Platform Design: a lean approach to construction in the climate emergency age

Author: Bryden Wood

Date published

5 October 2023

Price
Free

Platform Design: a lean approach to construction in the climate emergency age

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Author
Date published
Price
Blog
Author

Bryden Wood

Date published

5 October 2023

Author

Bryden Wood

Price

Free

In 2021, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority announced that the Government would mandate a platforms approach for social infrastructure. This blog by Bryden Wood introduces the concept of platform design and explores the benefits associated with its adoption.

The following blog is a reworked extract from Bryden Wood’s new book: Platforms in Practice, a detailed, worked example of how platform theory has been translated into platform practice.

The book journeys from the origins of platforms and the creation of platform II to a practical guide to applying platforms and a detailed analysis of how platform II aligns with published rules and principles regarding platform approaches.
 

Defining ‘Platforms’ and Platform design

Platforms is a manufacturing-led approach to construction that benefits both the construction industry and society as a whole. It provides a solution to the challenge of a growing world population and the need for high-quality and sustainably designed infrastructure for vast numbers of people, such as housing, education, healthcare and transport. The development of construction platforms at Bryden Wood is the culmination of the practice’s work in Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) for multiple clients, in numerous sectors, over 25 years.

A Platform approach to Design for Manufacture and Assembly (P-DfMA) identifies features such as floor heights and structural spans that are shared across different types of buildings (e.g. schools, apartments and healthcare facilities) to reveal the kit of standardised parts that can be used to deliver assets across multiple sectors. These parts are readily available from existing suppliers and can be assembled easily and intuitively, in countless ways, to sustainably create a huge range of spaces. Using these repeatable, cross-sector components creates the economies of scale that have allowed the manufacturing sector to continually drive down time and cost while increasing safety, productivity and quality. This approach also allows the application of automation - both in the manufacture of individual components, and in the assembly processes that create whole assets on-site. It is this automation that has the potential to transform the productivity of the sector, as we have seen across so many other industries.
 

Benefits of Platforms

The benefits of platforms could be maximised by a ‘network effect’, whereby large numbers of suppliers adopt the same solution and benefit from economies of scale and standardisation.

It is for this reason that the original contract with the MOJ (that led to the creation of construction platforms) allowed them to reuse the platforms for any purpose. Rather than every organisation developing their own platforms, if they came together to adopt and refine a small number of platforms, the industry would have the opportunity to create the economies of scale that the manufacturing sector employs.

A good example in the construction sector is scaffolding - standard, interoperable components and processes are used widely across the industry across projects of all scales and all sectors.
 

Background

The concept of platforms, common in manufacturing sectors, and how they might be applied in construction, was first set out in Bryden Wood’s 2017 publication ‘Delivery Platforms for Government Assets: Creating a Marketplace for Manufactured Spaces’. This arose from a programme of works that were being developed for the Ministry of Justice, which demonstrated the power of thinking across sector boundaries.

This idea was then embraced by the UK government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority and became a key feature of a series of policy and strategy documents that followed, including the Construction Playbook, and the Construction Innovation Hub’s Product Platform Rulebook.
 

Platform superstructures

Delivery Platforms identified three potential superstructure platforms that would deliver the majority of public sector assets:

  • Platform I - small span

  • Platform II - mid-span

  • Platform III - large span

Of these, Platform II is the one with the most potential for mainstream and widespread application.
Platform II is a product platform: it is a system for the main structure of a wide range of buildings (for instance, schools, hospitals, prisons, commercial and residential) with a common mid-span range (6m - 9m).

The system can deliver this variety of buildings with a limited set of components (e.g. standardised steel columns, standardised connection brackets and optimised in-situ concrete floor) with clear interfaces that allow other systems to complement it to deliver the full building. The components of this system are conceived such that they optimise the construction process of the buildings while doing so with a minimum of standardised components. This makes it possible to create pipelines for large quantities of these standardised components (scale of quantities of components for the relevant scale of the different types of buildings) and significantly increases the benefits of using this product platform industry-wide.

A key aspect of Platform II is that it is designed as a ‘carrier frame’ to enable a range of complementary products to be developed and to maximise productivity in their installation. This has already been demonstrated through the manufacture of mechanical, electrical and plumbing cassettes and façades.
 

Conclusion

Product platforms enable any party to make, use and buy the common, repeatable elements, for legitimate purposes, enabling a greater degree of circularity for components and sub-assemblies beyond their first intended deployment. Adopting a platform approach to design achieves not only increased productivity and quality, but also cost efficiency for both clients and consultancies.

Find out more about the origin of ‘platforms’ and how Platform II was developed

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