Product Based Building Solutions

A physical and digital building system that standardises the invisible, while customising the visible.

Last updated: 7th April 2021

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Innovation Lead: Hannah Gibson
Project number: 106163
UKRI funding: £1,974,429


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Summary

Product Based Building Solutions (PBBS) aims to streamline the end to end project delivery process with a physically and digitally configurable kit of parts. It catalogues facades, structures, and mechanical and electrical elements which can all integrate to form complete buildings. It means designers can not only select the best individual parts, but can make data-driven decisions about which components work best with each other, and are most effective and efficient to assemble. Rather than creating identikit buildings, PBBS helps standardise invisible elements in a build and create greater certainty and productivity throughout the design manufacture and assembly process so builds can be installed quicker and cost less. Importantly, the software allows designers to customise the final building around the needs of the customer and end users. PBBS doesn't standardise the outcome, it standardises the way the building is put together.

Innovation type: Digital
Organisation type: ACE (Architect / Consultant Engineer), Construction tier 1 contractors, Supply chain

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Project pioneers

Laing O’Rourke is an international engineering company operating across multiple sectors and large-scale programmes. It has invested in a pioneering offsite production approach, known as DfMA 70:60:30 where 70% of construction is conducted offsite, creating a 60% improvement in productivity and a 30% improvement in delivery times. This approach supports faster, safer and more efficient construction.

The problem

Design for Manufactured and Assembly and the increasing use of BIM have both standardised the way designers select components for new construction projects. But the engineering rules about how they should be assembled are not stored and shared in the same way. This lack of repeatability and best practice means that project teams are essentially starting from scratch each time they work on a new construction project, leading to inefficiencies and unnecessary delays and costs.

Vision

Design for Manufacture and Assembly used at design stage already saves time and cost, and creates more certainty around the delivery of a programme. Product Based Building Solutions takes these precise manufacturing processes to the next level. Designers can not only digitally select the best quality components and materials from a huge number of options but they can model them in a digital twin and choose those components that can be most efficiently and effectively assembled in the physical building to create the most optimum kit of parts buildings. Importantly, the standardisation in the components and assembly doesn't detract from how bespoke the final building can be, so clients can still customise the layout and finish. This all leads to manufacturing-based approaches that improve the productivity and quality of our built environment, yet still meet the specific needs of the end user, resident or owner.

Key Insight

In challenging itself to improve on its own 70:60:30 target, Laing O'Rourke set the following goals:

  • To reduce design effort by 50%
  • To reduce manufacturing lead time by 40%
  • To save labour by 25%
  • To reduce assembly time and labour by 30% And from experience, Laing O'Rourke knows the only way to deliver these improvements was to embed platform-based design and kit of parts assembly even further into the design process - and then prove it on a live build.

First step

Laing O'Rourke reached out to nine organisations from all areas of the industry, design and digital innovation to evolve its DfMA 70:60:30 approach. The answer was a digital catalogue - Product Based Building Solutions - that standardises the components, embeds engineering dimensions and assembly rules at design stage, but doesn't standardise the final outcome. The team wanted to test this via a demonstrator, to prove that the design, manufacture, logistics and assembly all work as predicted by the digital twin.

Barrier

There is currently a high demand for residential and school buildings, but a lack of repeatable, manufacturing processes in the industry, meaning time, materials and resource are wasted every time a project is designed from scratch. Product Based Building Solutions can help create new blueprints for efficient, productive construction that uses the best of standardised processes without damaging the ability to customise the final finish.

Process innovation

PBBS creates repeatability by allowing designers to pre-design offsite and digitally select those components that are of high quality and perform well together in assembly. Rather than starting from scratch each time, they can choose components from a digital product library to create a digital twin of the building. And because the assembly dimensions and engineering rules are embedded into the digital twin, designers can choose which components integrate best with each other before manufacturing the kit of parts. For example, a designer can select from a range of standardised rooms or bathroom modules, with the PBBS helping them choose those that perform best together and can be assembled in the most efficient and effective way. Building, design and construction time will also benefit from repeatability and standardisation. Quality checks can be performed in a controlled environment; snagging and checking for defects can take place offsite; manufacturing lines can be set up to reduce material wastage and unnecessary labour; and low carbon materials can be used. The manufacturing processes themselves have the potential to save nearly 16 weeks of onsite time, which would reduce the time it takes to put up a school by 29%. To take this even further, The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) is now looking at automated installation, such as automated painting, tiling, and digital tools for assembling pods and facades.

Digital Innovation

The PBBS digital product library holds each configurable component including important associated information such as quality and sustainability. PBBS goes one step further by embedding engineering and assembly rules into each component. Therefore, when a designer is creating a digital twin of the building, they can see all the attributes and benefits of individual, standardised products as well as their attributes when combined, enabling them to make selections based on how they best integrate with each other.  This early-stage digital configuration feeds into offsite manufacturing processes to create a kit of parts buildings that is precise, of high quality and efficient to put together. It also means these standardised components and rules can be used to automatically report variances, addressing the root cause of defects rather than fixing them retrospectively. This means the detailed fabrication level engineering can be solved once and re-used many times with confidence and predictability. While standardisation improves productivity, clients still have specific needs and seek bespoke solutions. That's why experts at ActivePlan are digitising client requirements and transferring them into machine-readable formats. Clients can control the final layout and finishes, and still benefit from reduced cost and build time.

Whole life innovation

PBBS encourages the industry to think of buildings as numerous components that can be chosen individually but need to come together and integrate effectively. Having such a large range of specialist products in the product library means PBBS can be applied across multiple market sectors beyond schools and homes and into apartments, hospitals and commercial buildings. PBBS also supports a modernised workforce. Since manufacturing is done offsite, it inherently requires less labour on site, increasing safety and productivity. This shift in construction method can open up new training opportunities such as multi-skilled operatives and assembly technicians. In light of this, Dynamic Knowledge is embedding competency frameworks and skills development to provide greater assurance that project teams will possess the skills required effectively to use PBBS to deliver projects, maximising its benefits.

