COLAB DfMA Toolkit

A digital toolkit to support product thinking and platform design in new housebuilds.

Last updated: 5th January 2022

Date uploaded:

Approved for use

Innovation Lead: Sherrie Rad
Project number: 105878
UKRI funding: £143,015


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Frustrated that residential builds were taking too long, costing too much and not meeting the needs of residents, a consortium of architects, designers and social housing providers has created a new roadmap for housebuilding. It draws on platform design to help the supply chain think of houses as manufactured products assembled from factory-made components so they can implement DfMA properly. The COLAB Toolkit pulls data from across supply chains together into a single digital dashboard so end-user organisations can better plan and manage projects, view and compare Business Intelligence data, and capture and share knowledge. The result is that housing projects are completed faster, at a higher quality and at lower costs - and the homes are better suited to the needs of people that live in them.

Innovation type: Digital, Kit of parts, Manufacturing, Offsite, Process, Skills
Organisation type: ACE (Architect / Consultant Engineer), Housebuilder, Private sector client

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Project pioneers

L&Q is one of the largest Housing Association Associations in the UK. The business has recently committed to a 10-year roadmap to adopt and integrate a series of offsite solutions and digital processes into its housing delivery operations.

The problem

L&Q found the current system for delivering residential buildings didn't fully meet their needs to provide for their residents. L&Q found construction projects were taking too long to complete and frequently with defects that affected how the asset performed over time. In order to deliver better quality homes with lower management costs over their lifecycle, working towards a platform approach to buildings which uses manufactured products assembled from factory-made components is seen as the solution to this. Such an approach requires working differently with the supply chain and having data at hand to understand what works and what needs changing to deliver the outcomes.


COLAB’s vision is to transform how the construction industry designs, manufactures, procures and manages homes as products. The aim is to deliver better performing homes with greater efficiency and at lower cost. At the heart of the approach is product-thinking in buildings, namely residential development. The DfMA Toolkit provides a single dashboard for all projects within organisations, pulling in information from their supply chain and combining it with their own internal processes. This allows projects to be compared, best practice to be captured and shared, and productivity and manufactured content to be steadily increased. Whilst the project team is largely experienced in housing delivery, this toolkit will be developed to enable other asset owner-operator organisations to adopt it and configure it to their specific requirements, irrespective of sector.

Key Insight

In 2017/18, L&Q brought together a group of forward-thinking project partners at the cutting edge of innovation in the construction industry to shape its 10-year Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) roadmap. Having worked together collaboratively since, L&Q, Virtual Viewing, Hawkins/Brown and HTA formed the COLAB consortium with an aim to develop and promote a production-led digital toolkit, so they could complete projects faster, with higher quality and at lower costs.

First step

The COLAB consortium committed to Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) as an approach to be more process driven in their construction projects. In order to implement DfMA properly and maximise the value of a manufacturing approach, COLAB conceived a single source of truth digital toolkit which consolidates modern methods of construction (MMC) product portfolios, DfMA best practice, supply chain data and exemplar project information to better plan and manage projects.


L&Q wants to drive greater whole-life value from its portfolio and takes a long-term view when making decisions about projects. Data is key to unlocking this, as it allows L&Q to benchmark projects and improve decision-making.

Process innovation

A key outcome metric is to increase the levels of pre-manufactured value (PMV) in building projects. The project draws heavily on the processes and continuous improvement methodologies that underpin the manufacturing and production sectors, namely Design for Manufacture and Design for Assembly. Such interventions in the construction industry drive greater predictability and deliver improved quality and enhanced productivity.

Digital Innovation

The DfMA Toolkit uses a dynamic and interactive user interface to help the user navigate the sub-functions of the app. The toolkit also pulls on significant improvements and advancements made by the COLAB consortium in the processing of BIM models and the data held within. Below the line and powering much of the data visualisation is a centrally held data lake, accessed by a secure API, which allows the app to draw on the latest, verified data available.

