The construction industry is facing increasing pressure to make a concerted effort to undertake substantial improvements in productivity and cost performance without compromising standards of quality and individuality. To achieve this goal, it will be necessary for designers, suppliers, contractors and clients to work together to adopt a cohesive strategy for continuing business improvement and change. The pan-European CIMsteel project is focused onto the overall improvement of the design and delivery of structural steelwork for both light and heavy structures through the integration of the design and manufacturing processes. The conclusion of the first stage was that the cost of steel frame construction must be reduced by 15% in real terms for it to remain competitive. An improvement target such as this is only relevant in the broadest sense to be used to point the direction of change. As yet the industry has not got a robust and reliable method of assembling and publishing data on which individual project performance can be set. The data on which the target cost reduction are based do have a consistency and are based on a wide range of sources which give a certain degree of confidence in the figure. Individual project organisations will have to make their own judgement of where they are in terms of improvement, but unless they set big targets for improvement then the industry will become uncompetitive. This raises the issue of who determines the industry's competitiveness. At the moment clients and external project participants set the agenda. In the future the industry must wrest the initiative and this is the potential power within the CIMsteel project. Not only can advanced IT be used to help the industry performance it can also be used to control the interface with the project and so enable the industry to maximise its production and competitive capability. This paper is based upon stage two of the Wider Industry Challenge package of the CIMsteel project and principally discusses the implications of using benchmarks to set an agenda for sustainable change in the competitive position of the industry. An improvement methodology is given from which strategies for change are derived: a mechanism for sustainable performance improvement is postulated. Finally, the key issues which the constructional steelwork industry must address are highlighted.
constructional steelwork, process improvement, benchmarking