Collaborators

Laing O'Rourke partnered with nine organisations on this project:

Dynamic Knowledge provided AI-based competency requirements and analysis of improved delivery systems; Project Frog developed the ‘Kit Connect’ digital configuration; AutoDesk is a 3D design company who used KitConnect in the project which is a cloud solution which manages data in a kit of parts library; Active Plan is a technology company focused on digital requirements capture and consistent lifecycle information; University of Cambridge supplied experts in thermal performance prediction; the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (part of University of Sheffield) looked at manufacturing processes and simulation; Hoare Lea Engineering is a leading building services design consultancy focused on design efficiency and lifecycle performance; Building Research Establishment (BRE) provided assurance, testing and accreditation, as a member of the Construction Innovation Hub (CIH); and Converge supplied the wireless concrete sensor technology.

  • Active Plan
  • Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC)
  • AutoDesk
  • Building Research Establishment
  • Converge
  • Dynamic Knowledge
  • Hoare Lea Engineering
  • Laing O'Rourke
  • Project Frog
  • University of Cambridge

Lead support

The Transforming Construction Challenge funded the development of PBBS and subsequent demonstrator. BRE, part of the Construction Innovation Hub, is connecting the PBBS team to another TCC demonstrator project, Enabling Housing for Inclusive Growth, so they can share benchmarking and metrics data, and compare impact measurement with each other. An Advisory Group, with members of the TCC team on the panel, also gives the PBBS team steer and insight. Laing O'Rourke is also an active member of the Infrastructure Industry Innovation Partnership (i3P), a community of client and supply chain organisations that have made a commitment to delivering collaborative innovation through projects, supported by a large network of experts and innovators and world leading industry knowledge. 

Long Term Vision

PBBS helps customise the visible and standardise the invisible components of a building. By assessing each component individually for its contribution to whole-life value, designers can make better decisions about which to choose and how they will work better together in the overall final building, benefiting the end user. Capturing standardised elements and repeatable processes means PBBS can share best practice across the industry – so every build using PBBS will benefit from increasingly refined data and lessons learnt.  Laing O’Rourke and the project team plan to roll out PBBS across the sector to create new standards for the industry. Ultimately this will help UK construction deliver better quality buildings that support people, places and our planet going forward.

Human Stories

The digital nature of this project means that it can be shared easily throughout the industry, supporting easier and more effective collaboration between supply chain partners, with similar goals and outlooks.

Powerful Processes

PBBS standardises components, engineering and assembly rules so that designers can make the best and most informed choices from the start. The digital library of components lead to an optimised digital twin that is precise, of high quality and can be put together effectively and efficiently. But, most importantly, the assembly rules still allow the building to be customised, and reconfigured around numerous different layouts and finishes. Once the digital twin is ready, the exact specifications can be sent directly to be manufactured offsite, increasing the quality and speed of the build, while reducing time and cost. The live demonstrator has created a powerful prototype for the digital product library and modular pods in action, and demonstrated the theory working in practice.

Fascinating Facts

The project has seen a 40% reduction of lead time in the manufacturing phase when PBBS is used, against a target to reduce onsite building time by 30%. The demonstrator project will be completed in June 2021 and will validate and evidence the achievement of the targets.

Benefits

Assurance
The team are feeding into the Construction Innovation Hub's Assurance Framework and will be using the Hub's digital assurance tools to support the demonstrator's assurance and governance. Keith Waller, Programme Director for the Hub, is part of the PBBS Advisory Group.

Emissions
Together, the PBBS project team will:

  • Evidence lower in-use carbon, targeting a 30% operational reduction – based on integrated radiant heating and cooling systems within the structure, which use convection and radiation of surfaces through thermal massing (the ability for a material to store heat) as a more energy efficient alternative to traditional heating and cooling systems. In-use carbon will be reduced even further through the data-driven selection of the most airtight and efficient facades – reducing wasted energy further through both air-tightness and conduction properties.
  • Generate a 50% saving in embodied carbon by using an offsite manufactured concrete structural system made from an optimised, low-carbon concrete mix. When factoring in the re-usable and demountable nature of some of these offsite manufactured concrete structural systems, this increases to a 70% carbon saving. 

Productivity
PBBS will streamline the end to end project delivery process providing further improvement in productivity above Laing O'Rourke's DFMA benchmark of 60% improvement in productivity through further reductions in effort.

Importantly, it will unlock efficiencies in every part of the process, reducing the time and resources needed for every aspect of a construction project: design, costing, planning, manufacturing, transport and final installation on site.

Time
Headline time and productivity improvements include:

  • Manufacturing – 40% reduced lead time and 25% labour saving
  • Design – 50% reduction in effort
  • Assembly – 30% saving in time and labour The project has seen a 40% reduction of lead time in the manufacturing phase, against a target to reduce onsite building time by 30%. For example, for the bathroom pods, the team has managed to create a factory manufactured product that saves two weeks during fit-out. On the demonstrator, the bathroom pods were installed in 30 minutes, from truck to final position. The team has also assessed how to manufacture the most effective hybrid walls. Tested on Trinity School, the team found that previous lattice solutions to wall frames took 18 weeks and two days, whilst PBBS’s frame takes 11 weeks and four days - a 50% time saving just for frames.

Uptake
Department for Education has been involved throughout the investment, and its output specifications and scheduled training is included in PBBS’s strategy and toolkit. To support the buying and construction of future school buildings, the team has developed DfE standards for ease of procurement.