Opinion

Building on platforms

1 February 2019 | By Jaimie Johnston

The concept of a platform-based approach has been gaining traction, and late last year the government announced that it would use it to deliver its commitment to modern methods of construction. Jaimie Johnston explores the benefits of the approach and examines what comes next.

Jaimie Johnston

Last November, Construction Manager reported on a platform approach to construction, proposed by the UK government and advocated by Bryden Wood. In the short time since, support for the idea has continued to gain momentum.

Platforms make construction a lot more like manufacturing. A digitally designed “kit of parts” can be used across many different kinds of asset, creating a high-volume, consistent demand so that a wide, diverse supply chain can make the common components. This, of itself, creates economies of scale and dramatically increases productivity, but many other benefits follow:

Digitally driven

Platforms maximise the benefits of design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA), for example, reducing time and cost, but increasing quality and certainty. This plays to the strengths of a new generation of digital natives and supports advanced, digitally enabled workflows.

And with digital libraries, a platform can be part of a new, tech-driven industry, holding internet of things (IoT) sensor data and facilitating machine learning.

Architectural freedom

Shared processes and componentry does not mean a common look. Mass customisation offers huge flexibility and architectural freedom. You can’t tell that a building was constructed through a platform approach by looking at it.

Lowering the barrier to employment

Instead of the months or years needed to learn a trade, training need take only weeks. In work for the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Bryden Wood used design for assembly to create an easily understood system that a group of prisoners used to assemble new assets quickly and safely. 

So platforms offer a route back to work for prisoners and other groups such as ex-servicemen or the unemployed. At a time when a skills shortage looms over our industry, this has to be a good thing.  

The government’s stance

With so many benefits, platform construction is how government will deliver its commitment to modern methods of construction. It intends to use its £600bn budget for planned infrastructure to create critical mass and effect change, with the potential to boost productivity by as much as 90%.

Implementation

In the 2017 autumn Budget, government committed to “use its purchasing power to drive adoption of modern methods of construction”.  This culminated in the announcement of funding for the Core Innovation Hub (CIH) and a call for evidence on its “Proposal for a New Approach to Building” (P-DfMA). Both happened in the same week of November 2018. 

Funding for the CIH is delivered through the Transforming Construction Alliance. As design lead, I will be making the work we’ve done at Bryden Wood available to test the platforms developed so far and establish the manufacturing processes and quality assurance required to deliver them. Adoption will then be scaled up.

I am also on a cross-government working group that is looking to assist in the adoption of platforms across sectors – which demonstrates joined up thinking from government.

Bryden Wood, together with Easi Space, have invested in the Construction Platforms Research Centre. This will complement the CIH, providing another location for physical prototypes and platforms testing for private sector clients.

The work on platforms to date, for public and private sector clients, has been independently benchmarked by T&T and shows considerable capital cost savings. Against this background, our firm is working on the Heathrow expansion to see how and where platforms can assist in its delivery, especially in the optimisation of logistics hubs.

What’s next?

Bryden Wood is now looking at how platforms would facilitate automation in the design and delivery phase. This includes automated, highly digitally enabled workflows in design, and automated plant and machinery in delivery, to dramatically reduce numbers of site operatives and boost productivity.

Jaimie Johnston is head of global systems at Bryden Wood

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