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Why there is no better time to embrace offsite

Many attempts have been made to industrialise the construction sector, with limited success.

However, they do say timing is everything.

So, given the demand for new homes and infrastructure, combined with shortages of labour and materials alongside the recent publication of the Farmer Review, have we reached the tipping point now to embrace the idea of creating building components in factories and assembling them on site?

Making that idea become a reality requires a unique combination of designers and construction contractors working together to develop the most efficient, effective and sustainable solutions.

To that end, the publication of the DfMA Overlay to the RIBA Plan of Work 2013 represents a major step forward.

It offers advice at every stage of the design process on how best to design for manufacture and assembly and encourages early engagement of contractors and manufacturers.

Thinking differently

There are significant advantages to this approach. As well as delivering projects faster, lowering costs and improving quality, the use of DfMA techniques will also result in better operational and in-use outcomes. There is no downside. It is ultimately about thinking differently rather than employing complex technical solutions.

However, capacity building will still be necessary to develop the skills within the design community to facilitate delivery of more efficient solutions. CPD will be core to the change. If the designers of the future are to embed assembly techniques into their concept designs, they will need to be trained.

“The RIBA Overlay is not about modular units or flat-pack construction; it is about how construction can be transformed, with Stage 5 of the RIBA Plan of Work considered as assembly rather than construction”

The benefits are compelling. Use of ‘flying factories’ by Skanska and Costain for phase one of the Battersea Power Station redevelopment resulted in a 44 per cent cut in cost, 73 per cent less rework and a 60 per cent reduction in time.

Laing O’Rourke meanwhile says that 80 per cent of the Leadenhall Building was constructed offsite, resulting in a 50 per cent reduction in deliveries to site, as was Vinci’s Circle Health building in Reading, resulting in a 20 per cent programme reduction and a 28 per cent cost saving.

Not an industry Ikea

Neither is DfMA some kind of ‘Ikea for construction’. The RIBA Overlay is not about modular units or flat-pack construction; it is about how construction can be transformed, with Stage 5 of the RIBA Plan of Work considered as assembly rather than construction.

In terms of uptake going forward, however, clients will clearly be a major driver, with some further ahead in their thinking than others.

Enlightened players such as United Utilities, for example, consider DfMA an easy choice to make and expect their supply chain to hardwire offsite thinking and standard products, so they can realise the benefits. For them, the decision has already been made.

Is the time now right, then, to embrace offsite? Yes. Is DfMA the future of construction? Probably!

Shaun McCarthy is chair of the Supply Chain School

The DfMA Overlay to the RIBA Plan of Work was developed with the support of the Offsite Management School and launched officially in London on 28 September 2016

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