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‘This change is coming. It's unstoppable,’ Dame Judith Hackitt told the audience at the NBS Construction Leaders’ Summit last October. Few can disagree that the UK's Building Safety Act (BSA) is changing the way the industry works by clarifying responsibility, mitigating risk, protecting the public and improving the consistency and quality of design and delivery. The Industry Safety Steering Group agreed that the requirements of the legislation will transform all aspects of project management and delivery and that better collaboration across the industry is vital. At the steering group meeting that followed, Jaimie Johnston MBE, Bryden Wood board director, presented how the Platform approach to DfMA (P-DfMA) helps create best practice in demonstrating compliance. This blog discusses the key areas where a platform approach and the BSA are closely aligned and the clear opportunities for a P-DfMA approach to meet the industry challenge.
Key Insight: We are likely to need greater standardization of processes to be able to track the information and decisions leading to compliance
Industry challenge Design and project management processes differ per project, standardization of such a number of differing variables is almost impossible
Platforms solution P-DfMA distills down the variables considerably, providing a smaller number of solutions and components to share across the industry, enabling the standardization of both design and project management processes
P-DfMA is a rationalized approach to design and construction. It simplifies complexity and creates systems in the place of custom requirements at every level, presenting a much more straightforward foundation on which to adopt new safety requirements.
The Construction Innovation Hub’s ‘Defining the Need’ analysis of the UK Government estate identified the most common elements with the greatest potential to deliver the required assets – this was a precursor to the Construction Playbook’s ‘Harmonise, digitise, rationalise’ policy. One insight was that 3 structural typologies represent most of the Government estate. These typologies were called Platforms because they embody the common features of multiple assets: structural grids, beams, columns, connectors, slabs etc. Behind these commonalities lies a common kit of components, a much smaller set of components vs bespoke, traditional construction.
The analysis showed that in fact 70% of the public sector estate could be delivered by one structural platform: a mid-span c.8m structural solution. As platforms ‘lock down’ the set of component specifications that sit behind design, this reduces the set of technical variables and requirements. This immediately standardizes the process and streamlines the range of technical compliance as a result. Plus, with choices in the assembly, architectural outcomes can still be recognizably different and tailored.
At Bryden Wood, starting with productivity-led value drivers, we developed a hybrid steel and concrete mid span platform (Platform II). We then proved the concept on the design and delivery of The Forge, a commercial building for Landsec, the first ‘platform’ building.
There are bound to be other mid span options: using other value drivers as a start point will no doubt give rise to other types of mid span platform e.g. a timber based or light gauge steel.
However, it’s critical that, as an industry we converge on a small number of platform options. If we lose control of the number of options available, we are back to square one - we lose the benefit of standardization, and we then lose the simplicity this creates in terms of technical compliance.
To encourage industry adoption, we have open-sourced all our data, experience, and learning on Platform II.
A digital library embeds specifications and compliance into upfront design and tracks these through to delivery.
The smaller number of elements to manage vs. a traditional design, captured in a digital library, will facilitate the creation of accurate, consistent and well-organized information and version control.
This digital library will structure data so that design can more rigorously demonstrate compliance, earlier in the process. It embeds sets of rules/data requirements regarding interfaces, technical requirements, and standards that sit behind the models, giving a more holistic set of information
Stored in an open access, central location, the digital library is the bedrock of the digitized design to construction process. It also embeds the standardized requirements:
Key insights Construction will become more systems based: as an industry we are fragmented and siloed, this will help us break out from these and collaborate with shared data.
There will be much more upfront design in the process,
Industry Challenge The construction process is linear, sharing still involves multiple ‘hand offs’, between parties with imperfect transfer of information and data leading to rework and duplication.
The greater level of technical design required pre-planning application submission will change the cash flow profile of many projects.
Platforms solution Open and shared information is integral to the platforms approach: across projects and across sectors.
Weight on upfront design is made viable by the digitized process: automated design and updates speed up the process and have delivery ‘built-in’.
