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By controlling the entire construction process, from design to supply and delivery, this South Canterbury business can ‘stop the small things that traditionally fall through the cracks’, says John Wilson, Project Facilitator for Thompson Group of Construction Engineering and Precast. This means clients can be assured of a quality result, confident that nothing has been overlooked.
Testament to the quality of their work is the new St John multi-purpose emergency centre in Temuka. Deemed an Importance Level 4 building, this emergency triage centre required the highest standards of construction in order to be capable of surviving a natural disaster and able to provide life-saving community support should Timaru be cut off by a natural disaster. This vital piece of infrastructure was entrusted to Thompson Group to design, fabricate and construct.

Forty years in business ensures Canterbury-based Thompson Group knows a thing or two about the design and construction of commercial buildings. Over the years they have developed a vertically integrated model that keeps most aspects of the build in-house, from design and consenting to fabrication of components and on-site construction.

The advantages of this approach are many. Says Michelle Thompson, Director of the Thompson Precast division and overall Group Finance: ‘The construction industry has come under scrutiny recently after some failed contracts have caused several construction businesses financial stress. We feel the tender process is often used to try and achieve competitive pricing, creating a disjointed working environment where building components are compartmentalised and overall project accountability becomes difficult to manage.’ For this reason, Thompson Group prefers to be approached from the initial design stage, although it does have the flexibility to be able to manage different parts of the process and the capacity ‘to supply other building companies with [its] high-quality fabrication’.

By managing the process from beginning to end, Thompson Group can ensure a seamless build and prevent vital details being missed. In-house designers are familiar with the capabilities of the materials and construction methods utilised, and so avoid the situation of an architecturally designed building which looks beautiful on paper but is ultimately compromised due to real-world construction parameters.

After taking a brief from the client, the designers quickly and cost-effectively produce renders and a 3D model of the concept. As Michelle explains, ‘The same programme is used for the fabrication of precast concrete, so they know that it fits together.’ The designers cross-check the feasibility of the design before it even gets to the client for sign-off – and project costing is both fast and accurate.

What’s more, the heavy steel and precast concrete that Thompson Group specialises in make for an efficient building style. ‘We can add architectural features to the exterior, if needed,’ says Michelle, ‘but it’s a cost-effective model.’

Once the design is finalised, the design team manager, Annelies Bray, also handles council consents, again ensuring there are no discrepancies between concept and real-world viability. As John points out, by controlling the entire process, through design, consent and fabrication, the team is able to begin manufacturing the prefabricated elements while the council is still working through the consent, ‘so the moment that consent comes through, they are straight onto construction’. Minimising delays gets clients into their buildings faster, enabling cost opportunities to be realised.

A commitment to reinvesting in infrastructure means Thompson Group can produce large precast components – and they have their own trucks and specialised trailers for delivery, so there are no delays between manufacture and shipping. Larger prefabs also speed up the building process, leading to efficiencies of time and cost in the construction phase. The Thompson team can then perform all assembly of the prefabricated components, right through to the finishing carpentry, bringing in their hand-picked network of high-calibre external contractors for finishes such as electrical, plumbing, drainage and civil works.

Efficiency also goes hand in hand with sustainability: a seamless link between design and fabrication optimises the use of materials, resulting in minimal wastage. It’s an approach that saves clients money and assures them of a quality result whether they are commissioning a large commercial building, prefabricated components for residential use, or essential farming infrastructure such as silage pits, concrete pads or sheds, which are the backbone of this South Canterbury company still innovating after 40 years in business.

Words Michelle Berridge