Configurable BIM tool to drive efficient fabrication

Combining push-button manufacturing and BIM software to create bespoke joinery.

Last updated: 7th March 2021

Date uploaded:

Approved for use

Innovation Lead: Hannah Gibson
Project number: 105869
UKRI funding: £128,812

Website:
joinerysystems.com/


Edit this story

Summary

Push-button fabrication is well-used in advanced sectors of manufacturing, but is largely absent from the construction industry, especially on smaller scale projects. Bath-based SME, Future Joinery Systems has developed software that applies design rules and algorithms to automate complex geometry and create high quality joinery products literally at the press of a button. Drawing on standardised digital manufacturing processes, these digital tools ensure the integrity of the initial design is translated precisely from screen to machine. It gives everyone in the process a single source of truth to work from and allows clients and designers to draw on multiple configurations to deliver thousands of outputs. The whole process is more efficient, more precise and more cost effective, while the finished product is custom made for each unique scenario.

Innovation type: Digital
Organisation type: Innovative SME

Story building blocks:

Story building blocks:

Learn more about this innovation below and use these building blocks to craft your own story to share.

Open allClose all

Project pioneers

Future Joinery Systems (FJS) is a micro SME based in Bath already committed to digital solutions to streamline the design and build of cabinetry using cutting-edge Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine manufacturing processes. It believes that designers, architects and manufacturers can dramatically improve the quality, precision and efficiency of how joinery items are made and supplied.

The problem

Current architectural joinery processes use one-off approaches for each project, without standardised processes or systemised data exchange between designers and manufacturers. When it comes to very bespoke or custom elements and in smaller projects, digital fabrication is not used at all. And because manual processes take time, it can delay the work flow and leave projects open to inaccuracy. This unintentional error can lead to rework, and add still more time and increase the final cost of projects.

Vision

FJS wants to create smoother and more precise handovers between designers, architects and manufacturers and put the end user at the heart of the design and build. They want to retain the integrity of the final joinery work so it is made exactly as it was designed, but also leave room for customisation. This push button manufacturing approach allows designers, suppliers, contractors and homeowners to digitally select the exact elements of items in the home and make them fully personalised. The standardised data exchange, digital rules and algorithms then improves the speed and precision of the final product. For now, this Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) innovation is a platform for cabinets and internal joinery elements such as stairs, window surrounds and room dividers. But it could go further and be used for roofs and building frames - in fact anywhere timber panel products are used.

Key Insight

FJS recognised the problems with current bespoke joinery production process, and wanted to develop a commercial product that could solve it on a wider scale. Digital fabrication and use of BIM isn't new to construction, but it hadn't been used in this way on smaller joinery projects before to improve information transfer. So the team saw an opportunity to adopt this push button manufacturing approach to ensure design intent is passed through the supply chain so finished products are made more efficiently and precisely.

First step

FJS teamed up with three other SMEs - Rocket Makers, Fourth Dimension Routing and Mark Wray Architects - to develop the idea. They started by capturing insights from past customers and supply chain to evolve the idea and develop their first solution. But it was a virtual hackathon in software architecture that highlighted problems in their initial solution. From this, the project established better ways of creating their model, such as deciding to use software which creates BIM models more effectively and runs in cloud, rather than through a locally-deployed software solution.

Barrier

Manual processes in joinery are synonymous with bespoke, quality outputs, but this isn't always the case. The manual handovers, from hand-drawn designs to handmade products, can be time-consuming, imprecise and lead to overrunning projects and overspent budgets. And with every change of a design, architects are redesigning components and adding time and cost to the supply chain. This innovation means the process is tailored but more precise, removing the wasteful time and cost implications.

Process innovation

Push-button manufacturing is exactly as it seems, where pushing a button results in lots of processes coming together in a distinct, bespoke way to create a one-off product, while still using repeatable and standardised processes. It relies on defining the geometry data in the BIM parametrically - that is without metric references, but instead with algebraic-type definitions. This means that the geometry isn't fixed to a specific component but instead is controlled by algorithms or rules which can allow for variations or adjustments. How does it work? BIM is used to design a cabinet (for example). The model can accurately create the item and also adapt to adjustments in the design quickly and precisely. For example, if a change was required in the screw diameter across all projects, the tool can immediately update it in all digital libraries that contain that component. And in a similar way it can limit inaccuracies, automatically preventing someone in the process from selecting an incorrect width or height for a component. The model then provides the manufacturing information, which is visible to everyone in the supply chain. The configurable tool tracks version control so any adjustments are recorded and agreed, and the continuous learning algorithm in the tool helps improve best practice, learning from each project that comes before. It doesn't remove the human authorship though, as everyone along the supply chain has access to the design and manufacturing data and so can communicate with the software all the time, retaining design freedom and configurability.

