Technical Journalist Bruce Meechan examines how a specialist repair service resonates with the needs of today’s facilities management professionals.
In a world worried about the risk of terrorist attack and natural disasters, financial institutions and other commercial organisations make huge investments in business continuity safeguards – including emergency office space where operations could seamlessly carry on their roles. And there are also similar drivers behind companies’ desire to optimize their service provisions and maintenance provisions.
Essentially ‘down time’- periods when staff cannot continue normal working – are not merely costly, but potentially financially ruinous. Every year IT glitches, power failures, water leaks and various safety issues cost British business millions. And all too often the facilities manager is in the firing line for the failure.
While having every computer screen in the building go blank simultaneously is at the very visible end of the spectrum for down-time scenarios, on a day to day basis, niggling distractions and interruptions caused by minor maintenance work can add up to an even greater loss over the financial year. And that debit column should also include the direct cost of replacing dented doors, gouged desktops or work-surfaces, damaged partitioning systems, or spalling ceiling tiles.
Beyond the workplace itself, think what a good old fashioned ‘time and motion’ study would make of having to close the men’s washroom on the second floor while all the chipped and cracked porcelain is replaced, requiring all the male staff to use the visitor’s toilet in reception?
Such repair or replacement operations are beyond the scope of your average in-house maintenance people, and will instead require the facilities manager to call in specific contractors: such as plumbers, carpenters, and shop –fitting or interior fit-out specialists. None of these come cheap and most interventions will require lengthy occupations of somebody’s workspace.
There is, though, another dimension to all this disruption, and that is the environmental one. For despite the fact that every significant sized company nowadays has some form of corporate policy on trying to improve its green credentials, replacing damaged building components or fixtures has to be seen as a negative term in the sustainability equation.
All of these factors, then, have contributed to the growth in popularity of a nationwide repair specialist known simply as Plastic Surgeon; whose 100 plus regionally based finishers throughout the UK are trained in a wide range of techniques designed to rapidly, and permanently, make good damaged surfaces. The service is fully flexible, affordable and ultimately environmentally-friendly.
The company can trace its roots back to the motor trade where cosmetic repair is an intrinsic aspect of coachwork, and garages or showrooms routinely call in mobile finishers to deal with minor dents and scratches.
Plastic Surgeon, however, has been serving the construction industry for more than two decades after identifying a niche market for dealing with all the troublesome ‘snagging’ issues that inevitably conclude every project.
And although housebuilding was once Plastic Surgeon’s main domain, a combination of demand from new clients and the recent downturn in domestic developments has seen the repair specialist growing its turnover in other sectors. Now on a regular basis the finishers are performing their skilled repairs for customers in the commercial, education, retail, leisure, food and other industries.
If we look at retailing, for example, Plastic Surgeon’s client list includes some of the biggest names in London’s West End; where footfalls are counted in tens of thousands a day, and down-time is simply not tolerated.
As a result, teams of finishers have executed a wide range of repairs on items such as display cabinets, lifts, staircases, cloakrooms and elements of the elaborate interior décor such as column casings; often working through the hours of darkness when stores are closed.
The repairs themselves are matched to the substrate and the extent of the damage, but there are some common themes.
In a lot of instances, dents or holes in timber, laminate, aluminium extrusions and stone, as well as other materials will be filled using proprietary two-pack products and carefully smoothed back to regain the original profile. Then the finisher’s detailed training in the art of colour matching is called upon, as they blend by eye the pigments necessary to replicate not just the pattern and hue, but also the reflectance of a substrate.
In fact grain in natural wood or the rich swirls in marble will be replicated through a build up of colours and protective lacquers, leaving the repair invisible to all but the closest inspection. And, crucially, the work will normally be completed in a couple of hours or less, with the absolute minimum of disruption. No replacement items have been purchased, there is nothing to be disposed off, and on average Plastic Surgeon saves its clients three pounds on material replacements for every pound spent on repairs.
All of Plastic Surgeon’s operations are coordinated through its national call centre and its regional managers, with the individual finishers receiving their work schedules through palm pilots, similar in appearance to those carried by most delivery drivers. Bespoke software, however, enables the ‘Mobile Finishers’ as the company terms the devices, to be used to send back billing information and electronic images of the repairs undertaken.
This information then is then inputted to Plastic Surgeon’s database, enabling customers to be offered precise information on the work they are being invoiced for and who actioned it, while the company’s VisibilITy software shows clients the exact tonnages of material saved from landfill.
With a diverse capability that extends from dealing with frost damage or graffiti on exterior masonry, to reshaping distorted PVC profiles or polishing scratches out of plate glass, Plastic Surgeon has a repair technique to address virtually any problem substrate in the built environment. And combined with the highly professional nature of the service, incorporating all health and safety as well as logistical considerations, it is clear to see why so many facilities managers keep Plastic Surgeon’s phone number at their fingertips.