'Google-style construction revolution' from platforms approach

27 November 2018 | By Neil Gerrard

Government plans to standardise construction through digital technology could result in a “Google-style” revolution by creating a standard 'platform' for building parts akin to Google’s Android operating system.

That's the view of Mark Farmer, chief executive of construction consultancy Cast and author of the Farmer Review, following yesterday’s news that the government has launched a call for evidence on using a standardised platform approach for delivering the UK’s £600bn infrastructure pipeline. 

The proposal would mean a set of digitally designed components used “wherever possible” across a range of government construction programmes, replicating the way manufacturing is done in the automotive sector where multiple car designs can use the same chassis and the same core parts.

It is hoped that the approach would allow designers and engineers to invest in manufacturing different elements, safe in the knowledge that a common design code will allow those parts to be used seamlessly, in the way that coders can create apps that work seamlessly on any phone running Android.

Farmer, who is leading the construction standardisation research commissioned by the Greater London Authority, said: “Creating a common platform in construction would mean standardising the ‘chassis’ of a building – so parts of the structure, pipes, wires, panelling and internal spaces can be mass-designed – while cladding, brickwork and elements designed by architects would still get wrapped over the top, on more of a project specific basis to satisfy planners.

“As well as revolutionising the car industry, a platform-led approach has enabled the smartphone industry to be one of the most innovative on the planet because Google’s open source Android operating system lets all manner of firms create standard apps that fit inside hundreds of phones.

“The proposals are essentially about operationalising the Chancellor’s 2017 Budget commitment and moving towards platform-led design for the manufacture and assembly of buildings will help encourage innovation at a particularly crucial time for the economy.”

Farmer warned that the nascent offsite manufacturing market is currently fragmented and “has no commonality of design or inter-operability of components”, which meant a lack of standardisation and consequently increased costs.

He added: “Last year’s Budget committed the government to ‘a presumption in favour of modern methods of construction’ for civic projects across education, healthcare, prison, defence and transport infrastructure. But it’s important this occurs across the whole industry and creating a standard platform for construction - a bit like Google’s Android operating system – is an important first step.

“Ministers are proposing a digitally-led manufacturing strategy spanning all levels of pre-consolidation. This will enable a truly scalable, more open source response from the supply chain to a standardised product design platform and will hopefully lead to more demand led manufacturing innovation and a new family of multi-skilled manufacturing and assembly led skills for the workforce. 

“Subject to the outcome of the consultation [which ends in February], the critically important further element of success for this initiative will be the implementation through intelligent procurement of such approaches by the public sector and a move away from pure lowest capital cost bespoke design and construction solutions towards performance led predictable outcomes.”


About time, too.
In the late 1990's I tried to persuade Mowlem (Manchester) to use Ytong (now part of Xella) to use large module aerated blocks in large warehouse construction for diaphragm walls.
The use of these is widespread throughout the world but I've not seen them in the UK.
Perhaps someone might pick this up and run with it?
I've long since retired but it amazes me that something so fundamental to modular construction is not in widespread use in this region.

David McCormick, 27 November 2018

Lots of factory workers instead of skilled and proud tradespeople. Lots more estates of near identical boxes instead of inspiring and beautiful architecture. We already have modular building methods in widespread use, in the form of Timber Kit. No need to think outside the box on this one, we just need well trained, well paid people to do the work. Spend the money on training schemes like the old TOPS courses and nationalise all public building projects.

Andrew Hall, 27 November 2018

@Andrew Hall
'Lots of factory workers instead of skilled and proud tradespeople'

This kind of deskilling ideology has been going on for at least 20 years and the result is an industry that can not build a simple one bedroomed dwelling without multiple-snags and breeches of regs.

Darren, 30 November 2018

@David McCormick The Ytong product sounds like something similar to the more recent Celcon Elements system. I think it could be well suited to certain situations though feel like it is a solution that is placed somewhere between traditional construction and the full potential of offsite/modular.

Tom Holder-Mark, 3 December 2018

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