As the UK economy sails through troubled waters, facilities managers are under increasing budgetary pressure; margins are being squeezed up and down the supply chain, and buyers are being asked to get even more for less.
In this climate, a new approach to building maintenance is required; Plastic Surgeon, winner of the Innovation in Products category at this year’s BIFM Awards, thinks it has the answer. And the judges seem to agree. ‘Repair, don’t replace’ is Plastic Surgeon’s mantra, and their innovative business model is based on the principal that quality repair work is almost always preferable to outright replacement of the damaged item. Among the long list of materials that the team is able to treat is glass, stone, brick, metal, ceramic and plastic. Using cleaning and repair techniques, cracks, dents, chips, discolouration and graffiti damage are all repairable.
A mobile team of ‘surgeons’ conducts repairs on site, where possible, using specialist equipment to return the damaged item to top condition.
According to Rob Mouser, managing director of Plastic Surgeon, many facilities managers have yet to fully appreciate the convenience of the service. “It’s amazing how many maintenance jobs fall into the ‘tidy-up’ category, he say. “Our teams are fully trained to take on a wide-range of repair jobs that go beyond the usual lick of paint. We’re the French polishers of our day.”
The company doesn’t conduct structural repair work, choosing to focus on surfaces, which are inherently vulnerable to damage. Mouser and the team at Plastic Surgeon know that often, it’s the cosmetic appearance of a building that people remember after a visit. A broken tap or cracked window can create a lasting negative impression.
The teams, who are trained for six months before becoming surgeons, have repaired a wide variety of materials in a startlingly diverse range of environments. At Selfridges’, in the shopping hotspot of London’s Oxford Street, a team was called out to refurbish a series of display stands in the men’s footwear department. Each of the stands featured ebony wooden uprights that had become chipped and scratched. One of Plastic Surgeon’s senior finishers demonstrated a trial repair of one of the stands, showing how the work could conceal the damage. After Selfridges’ management were satisfied, the team returned to complete the job in full. But not every job involves such glamorous clients. The surgeons were called out when the chimney of a power station needed repair, which involved the team scaling the 200ft structure to complete the job.
For Mouser, the constant innovation taking place in the world of architecture and building materials represents an ongoing challenge to an organisation that prides itself on being able to tackle almost any problem. “We have to keep one step ahead,” he agrees. “Our equipment is very specialist and often has to be imported from abroad. We’re always retraining our people to deal with the next challenge.”
This approach resonates loudly in a sector that is becoming more sustainability-conscious by the year. Traditionally, many discarded materials that are non-recyclable are shipped straight to landfill. Also, sourcing replacement items implies an environmental footprint that stretches up and down the supply chain. Likewise, certain materials are becoming restricted and therefore harder to source, due to concerns over their scarcity.
All facilities managers have to keep an eye on the bottom line, and it’s impossible to ignore new legislation that is creating a disincentive for companies to send waste to landfill. Such charges are increasing in an attempt to discourage wasteful procurement, and to promote recycling across the UK economy. The ‘repair, don’t replace’ approach makes sense inside this context.
Mouser notes that his business model chimes with a current trend in building specification to choose higher-quality materials. “The built environment has almost come full circle. Today, we’re finding that the people who build the buildings are the ones looking after them, so it’s in their interest to view the whole lifecycle of the materials.”
For Mouser, this is a positive trend away from what he calls a throwaway culture. “People need to think outside the box when it comes to maintenance work. When the average repair time with Plastic Surgeon is only 90 minutes, there’s every reason to chose a less invasive, less expensive option that keeps the business at full capacity for longer.”
Article first appeared in FM World, October 2011
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