A structured approach

Posted on 6 Jul 2011 by The Manufacturer

TM talks to Premier Interlink (Waco UK), a modular buildings specialist whose focus on innovative, sustainable products has made it a leader in the off-site manufactured structures market.

In March last year, at the Ecobuild event, Premier Interlink (Waco UK) won a prestigious award in the Prisons category for the HMP house blocks it constructed in a young offenders’ institute. BREEAM (Building Reseach Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) is the most widely used environmental assessment method for buildings worldwide. The company won it in conjunction with Wates Construction.

With over 50 years of experience, Premier Interlink has gained a leading position in the niche market of multistorey off-site manufactured buildings. The method of manufacturing buildings away from build location and dropping them into place has been dubbed ‘the modern method of construction’, and it is a method at which Premier Interlink excel.

Producing over 200 modules per month at its facility in Brandesburton, Yorkshire, the company designs and manufactures steel-framed modular structures. Tapping into varying types of demand, Premier Interlink both sells and hires its products and offers tailored solutions for a variety of markets incuding; custodial, healthcare, education, student accommodation, construction and commercial.

London Met Uni
London Met Uni

The company was formed by the merger of Premier Transline Group and Interlink Building Systems in 2004. It is a subsidiary of Waco International, a £400m group headquartered in South Africa, employing about 4,000 people internationally, with operations in Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Southern Africa.

In the UK, Premier Interlink employs over 200 people and has a turnover of £60m. Production director Chris Walker says: “We manufacture the most diverse, robust and efficient range of modular structures currently on the market. Moreover, the company oversees one of the largest interchangeable hire fleets in the country.” This 5,000-strong hire fleet is utilised by, to name a few, Bovis Lend Lease, Mace, Westfield Shoppingtowns, Stansted Airport and Royal Bank of Scotland.

According to Walker, the strength of the company is represented by its large product offering. The latest addition to this portfolio is the PremierClassic, a timber-framed structure manufactured off-site. It is built using sustainable materials (all timber is harvested from approved Forest Stewardship Council managed forests), in response to an increased customer demand for environmentally friendly structures. In a statement, the company said: “We have a growing number of customers asking for ways to improve the environment, and we are working collaboratively with our clients, now achieving BREEAM ‘Excellent’ wherever possible.” PremierClassic allows for the implementation of green energy solutions such as solar and wind power into designs but is flexible to suit customer needs.

Another recently-developed solution is PremierOne; an economy class, single storey building currently being used in a number of schools to create extra classroom blocks on a temporary basis. Other successful products include PremierCell, a modular secure prison building which has received Ministry of Justice approval for use in Category B and C regimes and PremierPC, a steel framed unit for police custody suites and related uses. Clients include West Midlands Police, Trumpington Magistrates Court, the Scottish Prison Service and secure HMP sites throughout the country.

Addenbrookes hospital, Cambridge
Addenbrookes hospital, Cambridge

Walker comments: “With both ISO9001 and ISO1401 accreditation, Premier Interlink manufactures each building to the highest specifications, meeting Part L2a, DDA, and all sector specific regulations, as well as providing a 40 year guaranteed warranty on our structural and external cladding materials.” The main advantages of building a structure off-site (80% of company’s construction is carried out in this way) are the opportunities to save time and limit traffic and disruption – something considered extremely important by customers in the healthcare and education sectors, who require a high level of installation efficiency on their ‘live’ sites. Premier Interlink delivers its modular buildings 75-90% complete. Construction and fitting out takes between four and 12 weeks, depending on the size of the structure.

The stresses and strain on the UKs beleaguered health service are never far from the front pages of UK broadsheets, but Premier Interlink is doing its bit to help. Its strongest product has consistently been its PremierPlus offering: a multistorey modular building option which has been embraced by the NHS. Healthcare facilities in Addenbrooke, Haywood, Stoke, Leicester, Manchester, Norwich and Bristol all use this offering to build extra quickly, with the flexibility to downscale if demand drops.

Walker confirms that the company is “gaining traction in the healthcare sector”, and that it is winning the majority of its new business thanks to word of mouth recommendations between NHS trusts.

“Together with repeat business from individual trusts, it is this willingness of clients to advocate on our behalf which ultimately demonstrates the viability of the Premier Interlink product portfolio and the expertise we have built up over the years,” he says.

New machinery, new systems
Since 2007, following on the heels of a strategic decision to focus entirely on the production of modular buildings, Premier Interlink has undertaken a fundamental transformation of its manufacturing processes. “We implemented a flowlinebased approach to manufacturing, as well as incorporating work stations to ensure that the development of our new product ranges was done with optimum economy,” says Walker.

The company invested about £250,000 in new machinery, including crangeage equipment and CNC driven overhead routers and bandsaws, with the overall target to move products around the facility more efficiently. The number of forklift trucks was reduced, and tugs were introduced to move products: keeping them as close to the ground as possible helped increase workplace safety. Thanks to its commitment to health and saferty practices, Premier Interlink won the British Safety Council’s ‘International Safety Award’ in 2009.

Premier Interlink Factory - overhead cranes
Premier Interlink Factory - overhead cranes

The company also focused considerably on product engineering, ensuring optimal efficiency and time to market are always at the heart of development activities. According to Walker, continuous improvement and lean principles are critical to supporting this drive. Kaizen and six sigma, are currently put into practice on site and there are strong initiatives to ensure that staff are on board. This engagement strategy includes monthly presentations by management executives on the factory floor, designed to create more direct communication channels between the front line and management. The effect of implementing these presentations has been a boost in interest and idea generation from frontline workers in every area of the business.

Staff at Premier Interlink are proactive at all levels. The gains made within the production unit can often be directly attributed to the company’s operatives – something, Walker says, that “explicitly highlights the internal autonomy of our organisation.”

Premier Interlink is also committed to sustainable manufacturing, with the majority of materials selected from environmentally friendly resources (like, for example, the timber used for the new PremierClassic modules). A great number of the company’s clients are multinational corporations, for which the focus on the environment is fundamental.

Many will only buy from manufacturers who keep sustainability at the core of their operations and product offering. Around 65% of Premier Interlink’s waste is recycled, a figure that is regularly monitored by the company’s clients.

The future
“Premier Interlink will undoubtedly continue to place great emphasis on R&D activities,” Walker says, “as it is a facet of the business which marks us out as a sector leader. Indeed, by remaining ahead of the competition in our product offerings, we will continue to win work on recommendation, arguably the most objective barometer of our company’s manufacturing strengths.” This product-focused approach helps Premier Interlink keep a position of competitive advantage. The company’s wealth of experience and ability to work to specific regulations is at the basis of the development, for example, of the PremierPlus Building System, a recently launched concrete flooring option for healthcare buildings, which increases the acoustic dampening qualities of the structure and also reduces vibration in high traffic, high equipment load areas, such as plant rooms or MRI and X-ray.

Walker adds: “Given that we are a largely product-led company, our immediate future is concerned with ensuring that the Premier Interlink’s offerings are suitable for both current and divergent markets.

We will remain at the forefront of developments in our sectors, while continually looking to transition into adjacent markets as and when it is considered appropriate for the business.”

Waco UK – at a glance

Established(as Premier Transline): 1956 (merged with Waco in 2004 becoming Premier Interlink

Brandesburton, East Yorkshire



Key products
Steel framed modular buildings

Key markets
Custodial, healthcare, education, commercial, construction