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Modular off-site building could be the solution to the UK’s housing crisis

The UK House Building: Manufacturing Affordable Quality Homes report is calling on Government to provide more incentives for the off-site construction of homes. Dr Tim Fox, Lead Author of the report and Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:

“The UK is in the middle of an acute housing crisis. Current annual construction levels are typically less than half of the estimated 250,000 new homes this country needs built every year through to at least the 2030s"

Off-site construction technologies have advanced greatly in recent years and can offer shorter build times, better quality, better energy efficiency, less waste, and lower costs for buyers.

The report calls for the Government to introduce a comprehensive housing market reform programme aimed at growing the self-build sector, supported by UK-based off-site manufacturers, to supply at least 50% of market demand (125,000 homes a year in England) by 2030.

The key recommendations in the report are:

1.Government should support investment in the UK supply chain for off-site construction technologies.

2.Government must reverse policies that are working against improvements in quality and standards.

3.Government should work much harder to diversify the UK housing supply market, by opening up much greater opportunities for self-builders, local authorities and housing associations.

Selco Give Tradespeople Perfect Platform

Two Birmingham tradesmen have been able to spread the word about their business to an audience of tens of thousands after winning a competition to win free advertisements.

Stephen Maher’s business SCJ Building & Carpentry and Hammond & Sons, run by Daniel Hammond, have won the competition promoted by leading builders’ merchants Selco Builders Warehouse.

Selco ran the competition with Free Radio on which the two businesses received free advertising for two weeks to an audience of over 230,000 listeners.

Helen Gemmell, marketing director at Selco, said: “We are delighted to be able to assist both SCJ Building & Carpentry and Hammond & Sons with the advertising on Free Radio.

“Selco is keen to support tradespeople wherever possible and we are delighted this campaign has reached such a big audience for our successful businesses.”

Selco’s 36 branches in England and Wales include five in and around Birmingham, at Tyburn, Stirchley, Perry Barr, Tyseley and Dudley, while the central support centre is based in Wythall.

Each branch supplies a massive range of building materials including doors, windows, insulation, roofing, heating, plumbing supplies, lighting, electrical products, kitchens, bathrooms and timber.

Branches also offer an in-branch café, trade counter services, direct-to-site delivery options and van size parking spaces, all designed to make it easier for tradespeople to get onto the job as soon as possible.

Tool and plant hire is also available across 23 branches in London and Nottingham.

Metabo Launches LiHD - A Cordless Gamechanger

A small boatyard in Kappeln an der Schiel in Northern Germany might seem like an unlikely place to start a revolution, but the assembled press were rightly impressed as Metabo launched its new range of LiHD battery packs. These high-density lithium packs took a lot of development and input, but will deliver up to 67% more power and 87% longer running times. However, the new packs, available in a 3.1, 5.5 or 6.2Ah, are not much bigger than their standard equivalents and are completely compatible across the range of over 50 Metabo 18v cordless tools.

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On the face of it some might say that “revolution” is overstating the case – but after seeing the products and trying them out myself, the target of a cordless only workshop and worksite envisioned by Metabo is definitely attainable and probably sooner than we think. Herein lies the revolution!

Perhaps a bit of background to the new battery technology is now required. As the name HD or High Density implies, the new cells in the battery packs are flatter and more densely packed with electrolytes than in previous Li Ion technology thus having potentially more power to deliver to the tools used. However, this being electronics, it is not the entire answer. As we all know, cordless motors (and corded for that matter) heat up as we use them. This is caused by operating friction and by the heat of the batteries themselves as they deliver the power to the motor. At some point the heat and power graphs coincide and, if you are lucky enough to have a proper electronically managed tool, the motor will shut off to avoid burning the tool out. This can happen with any Ah of cordless battery pack, so simply having a high Ah does not guarantee flawless performance.

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Metabo’s R and D team has managed to ensure that the new LiHD battery packs remain as cool as possible so that they can deliver their full power at a manageable temperature for as long as possible. One of the obvious ways to do this was to beef up the electrical conductivity by using high copper content alloys and thicker contacts for the battery packs. These allow the current to flow more easily to the motor and reduce heat-creating resistance between tool and battery pack. With less heat being generated, the new packs were able to be made to within a smidgeon of the size of the “old” battery packs because the cooling airspaces needed in the “old” packs were not needed in LiHD.

