The story surrounding the rapid growth of Carlow Concrete, part of the Burren Precast Group is exceptional. Recognised as a high potential start up by Enterprise Ireland, company founders Enda Byrne and MJ Lomax, won the National Enterprise Award for best export in 2018.
Founded in 2016, Carlow Concrete have just moved into their third year in business. Exceeding their own expectations for growth they achieved sales of more than €5m in their second year of trading. Beating their own personal best in the last tax year with €7m turnover, they have achieved high growth status in record time.
The Carlow Concrete brand took the UK Water market by storm with a range of innovative precast solutions in storm water attenuation and waste water storage solutions.
But innovations haven’t stopped there. This year they have turned their attention to the housing crisis in Ireland. The modular housing solution they have developed has been described as a game changer for the residential market.
I interviewed Enda Byrne for our Client Profile feature. As a client company trading in the UK they represent the importance of how tax consultancy on cross border trade can help meet business objectives.
I met Enda Byrne on-site at their factory in Garryhill. While waiting I watched articulated lorries roll out of the factory with what looked to be the side of a house as their cargo.
The yards surrounding the office were filled with precast u-shaped structures. Enda explained that they don’t hold stock but these megalithic structures were in fact part of a pre-order for an attenuation tank. Each unit was optimally designed and stacked to make the best use of the limited space available on road and sea freight. Immediately their reputation for economies in production became apparent.
We started our client feature by discussing their entry into the UK market. In just two short years, Carlow Concrete has developed a name and reputation in the UK for the design, production and installation of large scale storm water attenuation tanks. These are large, holding tanks for storm water that are placed on housing estates and satisfy mandatory Sustainable Urban Drainage (SUDS) requirements.
Enda explained the difference between storm water attenuation tanks and flood alleviation solutions. ‘Flood alleviation tanks work on the same principle but on a much larger scale and are commissioned not to provide solutions for residential estates but for towns and cities.’
To date Carlow Concrete have completed over 190 water projects for companies such as Yorkshire Water, Northumbrian Water, Severn Trent and Southern Water.
Burren Precast Group are involved in the development of some of the largest infrastructural projects in the UK. Their first project was the design, build and installation of a large storm water tank at Whitby Bay in early 2016.
The demand continues to grow as Carlow Concrete move into the delivery of capital projects and the provision of waste water and water treatment infrastructure solutions at national level. With rainfall decreasing and becoming more erratic, there is an increased focus in the UK to provide for the treatment of clean water, or potable water as it’s called. Negotiations are underway with local councils for the development of clean water reservoirs.
Carlow Concrete has now turned their talent for innovation towards the domestic housing crisis. They have engineered a cost effective and quick-to-install solution for the current housing shortage that introduces new technology to the construction industry.
Enda described the process. ‘For the past three years I’ve been working on developing a modular system for residential housing. Our hybrid building system consists of structurally insulated panels. The wall panels are comprised of a light gauge steel internal framework, a panelised wall system, with external cladding and an insulated core all combined in one single panel. These panels interlock and are joined up with intermediate floors and roof structures that are also made in a similar way.
The light gauge steel we use in the process is very new both to Ireland and to the residential construction industry. Likewise the connecting systems we use to bring everything together is also very different. We use a combination of technologies from New Zealand, Australia, the US and our own technology to design a very unique product.’
Although Carlow Concrete have developed a reputation for excellence with their precast products, the hybrid building system for the residential market can’t be described as a traditional precast nor would it fit the definition of pre-fabricated as understood in common usage.
Enda explained, ‘pre-fabricated buildings have historically been viewed as inferior. They are seen as cheap, substandard structures with a short life span. What we have developed is a housing system that to the untrained eye, looks identical to a conventional build or a traditional building. With our patent pending technology, modular construction or pre-fabricated construction can be delivered to a very high specification with long product life cycles’.
We took a walk on the factory floor and the sheer scale of the operation and streamlined engineering process is impressive. Wall panels for the modular houses were being constructed. Light gauge steel panels were being assembled on massive assembly tables. Within the wall panel openings for vents, doors, windows, lifting apparatus and joints were incorporated. Highly efficient insulation was fitted to provide a thermal layer. Enda demonstrated how a massive hydraulic press raised the completed panel into an upright position, ready to be lifted onto one of the articulated lorries I had seen leaving the factory earlier that morning.
Without doubt, the current housing crisis is getting a lot of media attention. The estimated number of homes needed to meet that shortage is estimated to be in the region of build between 30-40,000 houses. I asked Enda, what are the barriers that are preventing progress being made?
‘Innovation within the housing sector is very slow. There are a lot of barriers for new systems and these barriers are there for a good reason. Mostly because so many of those new systems have failed. In particular a lot of them would have been too lean or focused on being a little bit too cheap to pass stringent regulations.’
Enda explained, ‘we asked the question, what is the crisis? Is it cost? Or is it actually just getting homes on the ground? So our initial focus was on speed of build. Then we looked at how we could make the production of that system more efficient and in doing so bring down the production costs.’
In contrast to the uncertainty surrounding land costs, planning issues and extreme weather, Enda explained, ‘when it comes to building and delivery of our final product, we can give our clients cost certainty. There are very few variables. That’s rare in the construction industry. If you are building in Ireland or the UK, you’ll always fall victim to the weather. We had a big project in Birmingham at the start of March 2018. There was a lot of snow on the ground and a lot of people in construction were staying home because they couldn’t work but our site was still active.
Because 90% of the project is carried out in the factory environment, once you can manage the factory properly we can gain greater efficiencies. Also, the speed of installation on site is also very important and we can have a modular home built in just four days.’
I asked Enda to highlight the benefits of building homes using their hybrid building system over a traditional build. He focused in on five key areas.