When we talk about process engineering, it’s common to focus on the design and optimisation of industrial processes. People tend to think about pharmaceuticals, or the manufacturing industry. However, at Bryden Wood, we believe the topic is actually much wider than that. Process engineering can equally be applied to procedures with a social or service outcome. Essentially, whenever there is a desired result, there’s a process which must be implemented to achieve it. 

For example, in airports, passengers must move through a system of check-in, security and boarding, before they’re able to fly. In hospitals, patients go from a consultation to testing and diagnosis, before they receive treatment. With process engineering, what we’re really talking about is putting systems in place in order to achieve particular goals and facilitate outcomes.

These processes need to flow, react and come together, in order to make the desired outcome happen. It’s really important, therefore, that we understand these processes in detail. They are what help us design the most efficient built assets, best suited to delivering the outcomes we set out to achieve.

Process engineering and a DtV approach 

Process engineering is closely linked to Design to Value thinking. Design to Value (DtV) is a core principle at Bryden Wood. It underpins our entire approach to design and construction. In process engineering, the first thing you’re trying to establish is what the desired outcome is. Design to Value looks at that in two ways:

In the first instance, it considers the notion that every project has a problem statement. In essence, what problem are we trying to solve? Let’s take the pandemic as an example. In this situation, the government is trying to allow people to go about their business, enabling the economy to grow. At the same time, they’re trying to stop the spread of the disease and protect life. That’s the outcome and the problem we’re trying to fix. 

The second important aspect to consider is value itself. In other words, what do you value about the outcome? When we talk about value, people tend to focus on economic factors like cost and return on investment (ROI). However, value is actually much more than that. It includes things such as the expected lifetime of components and materials, the wellbeing of the workforce, and the impact on the environment and climate change. On top of this, there’s the value of aesthetics and how things make us feel, as well as the value derived from doing; the personal development or learning someone might gain as a result of working on a project. There are a lot of value aspects to be considered when implementing a Design to Value approach.1

Once you’ve identified the problem you’re trying to solve and the value you’d like to achieve, it’s time to start evaluating processes. The first step is to start modelling your project and working out how you’ll use particular processes to achieve your desired value outcomes, as well as to find the optimum balance between them. 

1  For more about developments in approaches to Value in construction and the built environment, see the Construction Innovation Hub’s work in this area. Visit: https://constructioninnovationhub.org.uk/value/



Using process engineering to deliver broader outcomes

This is particularly pertinent in the construction industry right now. For a long time, we’ve been chasing capital cost, regardless of carbon emissions or societal outcomes. We haven’t previously placed value on things like sustainable design and this has led us into some of the issues we’re now facing, like climate change. As a result, we need to look at broadening out the outcomes we expect to get from construction projects, both now and in the future. We need to focus on the wider value piece. We’ve got to get under the skin of the client, or Government department, and understand what’s really valuable. Moving to a value-based process requires us to be braver. It requires more innovation.

Using process design thinking to highlight efficiency 

One thing which happens when working this way, is that we’re forced to approach projects differently. Design to Value offers unique benefits but can also reveal some uncomfortable truths. 

As an example: we were evaluating a brief to build a new carbonated drinks factory in Africa. The initial projected cost of £70 million was determined to be prohibitively expensive, and so the client asked for this to be reduced. Our team went through a process of evaluation and analysis. We adapted and optimised the factory size and construction techniques in order to substantially and successfully reduce the cost. 

Something even more interesting happened in the process, however. As we began to evaluate the facility, we began to ask different types of questions. This led to some interesting realisations. One of the primary products to be manufactured in the factory was bottled water. The team discovered two important things: the first was that the energy costs to manufacture the product would be high; the second was that the sale price for bottled water in Africa is low. This meant that, ultimately, the product itself was prohibitively unprofitable, and the entire venture ended up being deemed a nonviable investment. The company decided not to build the factory at all. 

In other words, in this particular case, not building was deemed the most valuable thing. Design to Value thinking requires a change to the way we approach projects. ‘Can we do this?’ must become, ‘should we do this?’

One helpful way to approach things is to consider projects as having both a problem space and a solution space. It’s important not to let our ideas about solutions become too fixed, too soon. The problem may not always be perfectly understood when we begin. People are often in a rush to move ahead, but it’s worth spending time to explore problems fully. The better the problem is understood, the better the outcome will be. The first idea to come to mind isn’t always the best solution. We need to really, fully understand the goal, and then explore ideas around that. This process drives maximum value solutions.

Process Engineering. Pharmaceutical facility design, Bryden Wood, Chip Thinking® Image

Chip Thinking®️ transforms construction projects

We use a range of different tools and techniques to help guide this process: modelling, data analytics and discrete event simulation. However, one of the most transformative is a process called Chip Thinking®️, which arose from a desire to link different data sets when modelling. Normally, a project’s data is segmented by department: finance, engineering, logistics... The people working in these areas, and even the people who understand the project as a whole, are separated from each other. Chip Thinking®️ brings everyone together. It looks at a process from end to end, whether that be a manufacturing process, or a people-driven process, like a hospital. This process is broken down into spaces where key parts of value are added. This could be a manufacturing step in a factory, or security check in an airport. We call these pieces of the value chain Chips, and strung together they form our process. 

Chips provide physicality. They allow engineers to design and simultaneously generate data. This data can then be used by other departments. For example, finance can use it to determine Cost of Goods, amongst other things. Chip Thinking®️ brings together different perspectives and allows people to see what an early representation of a project looks like. It is illuminating, for example, to combine Chip Thinking®️ with other Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) tools, such as discrete event modelling, which enables us to evaluate issues like where goods will move and how long things will take in each step. 

