Chartered Institute of Building Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Building


Why DfMA is key to construction’s reinvention

1 September 2020 | By Trudi Sully

Trudi Sully explains why kits of parts will play a key role in the changing face of construction

Back in April we all watched with a mix of shock and admiration as the London ExCel Centre was skilfully converted into the country’s first NHS Nightingale Hospital. Necessity is the mother of invention, and I can’t think of a more fitting slogan to describe the situation our sector has found itself in over these recent months.

It is clear to see that the future construction industry will need to look very different to that of the pre-covid era. The growing momentum to achieve a fundamental transformation, rather than just a return to business as usual, has the support of both government and the major voices in the sector, amplified through the Construction Leadership Council (CLC). We have a unique opportunity to lay the foundations for lasting change in how we build. But how do we grasp these pivotal opportunities and maximise impact for all of society?

Early in the crisis, the Construction Innovation Hub shifted up a gear and began to accelerate critical projects to provide industry with the tools and processes to make transformation a reality. We believe the core ingredients for a transformed construction sector are digitally enabled manufacturing solutions and processes. The most effective way we can deliver these at scale is through a platform approach.  Through our flagship Platform Design Programme, the hub is seeking to streamline construction by developing a standardised ‘kit of parts’ that can be deployed across multiple building types and sectors, reaping significant benefits in terms of quality, cost, delivery time and whole-life value. In line with the prime minister’s ambition, platforms will ultimately enable us to “build faster and build greener”, in turn delivering the robust and sustainable infrastructure our society is crying out for. 

To help us get there, our 40-plus industry partner companies are leading the charge in the development, prototyping, testing and demonstration of a platform construction system that will be able to deliver a range of building types, with the initial focus on social infrastructure. As part of the platform programme, we’re also developing interface standards that support the design of integrated, manufactured components and sub-assemblies, and a ‘rulebook’ to provide guidance on application, enable wider adoption and support development of future platforms. 

The key role of government 

As the country’s largest construction client, government can play a vital role in ensuring the adoption at scale of a platform approach. As highlighted in the hub’s recent report, Driving Transformation, Delivering Value, industry and government must work together to create the conditions for construction supply chains to thrive. The report presents nine key recommendations – spanning business models and payment practices to skills and regulation – to support this endeavour. 

Building on this, we are working closely with key Whitehall departments like Justice, Education and Health to inform our platform designs and to support how they look to procure and deliver our future infrastructure needs. It is hoped that interface standards and the rulebook produced by the hub will form part of the future procurement options, and as such we are liaising with other active R&D projects to ensure that no-one misses out on these future opportunities. It’s crucial that we support the commercial and competitive opportunities afforded to everyone working in this space. 

Collectively as a sector, we have faced numerous challenges over recent months and I am in no doubt we have more to come. Yet I truly believe that with the growing appetite for collaboration and innovation, significant long-term support from government, and the new approaches that are being developed, now is the time for construction to not just survive these obstacles, but to use them as impetus to reinvent our sector and thrive. Platform systems will play a key role in changing the face of construction.

Trudi Sully is impact director for manufacturing at the Construction Innovation Hub