However simplified, this is still construction, and the process still involves big data. However, the digital library can mobilize this wealth of data available. No longer overwhelming, it becomes easy to manage and utilize. Designers can consider the most complex and vast strands of data and options immediately and simultaneously.
This data helps designers plan for the fullest range of complex requirements at the earliest stages, from safety to stakeholder requirements, from operations to maintenance, from reuse and net zero to wider sustainability goals.
Platforms enable designers to consider, share, and integrate all pertinent data in the earliest design concepts, locking this value into the DNA of the design, delivery and operation.
Embedding pertinent data in a digital library avoids continual calculations from first principles and sequential issuing. Instead, compliance is pre-baked into the design through rule sets and parameters that are agreed upon upfront by multiple engineers. From that point on, design compliance can then be either shown systematically against the agreed rule set or even autogenerated against it.
The diagram below shows how detailed requirements can be documented and managed through the design process, and compliance validated in the manufacture and assembly phase:
Automatic generation of models ensures that the correct components are used and are performing within their defined parameters and also that the data is properly structured and follows all of the information management protocols.
This digitization or automation of all aspects of the design and the data attached to it, allows an automated checking process that isn’t subject to human error, so teams can be confident that the testing and certification is rigorous and holistic.
In traditional construction, data is manually tweaked, but this human interpretation and intervention can break the compliance thread. When automated, it is easier to track even the smallest of changes and immediately understand the implications of substitutions. The data remains ‘clean’.
The digital library establishes a digitized quality assurance process that means we can trace and record critical data from design through to operation.
The data library can then be embedded in configurators: digital web-based apps/software, which apply the digital data to automatically generate anything from a schedule of room types, to a full, digital asset model.
This would revolutionize the speed with which upfront design could be achieved, overcoming the challenge to investors presented by the need for more upfront design.
The Primary School Configurator, developed by Bryden Wood, with Innovate UK funding is an open source, user-friendly web-based app, which configures a primary school building on a specific site in line with DfE requirements. This reduces a process that normally takes weeks, to a matter of minutes. A similar configurator, called PRiSM, has been created by Bryden Wood and Cast with the Mayor of London for housing and we see examples from outside the industry such as the Ikea 3D Kitchen Planner.
These digital tools vastly increase both the speed with which designers progress from data to the digital model and the number of options and permutations that can be considered when it comes to reconciling specific requirements and performance criteria. A school, for example, can be configured in just 15 minutes.
Key insight We will need more convincing mechanisms to ensure that what was designed is what is built.
The process will be able to handle multiple stakeholders and purposes, all at the same time, mitigating and eliminating the risk in these where possible.
Industry challenge Even if each stakeholder or specialist, does their utmost to deliver as planned, the interfaces where specialisms meet will remain a tolerance risk.
As long as changes can be made on site, assets will always be vulnerable to unintended consequences.
Platforms solution Platform II acts as a carrier frame, providing a stiff and accurate superstructure that allows proof of compliance in installation
Platforms dramatically reduce the risk of on-site changes in two key ways:
1. Intelligent design and automated fabrication remove the need for human ‘interpretation’ of drawings, increasing accuracy and consistency, for greater safety and productivity
Platform II was designed to use basic materials with the minimum amount of fabrication where possible. Most components use no or low levels of fabrication (these can be thought of as ‘dumb’ components). These components tend to be the large, heavy, commoditized elements including:
As much ‘intelligence’ as possible is then placed in the interfaces (e.g. bracketry which is self-locating to control tolerances and is colour-coded to ensure correct application etc.) The ‘intelligent’ components are small, manually handleable, and accurately mass-produced.
The level of bespoke production is thus focused on far less tonnage than designs for e.g. traditional steel composite or flat slab solutions.
Repeatable, standard elements such as the brackets and temporary works are designed to be robotically fabricated directly from the digital library. On The Forge, SME Easi-Space worked with BSI to develop the standard for robotic welding of structural components:
2. Accuracy in pre-engineered interfaces
The level of the bespoke design in traditional projects makes it difficult to properly design every interface, leading to variability between interfaces on-site and the need for ad hoc changes. However, trades at different points in the process don’t necessarily have access to the early decision-making rationale, so there can be unanticipated consequences of these forced ad hoc changes.
