Time to build differently... for the good of us all
Trunk wants to empower a growing part of the construction industry
A byproduct of focusing on B2B and deep tech startups in this newsletter is that sometime I end up covering companies that likely wouldn’t get this kind of coverage anywhere else.
Today’s startup is addressing a fascinating market that helps tell us something about the way the world is going. Yes, they make specialist scheduling software, which sounds… dull, but it’s what that software enables that is so interesting.
Paid-up PreSeed Now members get the full story, including the founder’s ‘big idea’ pitch about how this software could help humanity. It’s actually a really good ‘rallying cry’ pitch. That sounds a bit wild, but read on about Trunk and see what I mean.
Trunk thinks its time to rethink how we construct the buildings of the future
Say the words 'prefabricated homes’ and many in the UK will think of those funny little bungalows that went up around the country in the 1940s. But demand for prefabricated buildings, and other structures like bridges, is much higher today than many people realise.
Modular buildings, which are manufactured in factories before being fixed together on site, are a growing market around the world. They allow much faster construction times on site, with the potential for lower overall construction costs as a result of everything being built in advance.
Trunk is a startup looking to support this growth with software dedicated to the sector. It helps factories operate to an efficient schedule, while maintaining a high-quality output. The team also plans to offer a product for the contractors who put the modular parts together at their final destination.
This will allow them to see exactly when all the different parts of the buildings will be delivered, helping the whole process of building and assembling modular constructions to become smoother, akin to the efficiency of a Formula One pitstop, as Trunk CEO Tom Darlow puts it.
He explains that Manchester-based Trunk’s target customer is prefab construction companies looking to operate more efficiently and at a higher quality, but the opportunity in prefab is about more than just construction time: “When we look at construction, we've got to be more efficient. We’ve got to be much gentler on the planet, much more sustainable in the materials, and the processes, and the efficiencies…
“Prefab construction is humanity's best answer for this, moving all of the stuff into factories–controlled environments, lots of software, and making the material use as efficient as possible to divert hundreds, maybe thousands, of tons of waste away from landfill and into value-add construction.”
How it works
So why wouldn’t prefab companies just use generic project management software? Darlow explains that the needs of this particular market deserve special attention. A prefab project consists of a manufacturing schedule, a transport schedule (which might involve talking to the police about particularly large loads), and a construction schedule. Trunk wants to bring them all together into a ‘single source of truth’.
Trunk also ensures factory staff have easy access to the right manufacturing plans, quality checks, and health and safety information, at the right time.
Darlow says when Trunk starts working with a new customer, it pulls together product designs from Autodesk software, schedules from the scheduling team, and imports non-digital processes from the factory floor (information of whiteboards etc).
Once Trunk is up and running, manufacturing staff use iPads on the factory floor to access documentation and keep on top of how each part of the manufacturing process is progressing.
Darlow says Trunk’s dynamic scheduling system paces work across the entire factory to maximise output. This is similar to how smart motorways dynamically adjust speed limits to keep traffic flowing, he explains. Staff can then conduct quality checks with the help of the software.
M’road of here is a Trunk route
Darlow has a background in scheduling software and was previously head of product at healthcare staff scheduling startup Patchwork. He says Trunk came about after he received a phone call from a friend who ran a modular homes company and needed a bespoke scheduling system.
While building that system, Darlow spotted a broader opportunity and co-founded Trunk in early 2021 with Chris Ward, and bringing in Ben Wunderlich as lead engineer. They developed Trunk, testing it first with developer Urban Splash, which at the time was heavily involved with modular homes. He says they’ve since begun working with a major modular school company, helping them deliver projects in the UK and other parts of Europe.
And Trunk’s ambitions are squarely international. For example, Darlow says they will begin working with a Los Angeles based customer early in 2023. “We speak with companies in different parts of the world now. And when you peel the labels off the language that they use, they're pointing to the same issues around schedules… so we see this as a global thing.”
Competition, funding, and going deeper on the opportunity
Unsurprisingly, Trunk isn’t the only company to have identified the opportunity in supporting the prefabricated construction industry.
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