Whole life innovation

The social and environmental benefits of the DfMA and offsite approaches include:

  • less on-site pollution (both noise and air)
  • reduced traffic deliveries
  • reduced waste through factory precision-manufactured components
  • improved thermal performance of building fabric elements, resulting in reduced energy demand
  • increased assurance of quality resulting from prototyped products
  • safer working conditions – on site and in production factories
  • reduced capital expenditure through repeated use of products
  • fewer post-completion defect spend, operational & maintenance spend over the whole lifecycle of projects and where disassembly/reuse/recycle use circular economics
  • developed disassembly/reuse/recycle and circular economy principles
  • efficiency of design & production
  • predictability of delivery and quality, as designed


COLAB is an interdisciplinary consortium of housing providers, architects and digital design agencies founded in 2019. Its member organisations are L&Q, Virtual Viewing, HTA and Hawkins Brown. L&Q is one of the largest Housing Associations and Developers in the UK, and the first to establish an in-house Production Innovation Team. Virtual Viewing is a recognised innovator in the construction industry who pushes the boundaries of how technology can advance construction.  HTA is a multi-disciplinary practice specialising in residential design. It is one of the UK's leading experts in offsite manufacturing, with over two decades of experience in Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) and modular design and delivery for the housing sector. Hawkins/Brown is an internationally renowned architectural practice delivering innovative and socially sustainable buildings across multiple sectors. Their expertise in MMC and DfMA approaches has been demonstrated in numerous completed projects across the UK.

  • HTA
  • Hawkins/Brown
  • L&Q
  • Virtual Viewing

Lead support

COLAB has been supported by Transforming Construction. L&Q is also a key partner in the Transforming Construction AIMCH project.

Long Term Vision

The vision for the COLAB toolkit is that it will help transform how the construction industry designs, manufactures, procures and manages homes by thinking of them as manufactured products assembled from factory-made components. This approach creates greater consistency, productivity and quality in housing and supports knowledge and best practice sharing across the industry. While built for residential housing projects, the aim is that this toolkit will be developed to enable other asset owner-operator organisations to adopt it and configure it to their specific requirements, irrespective of sector.

Human Stories

COLAB aims to deliver smart designs and affordable, good quality homes for all, creating great places to live in which are sustainable and environmentally friendly. The toolkit and app will go some way to ensure that residents' needs are built into the designs from the start and that DfMA process will support improved building performance for those who live in these homes.

Powerful Processes

The project draws heavily on the processes and continuous improvement methodologies from manufacturing and production sectors including Design for Manufacture and Design for Assembly. The team wants to see their supply chains use more process engineering to perform with great predictability, deliver improved quality and significantly improved productivity. To help them understand the processes and create improvements, the DfMA Toolkit uses powerful 3D interactive graphics to help the user visualise aspects and impacts of this approach. 

Fascinating Facts

It’s estimated that the toolkit could speed up design and construction programmes by 30%, providing total savings of around 25% to housebuilders.


The process of design and delivery through a managed process of manufacturing and assembly will give much greater control over the quality of the final product, the whole life-cycle cost and costs of ownership than a traditional approach where specification decisions are based on lowest-cost and not on performance. It’s estimated that the toolkit could provide total savings of around 25% to housebuilders. 

The project is focused on the potential to deliver time saving benefits to the development lifecycle of projects and specifically construction projects, while increasing certainty of high quality and performance. The project primarily addresses the front end process of development, but will critically alleviate time pressures at the delivery end and construction if applied appropriately. It’s estimated that the programme could speed up design and construction programmes by 30%, providing total savings of around 25% to housebuilders. 

Whole-life Value
In promoting DfMA methodologies and Business Intelligence metrics and KPIs there is an inherent bias towards whole-life value, rather than solely capital cost savings. By advocating the use of standardised and replicable products, designed for ease of manufacture and assembly, and providing a digital toolkit to centralise that information within organisations, the team is attempting to support the industry to re-address its short-term project focus towards a longer-term return on investment approach.