The other advantages that flow from an average 87% longer run time include a much longer service life and fewer charges per battery to achieve the same amount of work. This durability means that Metabo supplies the new LiHD packs with a Three Year Warranty knowing that, in the words of Dr. Volker Siegle, Director of Product Development and Quality, “a LiHD pack has double the durability compared to a standard Lithium-Ion battery pack”.

What Metabo has also done to optimise the performance of battery packs is to continue to develop the range of brushless motors used in many of the tools in the range. Generally speaking, these motors are more efficient, can run at faster speeds and are sealed, so they do not ingest the abrasive dust that can often kill off brushed motors very quickly.

Metabo’s key developments for tools in the LiHD and brushless range are in angle grinders – Metabo’s strongest suit in world sales. I am told that in the US they don’t ask for an angle grinder, they ask for “a metabo”, much as we talk about “hoovers” for vacuum cleaners.

Being launched in June is the new cordless equivalent of a 1,000w corded 125mm diameter angle grinder. During the demo of this machine, the press watched as the cordless grinder outpaced the corded version cutting through steel plate in a timed test. Having got my hands on it a bit later and used it to cut through square steel tube, I was pleased to have donned the appropriate PPE, because the cutting performance was fierce and the spray of sparks was testament to that. Seriously, there was no question that the performance was inferior in any way to a corded machine.

Due later in the year is the first cordless 36v 230mm two-handed angle grinder on the market. Dr. Volker Siegler demonstrated this by cutting through a 6mm thick steel motorway barrier. He achieved this in a little over a minute, despite the barrier having built-in cutting difficulty because it has several strengthening bends in it that entail the disc having to cut in two places at once.

Once the press conference was over we were able to roam freely through the large demo area and talk to individual product managers and try out many of Metabo’s range of 18v tools for ourselves. I focused on a couple of the tools that I know very well, having tested them in the “old” 5.2Ah guises. The only difference being that they sported the new packs that are distinguished by having a red base and the letters “LiHD” inscribed.

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Using a standard Metabo LTX drill driver loaded with a 3.1 Ah LiHD18v battery pack I drilled several 30 mm diameter holes through a laminated wooden beam where my wrists were more in danger of being twisted than the drill was of being stopped in the cut. It was clear that the extra power and run time in LiHD means that some users who value compactness can choose these smaller battery packs without sacrificing performance.

Since both the currently used chargers and all the current 18v tools are compatible with the new LiHD battery packs, if you want to upgrade your kit, all you need to do is to buy a new LiHD battery pack or two. Many of the product managers were keen to point out that in fact the “old” technology is perfectly sound and will not be confined to the bin in the short term because there are still many applications where the extra advantages of LiHD are not needed. Of course LiHD will come at an extra cost, but I am assured that the difference will not be so great as to be a big issue of affordability.

With woodwork being my main interest I had a long test of the KGS 18 LTX mitre saw. Even with the “old” 5.2 Ah battery pack I have now more or less ditched my corded mitre saw. But, loaded with the new HD battery pack, the power and run time of the KGS was simply amazing, with the result that I have already pre-ordered a LiHD battery pack for my workshop. It really is that good.

Some of the other commonly used tools in the Metabo range, including mains powered tools, had been converted by the Metabo tech guys into cordless versions for the press and dealers to try out. While these are not “official” yet, all I can say is be prepared to be surprised.

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In the last few years, despite some still lingering signs of recession in some markets, Metabo has shown impressive growth in its sales of power tools, both in European and World terms, so we have to take the company’s target of a cordless worksite very seriously. The research that Metabo has undertaken has led to the development of several impressively advanced tools that are leading the market in terms of innovation and efficiency, and we can clearly look forward to more of the same. All of this research and innovation can only be good for the tool trade in general, and Metabo users in particular – and I predict a growing number of those on the evidence of what I saw at that boatyard in Germany!

RGB helping charity teach youngsters carpentry skills

The Bideford branch of RGB Building Supplies is donating £1,000 worth of building materials and tools to Bideford charity, Wings South West, to help them enhance the carpentry area at their business and training centre.

Wings South West works to give young people a future and hope. The charity supports a number of disadvantaged young people by not only running leisure activities to help build confidence, but by also helping them learn a skill, such as carpentry.

