Rarely has a visit to an off-site construction factory been so impressive.
Walking down the middle of Panalocs 350,000ft2 Manchester production facility, the closing image of Raiders of the Lost Ark comes to mind a vast interior stacked with boxes and crates. Only in this case, the boxes are actually pods containing toilets, bathrooms, kitchens and even a garage.
Welcome to the world of Panaloc, and specifically the Magnum board, a building system from Germany that is now bidding to take a slice of the off-site construction market.
Panalocs wall, roof and floor sections are made from three or more Kronoply OSB4 panels laminated together (Magnum Board) to form massive OSB walls, 75-250mm thick, providing a heavyweight structural solution.
Panaloc is the only company in the UK doing this having secured the sole UK licence to import Kronoply OSB4, made from 120mm-long pine veneer laid crosswise in
three layers. Its nearest comparison are the various cross-laminated solid wood panel systems on the market.
The company, established in 2005 but only commercially launched last year, is heading towards an annual turnover of £20m, with successes including a multi-million pound hospital contract and houses for Taylor Wimpey. An appearance on Extreme Makeovers programme this month should bring Panaloc to a wider audience.
Panaloc cladding panels being fitted to a new hospital
Eric Dean, a joiner by profession, founded the company after becoming brassed off with the way the building industry operated.
Ive spent 38 years of my life fighting the construction process. A simple thing like building a wall and plastering
it and making a hole for a pipe seemed pretty much impossible, said Dean.
Considering that construction and buying a house is one of the most important things you do in life, its done in such a haphazard way.
Panalocs solution is to take many of the on-site trades out of the equation by using automation, (it has spent £12m on CAD-CAM production facilities) and employ semi-skilled labour in the factory to build in plumbing, electrics, fascias and fixtures and fittings.
Dean said some of his designers had previously worked at the likes of Starbucks, McDonalds and Waterstones.
Computer-controlled saws cut out sections for light switches and piping, while sub-components are routed out for shower valves and pipes.
Changing the way we do building is what Panaloc
is all about. The days of paying £250 to a plumber who sits for half a day in a café and the other half in his white van are over. We have cut out about 10 trades. The main body of work we do is by computer, said Dean.
The Vincent Street housing project
One of the biggest problems in construction is not knowing what we are building half the time. If we can get 95% of the stuff sorted out at the beginning, we have a good chance of building it efficiently.
Panaloc started out making pods for hotel refurbishments and toilet blocks for airports to provide income from the company as it continued to develop its product.
Inevitably, Dean saw that the system was suited to more applications, such as infill panels for steel frame buildings. He worked out that he could clad a four-storey building in super quick time by using 20m-long panel sections.
One of the biggest successes is securing a contract to supply 1,500 cladding panels (measuring 10x5m in render or brick finishes) to a new hospital project for the St Helens and Knowsley hospitals NHS Trust.
The £350m hospital project, one of the largest PFI contracts in recent years, also involves Panaloc providing 1,000 clinical bathroom pods.
Panaloc has completed a housing test run with Taylor Woodrow in Salford, resulting in 19 houses completed in just six days, with a further 14 days to tile the roofs and complete outside finish.
Dean said the development demonstrated a 400% increase in productivity, a 75% time reduction and a 95% cut in waste.
Panaloc says it is competing with traditional timber frame construction and quotes advantages such as an ability to go up to 10 storeys purely with Magnum Board panels. And it says the panels do not have the racking issues which lighter weight systems have to manage.
Like cross-laminated panels, the Panaloc system can be used to make stairwells and lift shafts.
Panaloc has recently taken on a second facility in Manchester, where panels and Velfac windows are stored and rendering operations completed.
Another interesting development is the companys aim of making its production technology available to partners on a portable basis, so panels can be produced on construction sites in the future.
The modular nature of the machinery required to establish a mobile factory makes it quite feasible for a contractor to deliver the structures required for a particular development literally onsite, after which it can be simply transferred to another once the project is complete, said Dean.
Panalocs Manchester site would remain the core manufacturing hub.
The technology is simple, but its taken us a lot of time and money for us to get there. Architects are coming here and thinking they can design much better buildings with this technology, added Dean.
Panaloc recently completed a house extension for a local man, with the work completed in one weekend while his wife was away.
Well try anything, said Dean. As long as you can get a crane in there.