Collaboration to standardise and optimise the design for school building steel frames.

Last updated: 21st February 2022

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Innovation Lead: Mike Pitts
Project number: 133468
UKRI funding: £728,152

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The Elliot Group and The McAvoy Group both produce steel frames for building schools. Their slightly different designs were incompatible and created inefficiencies up their supply chains. In this project they collaborated with Bryden Wood to adopt a joint design that could be assembled from a 'kit of parts' and was optimised to reduce emissions, cost and assembly time. Having standardised the system, the consortium developed a digital tool to enable design of a school building in minutes rather than weeks.

Innovation type: Digital, Kit of parts, Offsite, Process
Organisation type: Innovative SME, Supply chain

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Project pioneers

The Elliot Group and The McAvoy Group collaborated to share the advantages of standardising a design for the steel frame of buildings, starting with a school. Together with Bryden Wood and Blacc, and supported by MTC, they see a kit of parts approach as key to delivering projects with greater certainty, at lower cost and time and with lower carbon emissions. Blacc, modern methods of construction management experts, are progressing this work - SEISMIC II - to understand how the deployment of this platform could benefit different market sectors and client types.

The problem

Society doesn't have enough quality schools built for children to learn in. When it comes to school builds, construction companies and supply chains haven't been collaborative or open to learning from best practice. This has led to bespoke approaches that are inconsistent; poor communication between partners which can slow down work or lead to defects; incompatible processes that are not streamlined or productive; and ultimately poorer quality schools that aren't built on time and have larger carbon emissions than intended.


This collaboration will lead to faster built, better quality schools to teach and learn in. The digital innovations will see schools designed in minutes rather than weeks, saving development cost and time, and are now being used to make similar savings on other components in school builds. The improved supply chain processes will dramatically reduce emissions by 25% from the transport and steel associated with the build. And the learnings from this project have improved relationships up and down the supply chain, and the image of the construction sector over all. The components will be used in other building types, further accelerating the shift and scale of benefit.

Key Insight

The need to reduce capital costs and speed up construction projects is leading to increasing interest from clients procuring buildings in manufactured solutions. The Department for Education is one of the leaders in this and has worked to enable and encourage offsite manufacture of schools through its procurement frameworks. This prompted the collaboration of project partners to innovate to better address that aim.

First step

The first step was the joint commitment to share intellectual property and have the same standardised design of frame across two (competing) companies. Seismic set out to create an industry standard framing system so that designers can design with offsite in mind from the beginning, and manufacturers can aggregate demand and get efficiencies in the supply chain. The investment from Transforming Construction enabled them to design, develop and test a 'kit of parts' school frame and prove the benefits of modular building to the construction sector as a whole, as well as evidence potential savings to the UK taxpayer and bring a level of certainty to the school community and supply base.


While different competitors offer rival solutions for modular buildings, the benefits to the supply chain of a single standard design layout is lost. For modular solutions to reach their potential and scale, the sector needs to collaborate and agree on the design rules and specification to meet.

Process innovation

Elliot Group and The McAvoy Group both used similar, but incompatible designs for steel framework that is used as the superstructure for buildings such as schools. Working with Bryden Wood they selected a standardised frame grid size based on recommended classroom sizes and layouts of key spaces in schools, such as sports halls and science labs. The dimensions were compatible with the Department for Education's design rules for offsite manufactured schools. The design was re-engineered to minimise use of steel but also to avoid fabrication steps. Steel components were put together using manufactured connectors that were easy and quick to install and meant the components could be delivered to site in an efficiently packed container.

Digital Innovation

Using standardised components meant the overall design could be automated using algorithms that followed the design rules for school buildings. The project developed an easy to use digital tool for designing school structures from the frame that was simple enough for schoolchildren to use. The design process could be brought down from weeks to minutes.  

Whole life innovation

The redesigned steel frame was optimised for faster assembly from components (a 52% reduction in build time) and with less weight (reducing cost and emissions). Using a standardised component approach with engineered connectors opens up the possibility of easy future upgrades and even end of life disassembly and reuse of the steel.


Blacc project managed the programme bringing their experience of modular building and working with the Department for Education school build programme. Further support on manufacturing processes came from MTC - the manufacturing leaders in the Construction Innovation Hub.

  • Bryden Wood
  • Elliott Group
  • MTC
  • The McAvoy Group
  • blacc

Lead support

Transforming Construction Challenge funding shared the risk in this project and enabled SMEs like Blacc and Bryden Wood to be involved. The Transforming Construction team helped with connection to Department for Education.

Long Term Vision

This project shows to build better quality schools that can be constructed faster, for less cost and with lower emissions. Modular building methods will become the standard for the industry and allow us to meet the demand for schools, as well as reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

Human Stories

There is clear evidence for the benefits of collaboration and communication up and down the supply chain. Construction organisations, and their employees, can embrace these best practice modular techniques and technologies to increase their own productivity, as well as improving the lives of the teachers and pupils using the schools - and the wider impact on our planet.

Powerful Processes

This project shows how more consistent processes, materials and techniques can improve the schools we build. Faster digitally-enabled design, non-competing modular frames and off-site builds have all led to a more cost-effective, time-efficient and lower-emission outcome.

Fascinating Facts

The construction sector is currently the second least productive industry in UK economy. This project shows how we can increase productivity through 'kit of parts' school builds. The digital tool means designs for schools can now take minutes rather than weeks; a more consistent frame design showed a 52% reduction in build time; and the lighter-weight materials and off-site build reduced transport & steel emissions by 25% – equivalent to over 155,000 miles of car travel or 17 flights from London to Sydney.


Two major supply chain companies (Elliott Group and The McAvoy Group) collaborated in the project to use the same design rather than their non-identical competing versions. This has delivered benefits in cost and time for both companies but also their supply chain who were providing two different sets of components for the same end use.

The use of the same frame design in the supply chain, rather than non-identical competing versions, allowed for faster assembly and less weight - both of which reduced costs throughout the supply chain.

The use of a modular frame design and light-weight materials reduces the amount of steel normally used in an average primary school, built offsite, by 25%. This in turn reduces the emissions associated with transport and steel by 25% – the equivalent to over 155,000 miles of car travel, or 17 flights from London to Sydney.

Collaborative working, a modular design, a frame built off-site, and more efficient supply chain processes led to a 52% reduction in build time, creating a more efficient, productive process.

The digital tool developed means designs for schools can now take minutes rather than weeks, which saves on development costs and time. The redesigned frame could be erected more quickly, showing a 52% reduction in assembly time.

Whole-life Value
This programme provides the industry with clear evidence around the benefits of modular builds, as well as collaboration and consistency along the supply chain. This will lead to fast built, better quality, and more sustainable schools to teach and learn in.