Addressing the challenge for platforms in the IPA’s Roadmap

Fall protection pre-installed to perimeter beams on Landsec’s The Forge project (Image: Bryden Wood).
Jaimie Johnston MBE, board director and head of global systems at Bryden Wood and Platform Design for Manufacture and Assembly (PDfMA) evangelist, reveals his excitement in the wake of the Infrastructure & Project Authority (IPA) setting out a plan for mandating PDfMA in the Transforming Infrastructure Performance: Roadmap to 2030.

What are your key takeaways from the Roadmap?

The Roadmap maintains the path of travel started in the 2017 Autumn Statement, and followed by the IPA’s call for evidence in 2018 and then the Construction Playbook, but the message has become more refined, sophisticated.

The Roadmap is quite specific in what it describes. I think a lot of people see MMC and think “oh you mean volumetric modular”: it’s not that. It says that there are certain forms of MMC that have a higher barrier to entry and need big investment: it’s not that. The platforms idea means using components that can be manufactured by existing supply chains and thus you entirely remove the barrier to entry: that is phenomenally powerful. I think people haven’t quite clocked the importance of that.

It talks about rather than needing an offsite facility, you can use simple, repeatable processes and automation and turn a construction site into a factory for making the building: that’s even better because then you don’t have the amortisation of an offsite factory and the transport costs and the rest of it.

The Roadmap is talking about a much more granular approach.

“The biggest challenge by far is the mindset shift. Construction likes bespoke, so the idea of thinking of a building as a configuration of components is a challenge.”

Jaimie Johnston, Bryden Wood

The market should be saying “that’s amazing” because anyone can contribute to this: all the SMEs at the end of the supply chain should think “I can make those components without needing to set up a factory especially”.

The Roadmap comments about the disaggregated supply chain, simplifying processes and therefore the opportunity to upskill people and diversify the labour force – you can increase productivity and create new manufacturing jobs: the implications of this are vast actually, it’s enormously transformational.

What challenges does the sector face in order to deliver the Roadmap?

The biggest one by far is the mindset shift. Construction likes bespoke, so the idea of thinking of a building as a configuration of components is a challenge.

It means the design community will spend more time doing the real value-adding creative stuff around place-making and place on site, massing and response to context, but spend less time drawing door schedules or listing door schedules or drawing the same details over and over again.

So there’s an education phase for the design community to explain that this doesn’t constrain their creativity. We’re not talking about identikit or cookie-cutter buildings.

On the other hand, the opposite end of the supply chain, the manufacturers of components and specialist systems, are ready for this.

It will change the role of the tier one: there’s much talk of the integrator role. The tier one business model is the one that needs looking at and there’s an opportunity for someone to say there’s a new value proposition for the main contractor.

We don’t think there are any constraints with this system, but people need to understand what platforms can and can’t do.

Is there any concern about how the industry’s late payment culture and contract forms might impact the development of the disaggregated supply chain?

I think the opportunity is to use the fact that you’re using standardised components to develop better digital workflows. If you’re drawing down from a library of components, obviously that makes it easier to count them, to order them, to plan the logistics and delivery. I think it brings massive transparency to a process that is currently very cloudy: you should find that all of the transparency of the ordering, logistics and delivery get clearer and therefore payments get faster, potentially.

“The mandate is exactly what’s needed: it’s the only way we’re going to make the shift we need to not kill the planet while building things.”

Jaimie Johnston, Bryden Wood

The Roadmap sets out the plan to mandate platforms. How do you think this might work?

My guess would be the IPA will build on the work that the Construction Innovation Hub has already done. It showed that 70% of the stuff we looked at could be done with an 8m-span platform. So they could focus on that 70% and develop a route map that starts with student, military and prison accommodation, and after that, start looking at the bigger span.

Within that phased approach, they’ll need to work out all the other aspects: the digital marketplace, what configurators we need, what skills and training, etc. I think the Construction Industry Training Board and the Construction Skills Certification Scheme will need to engage: you can imagine that you’ll need a CSCS card that says you’re a qualified installer of platforms and MEP kit. There’s a whole raft of skills and training regimes that we’ll need to move forward.

We’ll need suppliers making components at scale to Manufacturing Technology Centre quality standards, we’ll need people trained up to assemble them to the right onsite standards, and we’ll need the digital marketplaces behind them: all these aspects will have to get up to speed, so I suspect the first two years will be working out that complete ecosystem of everything we’ll need, and then work out the pace at which all these things can be adopted.

The mandate is exactly what’s needed: it’s the only way we’re going to make the shift we need to not kill the planet while building things for the next 30 years.

It’s a very well written document and it will be really interesting to see how the market responds.

  • Jaimie Johnston’s book, Delivery Platforms for Government Assets (first published in 2017), has been updated and can be downloaded here.
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