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CN Briefing: Voorbij Prefab; disruptive innovation; offsite manufacturing

Toyota or Tesla: which company would you rather be?

Both are in the business of making electric cars, but they go about it in different ways.

Toyota is a company with a long tradition of success behind it, well-respected around the world both within and outside its own sector. Its mastering of lean processes has led to the development of the Prius, an industry-leading hybrid car.

Tesla is a relatively new start-up with a limited track record of success – in fact, it’s been losing money quite quickly for most of its existence.

But it has done away with the traditional combustion engine altogether and bet the house on going fully electric – a big gamble, but one that will place Tesla at the head of the queue should electric cars fully take hold around the world.

This comparison was laid before me by Jos Mulkens, chief executive of Amsterdam-based Voorbij Prefab.

Mr Mulkens puts his company firmly in the Tesla camp and isn’t really impressed by the Toyota way at all.

“Lean is basic,” he says to me over coffee at his state-of-the-art offsite manufacturing facility, a short taxi ride from the centre of old Amsterdam.

“Tesla says get rid of the engine completely. That’s a breakthrough change.”

In one of several quotable monologues, Mr Mulkens says his company shifted its mindset to the Tesla way of thinking by “getting sexy for its clients”.

This should give you a good idea of what Mr Mulkens is like. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, he’s very focused on what his customers want, and he’s a firm believer that the mindset of a company’s employees is its most important asset.

The factory itself is very impressive, with highly advanced robotics churning out millimetre-accurate precast concrete elements for housing in a very short space of time – more of which you can see in our video and feature here.

But this isn’t really what makes the company successful.

It’s the employees being free to take risks and experiment. They are allowed to make mistakes and continually find better ways to do something in order to make that ‘breakthrough change’.

Mr Mulkens is thinking a lot bigger than just his factory in Amsterdam; he envisions a future where there is a global supply chain producing elements offsite, with companies using each other’s factories and sending designs through the cloud – perhaps even running them all centrally from one place.

The likes of Uber and Airbnb have already turned the taxi and hotel industries on their heads, but construction is still yet to be disrupted in this way.

In technology circles they have a term for this already: companies that get left behind by a disruptive innovator are said to have been ‘Ubered’.

What if traditional contractors don’t wake up to the opportunities presented by the likes of Mr Mulkens?

“We say they will be Voorbijed,” he quips.

Will you be ready when the disruption comes?

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