If the BSA onus is on ensuring the design doesn’t change from specification to delivery, then the exactness of the design and the tolerances is crucial.
The higher degree of accuracy and innovation in platform components ensures that what was designed and modeled is much more likely to be what is installed on site, with no need for site based problem-solving/adaptions vs. what has been designed and tested.
Platform components create superstructures, which, while a relatively small proportion of the cost, is critical in maximizing the accuracy of the installation. The superstructure is highly dimensionally accurate, with fixings designed in to enable high levels of accuracy in the complementary elements that attach to it. This accuracy reduces the need for tolerance between interfaces, which is where issues often occur. On The Forge, the tolerance was reduced to ±5mm over a 9m bay.
This accuracy also unlocks existing, but underutilized capabilities in the supply chain, encouraging optimization of their products too. In fact, a range of complementary elements have already been developed and delivered on The Forge.
Accuracy in installation is achieved via factory conditions on site:
1. Standardized platforms and components
Increased use of standardized, repeatable, design and components inherently lead to less variance and more standardized tasks on site, which already reduces the risk of the need for changes and thus the potential to deviate from the original design.
The greater use of consistent, digital workflows through design, procurement, and manufacturing will extend into logistics and labor; predicting operative numbers, positioning them on site, and schedule their training and workload. This level of control is unremarkable in manufacturing, extraordinary in construction.
2. Standardized labour operations
The reliance of traditional construction on variable quality of workmanship/skill of the site operative makes it difficult to guarantee that what was drawn and specified is actually what is installed.
The design of platform interfaces is so accurate it reduces reliance on skilled trades and workmanship and provides a visual and straightforward Quality Assurance process, for greater consistency and accuracy:
Platforms also simplify installation down into a series of simple, repeatable, highly productive, activities, which make the sequence of work entirely predictable, the quality assured and the speed of assembly vastly increased.
Key insight Consider the lifecycle of builds beyond completion: handing over all the information required to preserve the integrity of the build
Industry challenge Information handover at completion has traditionally been protracted, incomplete, and ‘file based’. Information gathered through the project lifecycle is often focused on that needed for construction, not necessarily that needed for operation.
Platforms solution The digital record of data that sits behind the platform approach continues to add value throughout the operation of the asset and will facilitate increasingly data-driven use cases in the future including feedback loops and digital twins.
Data that feeds through to operation handover and back into future design
The bedrock of data that threads all the way through the platforms process can feed into the circular economy; building a core set of information that can be re-utilized, creating feedback loops that can then inform the design of future assets. In this way, Platform design and how it integrates with the bespoke sections of assets, becomes self-optimizing.
The ability platforms give designers to consider and integrate all pertinent data in the earliest design concepts, mean that they can also consider operational efficiency.
On Landsec, the M&E solutions considered ease of cleaning and replacement. These cassettes were standardized across the building, so it merited the time to optimize them so that they would be of the greatest value throughout the whole life of the asset. The standardized steel beams were provided with more penetrations than the design required, this pre-enabled the asset for future adaptations: with additional fixing points already cast into in the slab, the model is less likely to need updating as adaptations or refurbishments take place.
With the construction sector currently facing challenges on multiple fronts, it should be at least encouraging that a number of topics – sustainability, productivity and safety – all point in the same direction; a simplified and digitally-enabled design and construction process, using repeatable components manufactured at scale and assembled using standardized processes.
Text extracts are taken from IPA’s ‘Transforming Infrastructure Performance: Roadmap to 2030’
P-DfMA addresses numerous value drivers, the diagram below summarises some of the key aspects of the Building Safety Act, and how a platform approach aligns across the whole project lifecycle.
Learn more about a Platform Approach to Design for Manufacture and Assembly (P-DfMA) on our Platforms hub.