February 15, 2024

Investing in KOPE - Tom Cox from Saint-Gobain

by David Flynn
Example H2


David Flynn: Hi Tom.  It would be good if you could just give us an intro on yourself and your role at Saint-Gobain?

TC: My name is Tom Cox. I'm the Construction Solutions Director for Saint-Gobain in the UK & Ireland and have been with Saint Gobain for 17 years in various roles from specifications sales, to marketing, product development, looking at full buildings and applications. Then more recently in the Offsite division, looking at how we can scale productive optimized offsite applications, now working directly in a central capacity to head up how we accelerate a solutions-based approach for customers that bring together the various products from across Saint-Gobain products.

DF: It feels like Saint-Gobain is better known for materials as opposed to componentry and assemblies. Is that true, or is that changing?

TC: Historically, one of the bigger Saint-Gobain brands in the UK  is British Gypsum and they've always worked around knowledge, test data and combining products into tested solution offers.

We're looking at that and taking that across the breadth of products we manufacture. Saint-Gobain has a history of more than 350 years, and we have majored on manufacturing excellence, and are a world-class manufacturer of components but without a true reflection of how that component is being used by our clients or the route to being used.

Now we're trying to align everything to understand how all of the components that we provide at Saint-Gobain, which is quite a breadth of products, can be brought together in an optimal way quickly to give building-relevant rather than component-led results.

The Saint-Gobain approach

DF: It feels like when we first spoke to you, you were looking at a ‘kit of parts approach’. But what we got excited about was that it was at a much bigger somewhat industrial scale; by componentizing products that Saint-Gobain make, then seeing how they relate to each other in the actual building itself.

How does that then reflect on the brands that are within the Saint-Gobain umbrella?

TC: Historically, we've always operated at the brand level in the UK, and to operate as systems, we need to work really collaboratively across our brands. So, the way we're looking at working with KOPE is to work right across our brands, really get under the skin of what a client wants from a building, and then design and reverse engineer it back to the components.

We want to move past the traditional siloed construction approach tends to drive, which is a bringing together of elements, outputs, and equipment to hopefully deliver a building that works to meet the client’s brief. We focus on what the client's brief is. We use that brief to develop and understand numerous different ways in which it can be achieved, and then reverse engineer that back to understand how we best apply it in terms of material manufacturing and how we may need to change in the future to make that more efficient and more relevant to the sector.

A key driver is to utilize the data that we generate, whereas at the moment we tend to operate in the field of selling a physical component to generate data we don't use. By looking at how the data is generated through manufacturing components, systems and panels, delivering and installing with approved installers, etc and then commissioning correctly and using that data to maintain the building properly.

Finally and critically, to learn from what hasn't worked to ensure we don't make the same mistakes again. Moving away from an analogue or linear approach to building design. Instead of never really learning and then starting again, we're completing the loop by integrating the learnings and hopefully avoiding the mistakes from the past as a sector, not just as Saint-Gobain.

DF:  It's so odd that we're constantly adding data to things that we've already made, but we don't necessarily use the data in relation to how products live within a building and the creation and life of that product itself. All of which leans into KOPE’s vision of this fully productized industry and trying to move away from the idea of materials and labour on-site to be  more of an offsite process.

Could you maybe speak to the reasons you support the KOPE vision and why Saint-Gobain decided to invest in the business?

TC: For us, it's more starting to understand how you can fundamentally qualify a level of premanufactured value. The problem we've always had in the industry is that to create a solution that's got a high level of premanufactured value, you're adding process, and at a component level you're likely adding cost.

As it's seen currently in the industry, people compare component costs to component costs, and if they are somewhat the same components you often lose the value around the offsite approach: the optimal building approach, the optimal building delivery, the compliance from the robust design and the quality that you're getting. All of that's lost because you're not assessing things like the speed of delivery, the number of callbacks for issues associated with poor install or poor product application. With KOPE, it allows you to quickly assess products that perform at the same level and to apply it to a building and get a real understanding of what that level of premanufactured value or offsite application will deliver at a project level.

And it's almost stepping back from that traditional approach of just qualifying by component cost and really looking at the application in and around it. Then understanding how that impacts the building and the delivery process as a whole rather than a tiny part of the building life cycle, which is that technical design and delivery piece because there are huge gains either side of that.

The other big thing that we're really interested in about the platform is using it to start to qualify embodied carbon and more sustainable models for delivering buildings. We need to be able to qualify that though and there's no point looking at a sustainability plan of having a few EPCs and trying to relate component level EPCs to a building because it doesn't work. Whereas KOPE has the infrastructure to bring all of the data that we have at a building level into a single model and then qualify it in terms of percentage waste, embodied carbon, trips to site, etc. For instance, installers using offsite measures are often reducing the amount of labor on-site and bringing that gain as a bespoke project output is invaluable.

The future

DF: I'd just be interested in asking from you and your team's perspective what success looks like working with us over the next two or three years with the initiatives you have underway, coupled with what we're doing with the platform. What would be an exciting future-state to get to in a couple of years' time?

TC: It is really breaking that almost industry-level obsession around components and understanding outputs and understanding what the real product is; which is the building. Then relating the application of components and solutions within that complete building ecosystem.

So the ability to test and explore what makes a building before most of the decisions have been made; that's where we need to get as an industry. We need that coordinated approach, which KOPE helps with as it brings all those dots together, connects them and makes what we're delivering relevant to a building output. It's hugely important and beneficial for us, and I think it will be a step-change in the industry because it really changes the mindset from focusing on your given area to focusing on outputs and outcomes.

DF: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Tom and looking forward to working with you all at Saint-Gobain.