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The development of construction Platforms is the culmination of our work in Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) for multiple clients, in numerous sectors, over 25 years. The P-DfMA approach brings together everything we have learned, and continue to learn, about a manufacturing-led approach to construction and makes it widely available for the benefit of not just the construction industry, but society as a whole.
Platform design brings a solution to the challenge of a growing world population and the undeniable call for high-quality and sustainably designed infrastructure for vast numbers of people, such as housing, education, healthcare and transport.
An important development in Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), the term ‘Platforms,’ commonly used in manufacturing, refers to sets of components or assemblies that can be put together in a multitude of different ways to create multiple different products.
In the context of the built environment, the Platforms approach to design for manufacture and assembly (P-DfMA) identifies commonality across sectors – schools, apartments and healthcare facilities all have similar structural spans and ceiling heights, for example – to define the ‘kit of parts’ of components and processes that we can use to deliver a wide variety of built assets.
Like the manufacturing sector, we have focused as much on the ‘process’ as the ‘product’. On-site assembly processes are standardised and simple, using colour-coded components.
All parts are readily available from existing suppliers and can be assembled easily and intuitively, in countless ways, to sustainably create a huge range of spaces. All of these factors support our broader focus on process engineering and Design to Value.
The power of P-DfMA is in its ability to create standardisation at component level, while retaining flexibility of design at asset level. Construction Platforms support highly site-specific designs and the widest range of architectural ambition, while still bringing the benefits of a manufactured approach.
The Platform design method also drives greater value within the construction industry. Using repeatable, cross-sector, components creates the economies of scale that, as in the manufacturing sector, will allow us continually to drive down time and cost while increasing safety, productivity and quality. All core principles of Design to Value.
Straightforward assembly means we can use upskilled or even non-construction operatives, working under safe and controlled conditions. This facilitates new jobs and opportunities to help tackle the challenge presented by an ageing construction workforce.
Platform design brings automation to construction - both in the manufacture of individual components, and in the assembly processes that create whole assets on site. It is this automation in the construction process that will transform the safety and productivity of the sector, as we have seen across so many other industries.
P-DfMA unlocks the true power of digital design and simulation. Components that work within defined parameters and rules allow us to use automated, computational design processes, creating digital models in minutes. We use this speed to test many more ideas, drawing from a much wider, richer range of possible solutions than is possible using traditional means. These iterative designs, generated using the latest digital construction technologies, can be tested and refined through simulation of energy balance, pedestrian movement, air flow and ventilation, etc. The result is highly optimised designs in which consistent performance through the whole life of the asset has been considered and ‘baked in’.
Finally, when we consider the role the construction industry must play in moving the built environment forward sustainably, it's important to recognise that Platform design offers the most sustainable way to build. Repeatable components can be highly optimised to minimise material use and facilitate embodied carbon reduction. A manufacturing approach means less waste and rework, efficient logistics and ‘just in time’ delivery. Sustainable, lean design with high quality components and digital simulation facilitates efficient assets that minimise in-use carbon.
In short, a Platform approach to Design for Manufacture and Assembly will finally allow us to create a construction industry which is fit for the future.
Jaime Johnston, Board Director and Head of Global Systems, has published the following e-books on Platforms, widely regarded as the reference publications on the subject:
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