Industrial processes and systemization can solve many of construction’s productivity challenges, as the Lehto Group Plc has demonstrated. Lehto’s mission is to be an innovative trailblazer in the construction industry. The company uses digitalization and prefabrication to improve productivity and cost efficiency in construction. They’ve also devised new operating models that add value for the customer. “We’re pioneering a digital revolution in the industry,” says Tiina Talvitie, Digital Director of Lehto. “Instead of waiting for the industry to change, we change it ourselves. To me, courage is the most telling of our values.
The Business Model is the Key
Talvitie oversees Lehto’s strategic development project called LEKA, which aims to digitalize the whole Lehto production process. BIM, lean methodologies, and systematization are its key ingredients. Since its IPO in 2016, the company has grown rapidly. From early 2017, the number of employees has doubled to 1,200. In the same year, the group’s net sales increased by 64.2% to 594.1 million euros.
A lean philosophy—value for the customer and the elimination of waste—is at the heart of Lehto’s business. They don’t take part in competitive tendering. Instead, they offer an individual agreement to each client for work at a specified price and quality, to be performed to a specified schedule. They’re able to keep their promises because they maintain full control over the production process: design, manufacturing, assembly, and handover. Instead of being preoccupied with individual projects, Lehto optimizes the whole of their business, using systems-based thinking.
Concepts and Prefabrication
“We don’t believe in building prototypes,” Talvitie states. “We re-use the same designs dynamically and continuously improve them.” Lehto has created concepts for affordable housing, social care, and education. Talvitie points out that standardization does not mean inflexibility when it comes to architectural expression or compliance with local building codes.
Lehto has replaced on-site work with automated factory production in their own plants. They make modules containing, for example, a complete kitchen-bathroom element. The company produces complete modular homes for gallery apartment complexes.
The Roadmap for Digitalization
Lehto has a roadmap for digitalizing the construction process. It starts with establishing a digital construction process. In the next phase, it reaches out to the whole life cycle of a building utilizing a so-called digital twin. It also looks at the eventual deployment of new digital services for the construction ecosystem
“Our development happens agilely in pilot projects. We create project-specific BIM strategies that describe the usage of the models, what the design and production require, if and how we use 4D design, the level of detail, and so on,” Talvitie explains. Models must be exact and appropriate for cost estimation, procurement, and production. “We intend to offer designers variable ‘Lego blocks’ that contain all the necessary technical and cost information.” Visualization for customers also necessitates detailed modeling.
People, Process, Technology
Talvitie sees her main job as leading people and the company culture. She emphasizes that the key prerequisite for a successful change management project is to deeply understand the essentials of the company culture and the owner strategy. The top management is committed to and so far has provided sufficient resources for digitalization. Employee education is a critical factor in the success of new processes, and Lehto accomplishes this systematically through what they call LEKA Akatemia: Lehto’s Growth Academy. Talvitie’s own team organizes Lehto Way of Working training for BIM experts, design and production management, and project and site management.
The joining of BIM and lean construction processes has already shown significant potential in pilot projects. When BIMs are detailed and accurate, the quality of the construction process improves significantly. No errors remain hidden and costly rework at the factory or the site can be avoided. Early integration is especially valuable, as are many other lean methodologies employed by Lehto.
The open flow of information, process flow, and standardization are the cornerstones of Lehto’s success. The company is committed to being a leader in digitalizing construction; Talvitie describes the determination of Hannu Lehto, the CEO: “He says that we no longer have an alternative if we want to stay competitive. This is our future.”