Masonry Frame Systems Profile

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We have spoken to Norman Hinckes Director and founder of Masonry Frame Systems, specialists in thin joint blockwork. We found out about how MFS got started and as how the company has changed from initial conception. Norman also sets out his view of the future and where the construction industry is headed.


Why did you start MFS? Where did the idea come from?

It’s a long story.                                         

I have been an advocate of thin joint blockwork since it was first introduced to the UK back in the late 1990’s, but like most people struggled to get bricklayers to adapt to it and to realise its full potential.

From day one I could see the merits of the H+H system, thin joint in the right hands is an excellent product but can be a big problem in the wrong hands if no one buys into it.

What we set about, and I guess it was one of those ‘light bulb’ moments really; rather than struggle to re-train existing bricklayers that had spent a lifetime with a trowel in their hand, we would train young lads from scratch with no pre-conceived ideas in a new method of build and the foundations were set.

But we didn’t stop at that. You will often here me talk about ‘black time’. ‘Black time’ for me on a project is when a particular building / house whatever we are doing is not being worked on. Go on 90% of housing sites in the UK, anytime of the day, anytime of the week and you will see a lot of ‘black time’.

In fact, I would go as far as saying as an industry we probably have more ‘black time’ than we have ‘productive time’!

What we then set about was to identify the causes of that and try to address them. We brought in other products, we standardised the build process, we multi skilled the gang and we built up a close network of our supply chain and they bought into the concept of ‘just in time’.

This enabled us to eliminate much of the ‘black time’, to convert our process to what I describe as a ‘vertical build’ not ‘horizontal build’ that you see so often, and the ‘system’ was born.


What are the benefits?

It is a ‘game changer’, the benefits are enormous.

When we set out, we were looking to develop a better way of building. We were looking  to reduce defects, to increase the speed of build, to get weather tight as soon as possible, to be able to maintain control of programme, to achieve the same benefits of ‘off site’ manufacture or ‘system building’ be it timber frame or LSF but using masonry.

Given the option, everyone would prefer masonry. It is solid, robust; it doesn’t twist and warp and shrink and crack like timber and you can hang a picture on the wall!!!

What we have achieved is all of that and more, yes defects are dramatically reduced, speed of build is substantially increased, and we achieve early weather tightness – 10 days to be precise; but now we realise improved airtightness,  thermal performance and thermal mass, sound performance and really relevant to today improved productivity!!!!


How has MFS evolved since you first began?

Wow, evolved is the correct phrase.

We started out literally just doing the inner leaf from oversite to water tight with the roof trusses on, and purely 2 up 2 down houses alas ‘timber frame’

Now we do the whole of the structural envelope – inner leaf and outer, face brickwork, render or cladding; insulation, floors Precast or engineered ‘I’ joists, structural steelwork, roof construction be it trusses or cut and pitch and coordinate the scaffolding.

We even do the substructure at times, foundations, drainage, beam and block floors.

Where do you stop?–

We don’t do the fit out!!! We can, we do, we have, but you are best getting another contractor for that; we can do a good job but it takes us away from what we are set up for and where we think we add best value.


Does MFS just supply Masonry frame systems or do you install them as well? How much of the build process do you take on?

No, we install them as well; in fact we design, supply and install them.

The earlier we are involved in the process, the more we can engineer out any problems and smoother and more cost effective the whole process becomes.


How are you able to help keep the build on track? Why is this?

Well it’s a whole myriad of things really that all come together, but if I had to sum it up in one word it would be ‘planning and organisation’.

Planning is at the heart of what we do, we don’t go anywhere without a plan, we don’t start anything without a plan. Without a plan we would be dead in the water.


What is your vision for the future?

Well that is a good question.

I think we are entering into some really quite interesting and exciting times over the next 5 years but we are faced with some massive challenges that as an industry we are not ready for.

What I mean is there is an enormous housing need, we haven’t been building enough for what seems a decade or more. The Government are saying we need 240,000 units a year for the next 10 years to satisfy current demand. We have a Government that is all in favour of it, the housing industry has been the driver of our economic recovery, the climate is ripe and the brakes are definitely off.

Against that, we have to remember we have only just emerged from the worst recession in living memory. Our industry was devastated, a lot of people have been lost to the industry, there has been a lack of investment for best part of the last 10 years and no one has undertaken any training. We are really coming from a long way back.

For MFS, I think we are well positioned. We survived the recession in one piece, we have learnt a lot and we have the system ‘tried and tested’.

I see us doing more of the same, just much more!!! Clients like to package things up, they recognise the skills we are able bring and it enables them to undertake more.

It goes without saying, we will need to train the next generation, but we now have the catalyst, we know what works and probably more importantly, we know what doesn’t.

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