customers want choice, speed and flexibility but at the moment they are not getting it" said Project Director Rajat Roy, of the University of Warwick. "We intend to apply the disciplines of manufacturing industry to house building and develop a better way of doing things."

This is the latest of a number of successful collaborations between industry and the Warwick Manufacturing Group, aimed at solving real manufacturing issues. The Hobman team is working with component suppliers to improve the connectivity of their products, ensuring they fit 1st time.

"House building has tended to be regarded as a craft skill where most other areas of industry are working to engineering disciplines," said Westbury's Marketing Director, Robin Davies. "If we are going to improve quality in the industry we have to make a commitment to greater accuracy."

The team believes that its research will produce tangible benefits for house buyers as well as improvements in the construction process:

"We hope that over the next five years people will start moving into new homes where they can expect everything to fit right first time," said Rajat Roy. "We also believe the industry will be able to offer buyers more options in their new homes, faster build times, dramatically reduced heating costs and a network of telephone, TV and computer points in most rooms." The Hobman team is considering the use of more pre-manufactured components such as steel frames or composite panels, wiring looms and plastic plumbing. "We want to ensure that building components are more reliable" said Roy. "That means using parts that fit better and are less prone to movement."

Another aspect of the project is customer research. Westbury has hired NOP to conduct a regular survey of all new customers to measure their levels of satisfaction. The data is used to give each development a series of performance ratings, producing a Customer Satisfaction Index. "Historically, performance-related pay was based purely on profits" said Robin Davies. "Now however, we are also relating the pay of key staff to the Customer Satisfaction Index."

Westbury believes that by walking the walk as well as talking the talk on customer-focus, it will gain a significant advantage over its competitors in the new homes market. "We are very serious in our commitment to listening to our customers and further improving our levels of service" said Robin Davies. "This will yield commercial benefits over the long term by reducing the cost of remedial work, increasing customer satisfaction and winning repeat sales and recommendations."

An early phase of the project was praised by an the EPSRC Research Council, report which said it “succeeded in adapting and developing concepts and methods of customer-orientated production and supply-chain management techniques used in manufacturing for the housebuilding industry."

For further information please contact:

Rajat Roy Warwick Manufacturing Group
Tel 024 76 522166
Email r.roy@warwick.ac.uk

Paul Weir (Westbury Group PR Consultant)
Tel 01242 231896
Email paulweir@globalnet.co.uk

Editors' Note: Hobman II is funded by the Government's Innovative Manufacturing Initiative, EPSRC, Westbury plc and industry partners. Finishing in 2001, it follows the success of Hobman I began in 1996 as a collaboration between Westbury plc and Warwick Manufacturing Group. Hobman I included research into new construction technologies, technology transfer from manufacture to construction, customer choice and service, product quality and the culture change required to implement these improvements.