People, Places, Business

Port Talbot based company puts the modern into modular

Its company motto is ‘Sustainable Construction without Compromise’, and Wernick Buildings Ltd is at the cutting edge of modular building construction.

Part of the Wernick Group of companies, the current chairman David Wernick is the grandson of the business’ founder who began in 1934 by selling poultry crates and sheds.

Over the years the enterprise expanded through organic growth and acquisition to produce the modular buildings for which the company is renowned today.

Wernick’s association with Neath Port Talbot began with the purchase in 1989 of Taylor Woodrow’s Neath Abbey-based modular building division.

From its manufacturing base at Kenfig Industrial Estate, Wernick constructs a range of modular buildings with a variety of internal and external finishes and energy saving features. The buildings can be suitable for a variety of uses including schools, hospitals, leisure facilities, office space and even police custody suites.

Leading the way is the state-of-the-art Swiftplan™ system - designed to create bespoke multi-storey buildings – and offering best practice 120-minute fire resistance.

Made up of individual factory-built modules the structures are joined together on a pre-prepared site, to form a complete building, taking a fraction of the time of a traditional build.

“Our main challenge is one of perception,” explains Leigh Fennell, Wernick Group Marketing Manager. “People still tend to think modular buildings are temporary prefabricated structures. We work with architects and, the buildings are guaranteed for 25 years, and they can have a 60 year or more design life.”

There are, he says, many benefits to modular buildings – the speed of construction and cost to name but two – and “massive potential” as currently the structures only account for an estimated 2% of the construction industry.

Currently, the majority of modular buildings are utilised by the education and health sectors. There is increasing interest from the housing industry for offsite construction methodology where short on-site construction periods are critical.

Recent projects include the UK’s first energy positive office - The Active Office at Swansea University’s Jersey Marine campus.

Working partnership with designers Specific and the University, Wernick built the cutting-edge modular building which generates, stores and releases its solar energy.

Wernick practices what it preaches too, and the company generates its own power at Margam, with excess power being fed to the national grid.

As a group, Wernick employs 630, of which Wernick Buildings employs 160 with around 120 staff based in Neath Port Talbot.

This loyal workforce was an important part of the company’s decision to remain in the NPT area when its growth resulted in the search for larger premises.

Stuart Wilkie, Wernick’s Managing Director commented, “Due to the nature of our operations, having suitable premises was key, and it took five years to find the right place. Our original factory was in Neath Abbey and we wanted to move within the local area so not to displace or lose our existing workforce.”

Three years ago, the Wernick moved its manufacturing base to Margam taking over the former Orion Electric plant and investing £3 million in the 9 acre site which was officially opened by First Minister, Carwyn Jones AM in June 2015.

Since settling in its new location, the company has seen its turn-over grow from £22m to £30m per annum, with work including multi-million-pound projects.

Each week sees some 900m2 and £300,000 worth of buildings created at Margam, in what is a virtually waste-free process with almost nothing going to landfill.

The site’s proximity to the M4 and additional transport links also play an important part as Wernick’s modules are shipped across the UK and can be as large as 14m long by 4m wide.

“This is the perfect location for us,” says Leigh, “and we hope to build a new extension in the next 24 months to allow us to increase our production output.”

Wernick has forged close links with education providers in NPT and beyond and also with local businesses and the wider community.

“We have a CITB apprenticeship programme here in the factory, and as a group, we spend hundreds of thousands per year on a range of sponsorships, both local and national.

“Many of our suppliers and sub-contractors are Welsh or from NPT - we have one local business we’ve been working with for 25 years.”

Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council has supported Wernick’s growth in a number of ways.

Says Stuart Wilkie, “We have a good relationship with NPT and its business services team, they have given us very good support - in particular, they have given us assistance with grant applications towards capital equipment and software. We have recently installed larger cranes at the factory with the assistance of NPT for which we are very grateful.”

Cllr Annette Wingrave said: “Wernick Building LTD is just the kind of innovative company we like to support in Neath Port Talbot. The Council is committed to supporting local companies and in these difficult times it is a pleasure to witness such success.”