Models of manufacturing and the construction process: The genesis of re-engineering construction

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For at least the last 80 years, construction firms have been exhorted to improve their processes by modelling themselves on 'manufacturing', and the current concern for re-engineering construction is the latest manifestation of this tradition. Yet, it is rarely clearly specified which model of manufacturing should be adopted. The aim of this paper is to clarify the issues by placing the wide range of initiatives encompassed within the CIB's definition of re-engineering construction in an historical and comparative context. It reviews the history of the development of the dominant model of manufacturing - largely based on the auto industry - culminating in lean production. It then identifies an equally well-established 'alternative' model of manufacturing associated with the production of complex systems. It is suggested that attempts to re-engineer the construction process have tended to focus on the dominant model - borrowing concepts from mass production during the 1950s and 1960s, and lean production during the 1990s. The mass production model was never very relevant for construction and it is suggested that the lean production model is unlikely to be of broad relevance to the construction industry beyond housing. More appropriate are models of manufacturing derived from the complex systems industries, particularly concepts associated with project management, and the role of systems integrators.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-118
Number of pages12
JournalBuilding Research and Information
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2003


  • Complex systems industries
  • Construction performance
  • Lean construction
  • Manufacturing models
  • Production theory
  • Project management
  • Re-engineering construction


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