Tony Woods chats about the success and innovation of Midland Steel and utilising BIM.
Tony Woods presented at the 6th breakfast meeting of the 2016 Smarter Cooperative Building Series, titled “Future Proofing BIM for Construction Manufacturers”. Attendees were impressed by Tony’s presentation on his company’s activities in Ireland and the UK, and the descriptions of the complex projects Midland Steel have worked on. Tony was selected as a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of the Year Awards in 2006. He is also a member of the DCU Ryan Academy. After the CitA meeting, Irish building magazine got in contact with Tony to learn more about his life in business, Midland Steel, and his advice for Irish companies wanting to enter the British Construction Industry.
Midland Steel operates from four bases in Ireland and Britain: Mountmellick, London, Blaydon, and Motherwell. These locations were selected to provide good coverage, ensuring a responsive delivery service and excellent customer service to the company’s growing client base. The company offers a range of products and services. The company’s products are cut and bent reinforcement, prefabricated reinforcement, coupler systems, and accessories – including tying wire, ring spacers, concrete spacers and plastic spacers, dowels, and deckchairs. The company offers 3D detailing and BIM services for steel work and delivery services. Midland Steel have supplied steel reinforcement solutions to some of the biggest names in construction and on some of the largest projects over the past two decades.
Tony’s CitA presentation impressed the industry professionals in attendance. He told attendees about collaborative working on projects. Using BIM in preparing offsite prefabricated components is highly beneficial; according to Tony “offsite prefabrication is the future”. He spoke in detail of Midland Steel’s UK projects: London Bridge Station, Liverpool Docks, Thames Tideway, and Great Western – Bristol. Midland Steel are working impressively with BIM to deliver big projects in Britain.
Tony told us about his business background and how he got into the steel business and started Midland Steel. “I started my business, a concrete frame company, Midland Formwork in 1991. After returning from the UK in 1998 I could not get steel supply sufficient enough to service our business, therefore, decided to do it myself. I started Midland Steel Ireland in 1998.”
We asked about what his main products were in the early days. He described, “Our main products were cut and bent reinforcing steel and mesh.” Midland Steel have worked on some of the biggest projects in Ireland in the past decade. We asked Tony what have been his big Irish projects since the company’s formation, and he listed an impressive portfolio of projects. “We have done the Aviva Stadium; River Suir Bridge; Hanover Quay; The Old Chocolate Factory, Kilmainham; West Pharma, Waterford; Cool greaney Wind farm; Athlone town centre; Allegro Sandyford; multiple hotels and 80% off the road and bridge infrastructure in Ireland between 2005 and 2009.”
Curious to know about his expansion into Britain, we asked when and why he decided to expand. He said it was due to the economic downturn and the need to survive. “We moved to the UK to broaden our market outside off Ireland, we decided to move in May 2008 just before the crash. The Irish market crashed in August of 2008 where we lost, in 6 weeks, 94% of our order book. Therefore, choices were limited to survival, and we then set up London in 2010.”
We asked if the move into the British Construction Industry was difficult. Tony said, “Extremely difficult, we started a business in a time where most people were closing down in a recession, and the biggest jolt the world ever experienced in terms of financial crash and construction activity.”
Tony went on to list some of the projects his company has worked on in Britain. “McLaren Building, Woking; Fulham Reach; Aurora Hotel, O2; London Bridge Station; Crossrail, Woolwich; London Wall mixed-use; Shard, London; Baltimore Wharf; Indescon, Canary Wharf; Wood Wharf, Canary Wharf; St Georges Tower; Nine Elms mixed-use; BBC Studios; Fruit & Wool Exchange; multiple apartment blocks and underground car parks in London.”
We asked Tony about the organisation staff structure in Ireland and Britain. Tony described the company structure. “My wife Jo looks after the Ireland office, and myself. My partner, Director Gerry looks after our Scotland and Newcastle operations. My partner, Director Stuart and I look after London. We are very lucky to have a strong dedicated team of people who have the same vision as myself in making Midland Steel number one in the UK.”
Midland Steel have been successful in adopting BIM, and are a great example for others to follow. We asked Tony when he became interested in BIM and what advantages it has brought his business. He said, “In 2011, I embarked on the BIM journey, and identified what it could bring to us as a company. It became very clear to me it was the future of construction and the future of solving problems before they happen, and it became clear to us that this is a major added advantage. To date, it has been extremely beneficial to us and has brought substantial business to us.”
Contractors have been impressed by Midland Steel’s BIM services. Tony says, “BIM has impressed the contractors that we have used it with. It has been a great addition to our company.” He says BIM has significantly improved his business operations. “BIM has improved our awareness in prefabrication and our ability to solve problems prior to construction and enables us to have full vison on all elements we produce.” Tony also told us that he is applying Lean Construction practices with BIM in the business.
We asked on what projects Midland Steel has used BIM to its advantage. Tony said, “We have used it on London Bridge Station and its complex detailing of very bespoke intricate structures has been totally successful.”
Midland Steel have made many innovations and are interested in continuous improvement. Describing the main innovations within the business in the past decade, Tony said, “In house, we have created safety trailers, safety bins, in 2017 we launch a double skin slab reinforcement which will cover 50m2 with one lift off a trailer, and definitely Tekla Software for Building Information Modelling.”
Brexit is a popular topic among the Irish in construction in Britain, and those wanting to enter the British Construction Industry. We asked Tony how he thinks Brexit will affect the Irish in construction in Britain. He said the specifics are currently unclear, but he thinks it will not affect business. “No one will know in the short-term in my opinion, it will be 18 months or more before vision is clear, but I feel it won’t have a detriment effect.”
As a successful entrepreneur, we asked him what advice he would give an Irish construction business looking to start up in Britain. His advice was clear. “Be prepared to work extremely hard and prepared to invest in the business in the first 5 years at a minimum. Have a clear vision of what services you provide and be extremely good at it; with service levels, expectations, and much more admin than you would experience in Ireland. Use technology in your field to replace the admin as good staff are extremely difficult to find. Be unique in your proposals and have a good team around you before you start.”
With BIM, overall digitisation of the industry, Brexit and global politics influencing construction, we asked Tony how he sees the British Construction Industry changing in the next decade. “In my opinion it will change to a lot of prefabrication offsite construction, planning through BIM, working through collaborations and can actually lead the way with the ethics of a ‘Can Do Approach’ with massive skills in management through the BIM process.”