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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Algeco (formerly 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

Algeco (formerly 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, blacc, and Tata Steel, and supported by the Manufacturing Technology Centre (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. The steel frame concept was demonstrated as SEISMIC I, but the consortia continued to work together to innovate beyond just a steel frame to a complete fitted-out school building. Which has been delivered as SEISMIC II at the BRE Innovation Park

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 learnings from this project have improved relationships up and down the supply chain, and the overall image of the construction sector. The components will be used in other building types, further accelerating the shift and scale of benefit, as demonstrated by the Construction Innovation Hub's Platform Programme and the Platform Rulebook. Designed in line with the government’s Construction 2025 targets, SEISMIC exceeds them, delivering a building that is 75% faster to complete, 70% lower in carbon impact (both embodied and operational) and 47% better value than traditional construction.

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. Continued collaboration led to the development of core components that could be used with the original Seismic frame – wall, flooring, ceiling and roof elements – thereby offering a complete solution for clients across a range of sectors


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

Algeco (formerly 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

Because Seismic utilises a platform-based approach with consistent components, it can be easily disassembled and reused. This approach is referred to within Lifecycle Assessments (LCAs) as Module D. While this is not mandatory in lifecycle analysis in the UK, the partners in this collaboration believe it is the standard that the industry will move towards in the future. Twenty per cent of the frame can be fully reused ‘as is’, 30% can be remanufactured or refurbished (e.g. replacing nuts and bolts), and 50% can be fully recycled. Taking another key component, the roof cassette, the only thing disposed of is the insulation, which cannot be reused (comprising 10%). It makes for a highly efficient building that can last long beyond its original use. There is also the option to reuse the building in full, relocating it if necessary. There is already a growing market in the reuse of modular buildings, which Seismic aligns with. When considering Seismic against the Value Toolkit, this reuse element becomes even more important, as it considers the broader impacts and legacy of the building.


Specialist knowledge on materials research and component development came from the National Composites Centre and testing and benchmarking of embodied and operational carbon was undertaken by Swansea University. 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.

  • Algeco
  • Bryden Wood
  • Elliott Group
  • MTC
  • National Composites Centre
  • Swansea University
  • TATA Steel
  • 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. SEISMIC II is exploring how the deployment of this platform could benefit different market sectors and client types beyond schools.

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 school 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. Designed in line with the government’s Construction 2025 targets, SEISMIC exceeds them, delivering a building that is 75% faster to complete, 70% lower in carbon impact (both embodied and operational) and 47% better value than traditional construction.


Two major supply chain companies (Algeco 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. Through working with the Seismic II consortium, Tata Steel UK have developed their own complete building system compatible with the Seismic frame and modern methods of construction. This building system consists of floor cassette, ceiling cassette, internal / external wall system including internal liner and cladding that are focused on reducing module assembly time for manufacturers as well as being a pre-assembled kit of parts, for assembly directly on site.   In addition to this Tata Steel have developed drop-on roof cassettes that are designed to enable modular manufacturers to deliver a complete system with less time and effort.

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.

SEISMIC allows for construction with a 70% lower carbon impact, both embodied and operational (benchmarked against Construction 2025 targets). 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. Analysis shows that a standard Seismic module comprises 581.3 kgCO2e per m2, well below Construction 2025’s target of 1,300 kgCO2e per m2. And, because Seismic can be reused, either by relocating modules to other sites or by refurbishing individual components and cassettes, it adds a 234 kgCO2e per m2 clawback. This brings Seismic well beyond even the lowest stretch targets being discussed in construction today.

Collaborative working, a modular design, a frame built offsite, and more efficient supply chain processes led to a 52% reduction in build time, creating a more efficient, productive process. SEISMIC is capable of delivering a building that is 75% faster to complete, exceeding the government’s Construction 2025 targets.

Regional Balance
Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) offer a huge opportunity to reskill the existing labour workforce and bring new people into the industry. As well as addressing a wider skills shortage, it should help to increase the diversity of the workforce too. At scale, a rolling programme can be managed with factories working at capacity to build modules that are suitable for any project of that kind. And, because Seismic is a platform-based approach this can be done across industry, with multiple manufacturers.

With so much of the build taking place in factory, there are fewer chances for injuries on site. The reduction in health and safety incidents is estimated at 80%.

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. Because site preparation works take place in parallel with the manufacturing process SEISMIC is capable of delivering a building that is 75% faster to complete, exceeding the government’s Construction 2025 targets.

Whole-life Value
Because Seismic is a component-based system built on a standard frame, modules are easy to adapt throughout the lifecycle of the building. Components can also be recycled and used for other projects in the future. Every component is tracked, tagged, and linked to a 3D model, allowing for a fully traceable process for every component that goes into a module. This aligns with the Hackitt Report recommendations for a digital 'golden thread', making it safer and easier to maintain a building. It also makes it easier to keep track of components and reuse them for other projects.

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