Construction News
Mon July 03 2023
The new 137,000 sq ft factory, on the Horizon Business Park in Braintree, Essex, has been designed in collaboration with Swedish robotic engineering firm Randek, which uses automated manufacturing to produce a light-gauge steel panel system and other components used for the onsite delivery of the superstructure and internal fit out of houses, multi-rise and high-rise developments.
The new factory is expected to serve both Weston Homes – the group’s volume housebuilding division – as well as third-party contractors and developers including local and regional house-builders.
The Horizon factory will manufacture British Offsite’s UniSystem, comprising light-gauge panels, walls, roofs and floors. The UniSystem panels are produced complete with windows, doors, insulation, vents, fire stopping and external cladding manufactured to the customer’s specification. The UniSystem is a ‘hybrid MMC’ (modern method of construction) that is designed to be flexible and allow rapid integration into traditional building design.
British Offsite also manufactures internal fit-out modules under the BOS Fitout brand. This includes bathroom components, kitchen and bedroom products, designed to be easily integrated into existing projects, with full quality control testing before elements reach site.
The initial design concepts and commissioning of technology for the factory started three years ago, with the actual construction of the building taking 12 months. The automated production line, inspired by the automotive industry and designed by Randek, represents £5.3m of capital expenditure and is based around eight robots, designed and supplied by Randek.

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British Offsite is the first Randek customer in the UK to receive the new machinery, automation and productivity solutions. The robots work together in three teams to control a series of zero-labour production cells including fitting insulation panels, fitting plasterboard panels and cutting window openings. 
According to British Offsite, the production line is not limited to house-building and has the capacity to produce modular school buildings, healthcare facilities and student accommodation as well. 
Once the factory is fully operational it will run a two-shift system five days a week. British Offsite plans to employ around 180 people on the factory floor and offices over the two shifts.
Alongside the triple-height main factory floorspace containing the production line there are 20,000 sq ft of office space, R&D, marketing and staff welfare facilities including a canteen and health-screening clinic.
High-speed lifts give access to the state-of-the-art client marketing suite and meeting rooms on an upper level of the factory, the marketing suite having video-screens for new business presentations and “James-Bond style” automatic shutters to reveal full height windows overlooking the factory floor below.
British Offsite believes that the transition to off-site construction is a natural step for traditional developers. Its UniSystem is flexible and can be used for hybrid MMC elements in houses, mid-rise and high-rise sites, including those in high density urban areas. The hybrid MMC approach can reduce the time between a site’s ground-breaking and first handovers by up to 20%, the company claims.
One fully-dressed UniSystem panel can be produced every 15 minutes, and the panels for one entire apartment can be produced every 60 minutes.
It claims the hybrid approach also allows for a much greater freedom of architectural design, allowing developers to avoid uninspiring volumetric boxes and adopt more imaginative and original designs. BOS Fitout internal modules such as bathroom components, kitchen and bedroom products, can be easily integrated into conversion projects such as the reuse of redundant former hospitals, public buildings or offices for new housing.

Horizon is British Offsite's second factory
Horizon is British Offsite’s second factory

The Horizon factory is British Offsite’s second factory. In 2019, the company opened its 75,000 sq ft Skyline factory in Braintree where the BOS Fitout modules are produced and where the UniSystem was originally manufactured. This factory can contribute to the delivery of up to 1,000 new homes per annum, with Horizon now allowing for the quadrupling of production capacity. 
Bob Weston, chairman of British Offsite and Weston Group said: “Working with Randek, the launch of the Horizon factory has created one of the most automated light gauge steel panel assembly lines in Europe and the largest single production line in the UK. Offsite construction is the future of the housebuilding industry and homes manufactured at Horizon can be tailored to a development’s unique design vision.” 
British Offsite managing director Shaun Weston added: “British Offsite is proud to be part of the new wave of high tech British manufacturing, bringing very significant new capabilities to the UK construction industry. The new robotic production line at Horizon allows for the consolidation of the work of up to five trades into one panel. Our MMC products are designed to be easily integrated into existing projects, helping to streamline traditional residential construction.” 
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