Digital Innovation

The digital platform links together design intent, configurability and customisation with directly manufacturable output. The software provides the data building blocks, from screen to machine, that provide one source of truth with multiple configurations and thousands of outputs. Essentially the software simplifies and automates complex geometry within joinery. Clients and designers can digitally select products, and customise them to their specifications, dimensions and chosen materials. FJS is not limited to a range and so can adopt new materials and adapt to trends quickly within the platform. It also takes account of costs throughout the algorithm, serving the client the best overall option in terms of quality, delivery time, need and budget. This takes minutes rather than hours, and the technology is becomes increasingly smart serving the client or designer with ‘FJS recommends’ and ‘this option increases your costs’ messages to guide their decision-making. Once all the components are selected, the configurator tool establishes what is needed - calculating dimensions, organising features, and configuring it all into the best package. Manually this would take an experienced designer many hours, but the configurator processes the design in seconds. It then, at the push of a button, sends the data to the manufacturers where several factory machines will work in tandem to create the requested part. This configurator tool will be an app on the FJS website. Users can sign in and sign up, telling the system what BIM packages they require and what manufacturers they are using, and start designing.

Collaborators

Future Joinery Systems partners with three Bath-based SMEs to share their expertise to develop the software - Rocket Makers, Fourth Dimension Routing and Mark Wray Associates.

  • Rocket Makers is a team of designers and software engineers. It has played an important mentoring role in this project, building the knowledge of the FJS team and encouraging them to hard-bake technology and digital processes into the company's offer. Working with Rocket Makers has helped attract software developers from outside of the construction sector - giving FJS the kudos to recruit cutting-edge coders and increase its in-house technical capability.
  • Fourth Dimension Routing supplies Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine manufacturing. They are among the longest established and most experienced CNC machinists in the country.
  • Mark Wray Architects specialises in re-imagining of historic buildings or delivering sensitive contemporary new design, where high quality, bespoke designs are key.
  • Fourth Dimension Routing
  • Future Joinery Systems
  • Mark Wray Architects
  • Rocket Makers

Lead support

Having been part of Innovate UK projects before, FJS saw the opportunity to invest in R&D through the Transforming Construction Challenge.  FJS is an active contributor to the Construction Innovation Hub since being accepted into its open-call competition in 2019, and contributes to both the Sub Assembly tier and the Digital Working Group. It also contribute to the Hub's digital tools group is helping build of the configurator tool, and act as a link between the sub-assembly groups and the digital tool integrators. FJS is working with Transforming Construction's MyGlobalHome demonstrator and built the kitchenette in the physical prototype at Surrey University.

Long Term Vision

Using DfMA, FJS has brought standardised and precise processes to joinery to streamline handovers between designers, architects and manufacturers and improve the speed and precision in delivering customised commissions. The software in development protects the high quality integrity of the final joinery work, so it is made exactly as it was designed still leaving room for customisation. Using platform design and push button manufacturing will improve the productivity of joinery and has the potential to be used further on roofs and building frames - in fact any timber applications where precision, complex geometry and a high level of finishing are required.

Human Stories

From its early life as a two-person start-up, FJS has successfully brought together a handful of local experts to develop its offer and grow its team. Now award winning, FJS has hard-baked technology into the company, learning from Rocket Makers whose ethos is to support start-ups to utilise digital processes. The joinery company now has three software developers joining the construction industry from Computer Science backgrounds, meaning FJS won't need to outsource technological know-how from outside the construction sector, but has bought it in and embedded it into their work.

Powerful Processes

BIM models which directly link to digital fabrication data sets can support push button manufacturing within the construction industry. By using parametric model definitions and automating complex geometry within joinery, the BIM configurable software can create bespoke products using repeatable and standardised digital fabrication processes. The software provides the data building blocks and transfers it from screen to machine at the push of a button. It is one source of truth with multiple configurations and thousands of outputs.

Fascinating Facts

FJS is doubling its R&D investment in this innovation year on year, having invested £17,500 in 2020. As a result of this innovation, the team at FJS has doubled their headcount by bringing technical and developer skills into the team.  It's much more efficient to use the same parametric design for multiple applications of different sizes. The team has seen it reduce time on a project by as much as 10 times.

Benefits

Collaboration
The small but agile team of SMEs have been able to solve technical issues more quickly thanks to having non-construction developer experience in the mix, and now in-house at FJS.

Investment
FJS is doubling its R&D investment in this innovation year on year, having invested £17,500 in 2020. And as a result of this innovation, the team at FJS has doubled their headcount by bringing technical and developer skills into the team.