A defining year for the most efficient brick factory in Europe

2019 is proving to be a defining year for Forterra Plc. The Northampton-based building materials manufacturer, which employs almost 2000 people across 18 manufacturing facilities nationwide, has recently made substantial investments across several of its brick and block facilities, whilst expanding its range of innovative products and offsite solutions.

With the need for new homes across the country growing increasingly pressing, Forterra and its Chief Executive, Stephen Harrison, are securing the company’s role in the future of UK housebuilding by ensuring the continuity of its supply chain and laying the groundwork for the construction of the biggest and most efficient brick factory in Europe.

The company’s landmark development of recent months is the £95m expansion of its Desford brickmaking plant in nearby Leicestershire. The investment, which covers the process of demolition, construction and installation of state-of-the-art automated processes, is projected to double capacity at the Desford factory to 180 million bricks per annum over the next three years. By 2022, manufacturing volume at the plant is expected to increase Forterra’s overall production capacity by 16%.

“It’s shaping up to be an exciting and productive year for Forterra,” Stephen Harrison begins. “The transformation of our Desford plant is well underway and, with the demolition phase nearing completion, we’re now focused on the construction of what will be our most efficient, and therefore most environmentally responsible, plant to date.

“Desford’s location offers significant advantages too, being centrally located and within easy reach of the bulk of our customer base, delivery across the UK is convenient and straightforward – and this, in turn, is likely to displace imports.”

Forterra’s capacity to deliver nationwide has also increased thanks to its recent fleet expansion. The company now owns and operates 156 HGVs and is in the process of rolling out a comprehensive upgrade to its vehicle and transport planning software solution, Enroute, which will enable the company’s expanding logistics operation to increase its efficiency, reduce its carbon footprint and improve the sales experience for its customers.

“Being based in Northampton fits our business well in terms of access and transport,” Mr. Harrison continues. “It’s convenient for our Head Office staff of 60, many of whom commute from outside the county; it also provides us with good access to our customers nationwide. There’s a large labour pool in the wider Midlands, too, which is great for business in the long-term.”

2018 saw the company acquire a long-term supply of conditioned pulverised fuel ash (PFA), in response to increasing shortages of the dry PFA traditionally used in the manufacture of Forterra’s Thermalite Aircrete blocks. Faced with a marked reduction in coal-fired energy generation, of which dry PFA is a by-product, Forterra’s solution was to invest £2.2m in adapting its Hams Hall plant in Coleshill, Warwickshire for the use of conditioned PFA. The company has also implemented a further £3.4m investment in a similar manufacturing process at its Newbury plant in Berkshire, all of which will collectively ensure the continued production of Forterra’s Thermalite products.

Forterra’s offering to its customers extends beyond the provision of bricks and blocks, however. The company’s Midlands-based Bison Precast concrete division, which Forterra acquired for £20m in 2017, produces approximately a third of Forterra’s output today. The division has also secured Forterra’s position as a market leader in floors and walls. Bison Swadlincote is now both the largest precast concrete factory in the UK and, since 2005, the first fully-automated carousel flooring factory in Europe.

“There are clear reasons why the demand for products produced off site is increasing: the time saved in the construction process, the reduction in reliance on ‘wet’ trades and the level of accuracy precast products are manufactured to. Indeed, Bison’s products lead the way in offsite manufacture,” Mr. Harrison explains.

Make UK (formerly EEF) reports that UK manufacturing today makes up 11% of GVA and directly employs 2.7 million people. According to the Construction Industry Council, British construction provides one million of these direct jobs and adds over £92bn to the UK economy annually, representing 6.4% of the total economic output. In making its recent investments, Forterra is protecting jobs at several of its sites whilst contributing significantly to a sector that continues to thrive in 2019.

Mr. Harrison concludes: “We see our role in the future of UK housebuilding as one that promises and delivers on quality as much as quantity. It’s imperative that new housing not only go up at a faster rate, but stays up for many years to come. People expect their house to be an appreciating asset, so it’s vital that we continue to manufacture and develop durable products that stand the test of time.

“The proactive investments and strategic changes we’ve made in recent months reflect the forward-thinking focus of our company and allow us to plan for the future of both Forterra and the wider manufacturing sector, with the confidence that we can continue to provide the total product solution for our customers and keep Britain building in the decades ahead.”

For more information about Forterra, please visit www.forterra.co.uk. You can also follow the company on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram via @ForterraUK, or subscribe to the Forterra YouTube channel.