James Lewis, NEET Programme Manager at Wings South West, commented: “At Wings we work hard to develop positive relationships with young people to help them feel accepted for who they are and develop their confidence and self-esteem. This enables them to take the appropriate next steps, whether that be applying for a job, going to college, or learning new skills to make them more employable. We want to expand our woodwork area with additional tools and materials so that more young people can begin to learn a trade, and the £1,000 to spend at RGB enables us to do this. A big thank you to RGB for choosing to help us, it is greatly appreciated."

More information about Wings South West can be found by visiting www.wingscharity.com.

Assessing the ‘Future-Proof Home’

A leading building control service for England and Wales recently inspected the eco-credentials of what is dubbed the ‘Future-Proof Home’. Quadrant Building Control inspected an exclusive development of five Trivselhus houses in the rural village of Meopham in the heart of Kent. Trivselhus doors and windows are triple-glazed, argon-filled units that are pre-fitted in the factory and arrive on site within the completed wall panel.

Paul Knight, Director at Quadrant Building Control, said: “These features are aimed at minimising construction time while ensuring that the occupants don’t experience draughts and energy loss. The whole house has mechanical ventilation with heat recovery for good air quality and no wasted warmth.

“In the Meopham houses, heating and hot water come from a high-efficiency gas condensing boiler with a hot water storage cylinder and radiators. This creates homes that are very thermally efficient, require low heating loads and provide a clean, fresh and comfortable internal environment insulated from external noise."

But what makes the Trivselhus (roughly translated as ‘house of wellbeing’) so ‘future-proof’ is the thermal insulation, according to Joe Campion, Director at Quadrant Building Control.

“There is 240mm of mineral wool insulation built into the closed panels of the house at factory stage, which provides a highly insulated layer,” said Joe.

“It is very difficult to put more thermal insulation into the fabric of a standard house. Future-proofing means maximising the building’s thermal insulation so that future improvements become easy.”

New website for Specialised Wiring Accessories

NEW Website at: www.swaonline.co.uk

SWA has launched a fantastic new website that enables users to check all the latest products and company information.

At the click of a button users can:

  • View the full range of SWA products
  • Download the SWA product catalogue in full or by single page
  • See the latest product launches
  • View the latest SWA videos
  • Download SWA product data sheets
  • Quickly find products using the Keyword search engine
  • Follow the latest SWA news on Facebook or YouTube

Coming soon – In addition, stockists will shortly be able to place orders on-line and check the status of previous orders – all at the click of a mouse.

SWA – making all the right connections

McLaren Technology Group renews partnership with Lucas

McLaren Technology Group has renewed its contract with Lucas as Official Partner of the McLaren Technology Centre, following on-going fit out and finishing packages at the technology group’s iconic Woking base.

Ron Dennis CBE, Chief Executive and Chairman of McLaren Technology Group said: “At McLaren we do not compromise. We strive for complete perfection and that principle is encapsulated in the McLaren Technology Centre, which is more than just a building, it is an iconic beacon of innovation. Lucas has been one such partner that has made a significant contribution to the creation of this inspiring space and to the impeccable condition it remains in today. I am therefore very pleased that our successful partnership will continue into the future.

Danny Lucas, Executive Chairman and Managing Director added: “In addition to our surface treatments and fit out projects, we benefit from a wealth of knowledge and experience shared with McLaren: in adopting and applying techniques that are relevant to our industry, we can ensure that we are at the forefront of what we do. This couldn’t be more evident than with the recent launch of our new Lucas ProTools range, and our plans to lead the way with off-site manufacturing within our sector of construction.

“Our own journey with McLaren has been one that has broadened our horizons as a company, enabling us to adopt new methods and techniques that have enhanced our own innovation.”

Construction of New English Homes at 8-Year High

New homes are being built at an increased rate across Britain as the nation recovers from the impact of the 2008 economic crash which caused the loss of 250,000 construction jobs. Conveyancing Marketing Services responded to the news.

According to the government, housebuilding has been a key part of their economic plan over the past five years. They say that work began on 140,500 homes in the year to March – a 5 per cent rise from the previous year. More than 40,000 homes were started between January and March in 2015, equating to a 31 per cent increase to the last quarter of 2014. This is 136 per cent higher than six years ago, meaning that housing starts are at their peak since 2007.

