Proposal for a New Approach to Building: Call for evidence


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The UK government recently issued a call for evidence in relation to their proposed approach to modern methods of construction, a variant of design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA).

DfMA is a broad term that describes the process by which building products or components are designed in a way that enables them to be made on a large scale using machinery and then put together in one place.

A platform approach to DfMA (P-DfMA) means that a set of digitally designed components across multiple types of built asset will be used. Components will be applied where possible thereby minimising the need to design bespoke components for different types of asset.

The government expects that the definition and development of the components will be undertaken by the construction industry. The construction industry will rely on the government to set out its requirements for the components in terms of performance specifications and interoperability standards.

P-DfMA is being defined using 3 principles:

  • Design for Manufacture – the government would ask that the design, procurement and construction of built assets use a defined set of standardised and interoperable components.
  • Platform Approach – the government would propose that the use of the same components across different types of infrastructure is maximised by adopting a platform approach. The standardised and interoperable nature of the components would mean they can be used across different types of built asset and across different sectors.
  • Open for Manufacture, Use and Procurement – anyone should be able to make, use and buy the components for legitimate purposes consistent with the government's overall objectives. It would mean that a diverse range of firms and construction clients have the ability to design, manufacture and use components together in a single building.

The government is seeking to build a market and demand for its P-DfMA approach by using multiple departments, including the Department for Education, Ministry of Justice, Department for Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Defence, including all bodies and organisations for which those departments are responsible.

One of the key assumptions in delivering the P-DfMA approach is collaboration between manufacturers to produce the new component designs. One potential barrier to the third principle is the potential implications of intellectual property (IP) rights, alongside the current contracting models to procure product platforms.

Individual manufacturers can be very protective of their IP, and this point was raised as an express question on the consultation. The proposal for P-DfMA is that core IP information, for items such as connections, would be retained for manufacturing companies in the sector, whilst allowing suitable innovation between individual manufacturers and new entrants to the market place. Therefore proprietary IP would be retained by individual manufacturers.

The government, together with the manufacturers may consider entering into a form of partnering agreement within the sector, to develop the interoperable standard components of the P-DfMA systems. Manufacturers may wish to use partnering arrangements such as the Framework Alliance Contract, Term Alliance Contract, the Term Partnering Contract or the Project Partnering Contract.

Adopting such an approach would enable sufficient collaboration within the sector to develop the standard components for the P-DfMA, whilst allowing the core IP rights and proprietary IP rights to be sufficiently separated between the manufacturers. The partnering style arrangements also allow new entrants to the market to join and access the standardised components and further develop their own designs from the core IP.

The proposal outlines the benefits of adopting the above approach including maximising repeatability, quality and safety. The government is however concerned that if each department, arm's length body and devolved authority pursues their own agenda for modernising construction practices; economies of scale will be lost and the transformation process will be slow and fragmented.

The lines of enquiry are outlined on page 10 of the governments call for evidence, and cover a range of issues such as:

  1. Adoption in the governments capital programmes.
  2. What changes in technology, skills and commercial models are required?
  3. Engagement with industry.
  4. How to measure the benefits?
  5. What risks and costs are associated with the P-DfMA approach?
  6. How P-DfMA can be sued to support the local and national economy?
  7. How current contracting models and building requirements need to change to facilitate P-DfMA?
  8. What security requirements cannot be rationalised or simplified?
  9. Who should set the standards and interoperability requirements?

The consultation ran for 12 weeks and closed on February 17 2019. The results of the call for evidence will feed into the development of the P-DfMA strategy for government, to be led by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and BEIS.

Given the government's proposed £130Bn of publicly funded infrastructure and construction works in the pipeline to 2020/21, and its approach to make an assumption in favour of offsite construction, this is an important call for evidence for all construction sector based organisations to contribute to.

This article is taken from Building Interest - Winter 2019.

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