[INNOVATION] Lean construction: the anti-waste method to modernize and industrialize the sector

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Grégoire Brethomé - Construction21

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3408 France - Last modified by the author on 27/01/2023 - 10:00
[INNOVATION] Lean construction: the anti-waste method to modernize and industrialize the sector


Use of prefabrication, use of digital technology, development of the circular economy... the way we design our buildings is currently undergoing major changes. In line with this trend, lean construction pushes towards a strong industrialization of processes and techniques by calling for a real industrial revolution for the construction sector. President of the French Institute of Lean Construction (IFCL), Professor LAFHAJ Zoubeir details the ambitions and means of action behind this method. Interview.

How would you define lean construction in a few words?

Lean is the English translation of the Japanese adjective “genryou” which means “to reduce weight” and is used here in the sense of “streamlining for organizations”. Lean construction refers to a method of managing the act of building based on the elimination of waste in the local and global construction chain in order to provide the customer with the desired value while respecting people, culture and environment. 'environment. The most important determinants of construction are believed to be the reliability of the workflow and the stability of that flow. The lean construction is above all a spirit, a philosophy which puts the collaboration and the alliance of all the stakeholders and actors of the project.

The lean method is based on practices first invented by Toyota Production System (TPS) such as visual planning, continuous improvement and close collaboration between stakeholders. The lean approach is used as a compass that not only the site manager uses but all the actors (including customers) to mobilize and collaborate human or technical resources, in order to succeed in the project on time and with quality. . On construction sites, there is a lot of waste and 75 to 90% of working time concerns non-added value.

In lean terms, we speak of “Muda” (task without added value), “Muri” (excessive, impossible task) and “Mura” (irregularities). To eliminate this waste, it is necessary to tackle excessively long waits due to poor organization of work, unnecessary movements of workers on the site, execution errors or, more generally, customer dissatisfaction. There are storage problems that lead to capital immobilization, a complex supply chain, overproduction of additional work and even over-quality with unnecessary processing that does not add value. Finally, there is the poor management of skills. The lean method tackles all these problems. The manager's awareness is essential and must be shared with the entire team.

What are the latest innovations that have marked you the most in France?

The last major innovation in construction was the invention of the crane. It really transformed the whole built sector. In 2023, the construction sector is not really innovating but it is gradually improving and transforming its practices. Thus the development of digital in construction is beginning to transform construction sites. There is BIM: Building Information Modeling which could be translated as “building data modeling” is a shared digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a built object. In the same idea, the digital twin of buildings brings more precision and data to builders who can thus visualize the progress of work and anticipate on the general organization for more efficiency.

And internationally?

Several international innovations that have recently made a real difference insites are, for example, the 3D printing of buildings, the robotization of certain dangerous or exhausting tasks and the use of drones. Finally, modular construction at the international level is truly an innovation. These recent innovations are worth watching as they could develop rapidly.

In France, as internationally, research teams are working on innovative construction materials such as biosourced materials (based on plant materials) or materials based on industrial residues (waste, ash, etc.) or finally geopolymer materials that certainly have potential.

In which lean sector is innovation most dynamic today?

The lean approach has proven itself in industrial systems. In France, in the automotive sector, the lean methodology has changed the productivity and quality of the cars produced. In 1980, a basic car cost 14 french minimum salary (SMIC). In 2022, this car, which has become more sophisticated, costs 10 SMIC. On the other hand, if you take real estate, if an apartment cost 5 years of salary to a household, today, for the same apartment it will take 9 years of salary. On the one hand you have the automotive sector which has been able to modernize and introduce lean , while construction has not evolved. The manufacturing prices and the lack of modernization of the organization of the sites do not allow costs to be reduced. Lean has shown its performance in several other sectors, such as aeronautics, space or in the luxury industry.

What major advances do you expect for 2023?

The arrival of digital technologies is revolutionizing the act of building and many adaptations will have to be made quickly to adapt to new constraints and the work environment.

There are several major advancements we can expect to see in construction in 2023, including the use of BIM technologies and digital twins, augmented reality and virtual reality to improve planning, automation and robotization to improve safety and efficiency, the use of the Internet of Things (IoT) to track equipment and resources in real time, additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) and new materials to improve the quality, efficiency and sustainability of buildings. We expect a lot from laws on the circular economy and the use of low-carbon materials. We are convinced that all these technologies must be associated with a lean approach in order to put people back at the heart of modernization.

What is the mission of the French Institute for Lean Construction (IFCL)?

The IFCL aims to promote lean practices in the construction industry in France, by offering case studies, debates and dialogues on practices, webinars on a theme, by conducting research and by practices these principles in concrete projects. As it is difficult to appropriate concepts in a foreign language and not adapted to French and/or French-speaking culture, our Institute uses the French language to allow everyone to have the same chance to appropriate concepts in their culture or its environment.

To achieve these goals, the IFCL offers various activities, including: days with construction professionals to help them understand and use lean principles in their daily work; share a lean culture with more colleagues; to propose strategies including lean to stakeholders and the application of lean principles in real projects to show the concrete results they can bring.

IFCLis also involved in promoting lean construction to decision-makers and professionals in the construction industry in France (public and private) and in the French-speaking world, in order to make them aware of the advantages of this approach and encourage them to adopt it. The IFCL is also linked with other lean construction institutes around the world.

Is it only for academics? companies can join it too?

The IFCL is open to all players in the construction industry, including academics, architects and companies and anyone willing and adhering to our values. Academics can participate as students, researchers and teachers, while companies can join as individual members or grouped by company to benefit from the services offered by the IFCL, such as professional exchanges in the application of the principles Lean in their projects.

The IFCL is open to anyone in the construction industry, academics and businesses, who want to improve their construction processes using lean principles.

Interview by Grégoire Brethomé, Editorial Manager - Construction21

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