What We Do | Student Society

Manufacturing Systems

The Manufacturing Systems team leads a double life, if not more. Not only do they share their expertise with the Permanent and Transitional Housing teams to evaluate the practical implications of new designs, but they are also developing a mobile factory to drive down costs for our Latin American partner, TECHO. Communities will become involved in the manufacture of their own houses to foster greater trust and a real sense of ownership.

Currently limited by complex supply chain logistics, there is substantial scope to reduce the cost and environmental impact of TECHO’s transitional houses by reducing the amount of transport associated with present processes. Construction materials are moved along the supply chain in an inefficient manner, including double-handling and unnecessary journeys, before being stored at the TECHO factory prior to dispatch to construction sites.

The mobile factory is intended to eliminate these inefficiencies and improve quality control through increased supply chain visibility. Raw materials will be delivered to the construction site and fabricated into the required construction components by a panel-making workshop, which takes the form of a truck that can be driven to each site.

Local people will be employed by the mobile factory, offering the opportunity to share construction, project management and communication skills – and to gain a deeper investment in TECHO’s transitional housing project.

Logistics and Supply Chain Management

At first glance, the major challenges for the mobile factory project are achieving optimised logistics and successful integration into the existing supply chain and infrastructure. Whilst the tools and machinery used for panel fabrication are relatively basic and the procedure is already largely determined, attention to detail is required to develop an effective and efficient solution. This entails careful consideration of transport, deployment, power sources, security and ownership of the mobile factory.

But the Manufacturing Systems team’s findings in Ecuador uncovered a hidden challenge – one that had to be addressed before the introduction of a mobile factory, but carried huge potential benefits.

Practical Construction in Ecuador

Initial visits to the existing static factory and current suppliers made it clear that TECHO’s transitional housing design – originally conceived in Chile – is not ideal for Ecuador due to differences in timber industry standards between the two countries.

Standard beam and particleboard sizes are substantially smaller in Ecuador, and so special material orders must be placed with Ecuadorian suppliers to replicate the Chilean standards. The result? A reduced supplier base, increased lead times and higher material costs. Quality is also degraded because the larger Chilean sizes do not fit in standard Ecuadorean industrial drying ovens, so they cannot be properly seasoned before use.

Having identified these unnecessary difficulties, the Manufacturing Systems team has spearheaded a complete redesign of the transitional housing panels to accommodate the smaller Ecuadorean timber sizes.