This way of working also allows us to test things very quickly. We can test different scenarios and the modelling will follow. Design decisions become even better, improving how things flow and ultimately creating better outcomes. 

Chip Thinking®️ and new frontiers in construction project management

The speed of iteration made possible by Chip Thinking®️ also affects how people work. It becomes very useful to have collaborative working spaces where people come together with their ideas and insights. Such collaboration leads to exciting possibilities. People work together as equals. It’s no longer a client instructing a supplier. Everyone brings their own unique expertise. However, this process requires bravery. There may be times when the answer to a problem is not known. It’s important to acknowledge that, and to trust that working together will lead to the best solution.

There are other benefits as well. Swapping one's normal, corporate working environment for a more interesting design office, liberates thinking and democratises the process. Remote working too creates more equality in status. At Bryden Wood, we dedicated an entire floor of our office to collaborative working. We provided free office space to our clients and subject matter experts. It created a dynamic, exciting environment, full of serendipitous moments and buzz. Doing Design to Value this way is very enjoyable. Construction projects are about creating change and development in a variety of areas, from medicine to technology. They’re full of potential and should be exciting.

GSK, Bryden Wood, Process Engineering, Process Design, Chip Thinking, DfMA, Pharmaceutical facility design Image

Process engineering in practice: GSK’S Parma facility design and Factory in a Box

Another interesting thing about Design to Value, is that it’s very suited to uncertainty. At GSK, I found myself working on a pharmaceutical project in Parma. The goal was to manufacture a drug called an attachment inhibitor to benefit people with HIV and AIDS, for whom other treatments are no longer working. The drug was in development and GSK wanted to get the product to market as quickly as possible. 

When trying to accelerate a product to market, it’s important not to tie things down too early. Unexpected things often happen in development, which affect the outcome. It’s important to stay flexible. Using Chips enabled the success of the Parma project, and structural modelling also enabled design simplification and a quicker timescale. The project was completed in just 18 months and awarded ISPE facility of the year.  

We also successfully created something we called a Factory in a Box pharmaceutical facility. It was built with eight Ghurkas from components delivered in shipping containers. The Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) project answered an important question for large companies wondering how to build high-quality facilities in emerging markets, quickly and efficiently, with varied local capability. It also addressed the desire to use that investment to improve skills and capabilities in the local area. The answer was to use components which were readily available in the supply chain, and bring them together in a simple but clever way. No specialist construction knowledge was required to complete the build, and so soldiers, not builders, were used to construct the facility. 

Factory in a Box is an excellent example of ways in which MMC can be used to meet quality requirements and diversify the workforce, whilst also substantially reducing costs and speeding up the construction process. This project was a precursor to Bryden Wood’s innovative work with construction Platforms and P-DFMA.

Process Design in COVID-19 vaccine development and modelling 

The importance of process engineering and Design to Value methodologies seem particularly relevant recently. As we’ve waited for a successful vaccine to emerge, there have been over 200 in development, all at different stages with different probabilities of success. Throughout this reality, we’ve recognised that different technologies require different manufacturing techniques and logistics. 

Circumstances like the pandemic raise the question: how do we deal with this type of complexity? The answer is, we use Modern Methods of Construction and we start to model it. We link in with the people who understand the development processes, and look at the physicality of the supply chains. We look at what is likely to happen, the capacity different countries have to make different vaccines, and how such factors would affect the global supply. Understanding the picture in this way allows us to make decisions at an early stage about what we might do, should certain circumstances arise. In this instance, we could decide in advance how we might react to a vaccine becoming available, and get it out to people quickly. 

As the Factory in a Box project demonstrated, there are elements which are standardised across projects. For example, they all need hygienic spaces, so we can make sure the hygienic components will be available regardless of the situation with projects. Components could be ready to deliver very quickly. As soon as you start to model and gain understanding, opportunities and outcomes become apparent, even in times of great uncertainty. This reality enables us to add value to the process. 

GSK, Parma factory, facility design, Bryden Wood, Process Design, Process Engineering, Chip Thinking

The benefits of adopting a process engineering approach 

Adopting a Design to Value approach is achievable. It isn’t magic.

The issue regarding its wider scale adoption is simply that it requires the industry to break with the ideas and processes we’ve been following before. There’s a certain amount of security in taking a brief and just doing what has been asked of you. Companies have worked out a way to survive in this way. Why change? However, we need bravery. The benefits of this new way of working warrant the risk, and there is a risk when suggesting something new and different. Success will come from approaching it like a journey and doing things collaboratively. 

There are new ideas and technologies to embrace, new people to hire with different skill sets. These things are risks to an industry worried about profit margins, business and retaining current clients. As such, we see that it’s simultaneously an easy thing to do, and a very difficult one. Toyota, who are fantastic at lean manufacturing, welcome competitors to look at their processes. They realise that it's not just about understanding the how, because what Toyota are doing requires a different mindset, a different set of ambitions. Without those things, understanding the process won’t help. 

The bottom line with respect to our current situation is that the world isn’t going to become any less uncertain, any time soon. The pandemic has highlighted our ability to make large, successful shifts, and to do so very quickly. Rather than resisting change out of fear of uncertainty, we should embrace it. Let’s use the uncertainty to fuel a change in our processes and find a better way of doing things. Often it happens that opportunities have been with us all along, we were just too nervous to take them. Now we find that our risk has increased anyway, and so we really have nothing left to lose. 

If we can just expand our minds and ambition, the only thing left is to gain.


John Dyson, who works closely with Bryden Wood, is ex VP of Capital Strategy at GSK and currently Professor of Human Enterprise at the University of Birmingham.


You can also listen to John talk about Process Engineering and Design to Value on Episode 3 of our podcast, Built Environment Matters, here


Chip Thinking, Bryden Wood, Process Design, Process Engineering


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