However, these figures do not tell the whole story according to Sharon Buthlay, a director at Conveyancing Marketing Services: “Whilst the housebuilding surge is good news to those waiting to buy a property it isn't the entire answer to the problems the property industry and home buyers are facing.

“The real problem is that second, third and fourth time buyers are trapped in homes that they can't sell because they can't afford to get onto the next rung of the property ladder. To buy a property, even with a hefty deposit, means borrowing thousands or hundreds of thousands in some cases and people's earnings just aren't enough to afford the astronomical monthly payments this entails.”

Protection for your eyes and ears

Having worked in the building and home improvement trade for over 25 years, I have worked in a fair few extremely dangerous environments for your eyes and ears. Taking preventative steps through proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is vitally important as it can ensure you maintain your quality of life.

Ears are extremely sensitive and can be damaged over a long period of time if exposed to loud noises. Unfortunately, most noise-related hearing loss is irreversible which makes taking good care of your hearing is especially important. Thankfully, advances in technology mean that hearing protection is more effective and comfortable than ever before.

Before issuing hearing protection, it is a good idea to identify the tasks where they need to be worn and ensure all staff receive adequate training. Sometimes, certain areas need to be designated zones where hearing protection must be worn at all times. Investing in good quality equipment is the best way to protect hearing and should keep noise levels down to below 85 dB at the ear which is a legal requirement. To put this into perspective, normal conversation is roughly 60 dB, a car horn is 110 dB and a gunshot is 140 dB.

There are various different types of protection that can be worn including large ear defenders and instant fit devices that can be custom-fit to the individual. These items are readily available and often offer good value-for-money so you don’t have to worry about breaking the bank. It is important to test products thoroughly before issuing them to staff members to ensure that the protection is working effectively.

Studies have shown that one half of workers that wear ear defenders receive half or less of the protection they should. This is because their ear defenders are not worn correctly or continuously due to improper or uncomfortable fit. Ear plugs that are comfortable fit every time and are also easy to use; the result of this is that the user wears them, and that they do the job.

It might seem like a bit of a cliché but the old adage of ‘look after your eyes as you only get one pair’ is about as spot on as you’ll get. In my line of work, myself and my staff are forever engaged in tasks that pose a threat to our eyes, so I insist that we all wear the correct protective eye equipment wherever it is needed. It’s such a simple thing to get right and such a terrible thing to get wrong.

My advice would be to take a zero tolerance attitude. It’s not difficult to spot the types of task that are likely to either generate dust or throw out material in a dangerous way. It’s even easier to take steps to eliminate the risk.

Eye protection is now mandatory in certain scenarios thanks to the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations but there are many other situations where you can identify a level of risk. The correct equipment is seen by some as an unnecessary expense but if you compare it to the time and money that can be lost on the other side of the equation, it’s a small price to pay.

While it seems a no-brainer, I can’t stress it enough – we must look after the health of our ears and eyes! If we don’t, we risk losing time, money and, most importantly, our quality of life!

Craig Phillips is the brand ambassador for leading Swedish workwear manufacturer Blåkläder.

Strong Showing By Industry At FERROFORMA With Visitors from 25 countries

With a new format which divided the exhibition into two distinct areas – “Industry” and “Home” – a total of 355 exhibitors from 25 countries showed their products at FERROFORMA. Over the course of the week buyers visited the trade-show from more than 40 countries including Ecuador to Egypt, to Argentina to New Zealand. There were two official receptions for guests, featuring addresses from Cristina Campo, Head of Visitors at the BEC, and Elene Cepeda, Head of Eskuin, the Hardware and Industrial Supplies Cluster, who provided information on the trade-show and facts and figures on the sector. The 31 member firms of the cluster invoiced a total of €318 million in 2014, and expect to increase their turnover by 5.12% this year.

For the first time, this year’s FERROFORMA programme included B2B meetings, of which a total of 1200 such meetings took place. The awards for the Second Innovation and Design Contest were also handed over to the winners: Industrial Precisión Tools, Villahestia, Urko Tools and SNA Europe Industries Iberia. The prize for the most innovative hardware product went to Industrial Precision Tools’ fibre repair tape, while in DIY the winning product was Nanotextile & Leather by Villahestia, and industrial supplies it was the hydraulic tourniquet entered by Urko Tools. SNA Europe Industries Iberia won the award for best exhibitor at FERROFORMA 2015.

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