Analysis

Embedding BIM in offsite construction: the Seismic view

4 December 2020

The McAvoy Group is part of the Seismic consortium, the R&D project created to develop design standardisation for schools to drive down costs, reduce lead times and radically improve productivity in offsite manufacturing processes. We spoke to McAvoy manufacturing director David Clark about its progress to date and why digital is so critical to advancing Modern Methods of Construction (MMC).

Is digital innovation a core aspect of the Seismic project?

Absolutely, yes. The construction industry has undergone a significant digital transformation over several decades – that has accelerated considerably in more recent years, so it’s important to make sure that digital solutions are created alongside the development of the physical product itself.

All too often in construction, the manufacturing process and requirements aren’t considered early enough within the project timeline – starting with the end in mind, and working backwards from the needs of the manufacturing process will determine the correct design and digital philosophy that will unlock efficiency gains. That will be the key to really accelerating MMC, by placing Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) at the core of what we do.

What are the main digital workflow challenges being dealt with?

Getting the correct digital thread of information right from the very start is key – it means that data transfer and sharing of information becomes easier, and prevents loss of vital information along the way.

Seamless interoperability – and communication – between the vast array of digital tools used within the construction and manufacturing industries is also very important. Construction alone has a multitude of design software solutions, so seeking to integrate these with the ecosystem of design solutions within manufacturing simply multiplies the challenge!

Our focus is to create the ability to deal not only with standardised design approaches, but to have a digital system that is flexible and capable of dealing with a controlled amount of change or variation to the product design, effectively creating smart digital tools that not only generate the set of standardised design solutions but are also agile enough to deal with new or improved changes to the standard outputs.

Our focus is to have a digital system that is flexible and capable of dealing with a controlled amount of change or variation to the product design.– David Clark, McAvoy Group

What are the main digital benefits Seismic will achieve?

Very simply we want to reduce waste within our current design process, allowing for projects to be delivered faster. Current timelines for pre-construction, detailed design and construction stage (RIBA 2 to RIBA 5) for a typical school project can be around 25 weeks or more. We aim to reduce that programme by around 30% through the identification and removal of wasteful processes.

Using automated design and parametric solutions, we can also reduce the design resource requirement to get information ready for both manufacture and procurement of the product. By understanding the DfMA requirements, and working backwards through the design process, the digital workflow can be optimised to design smarter much earlier so that the construction information is ‘manufacturing ready’ when it comes to start the manufacturing of the Seismic II components.

What vision do you have for digital workflow via Seismic?

I’d like to realise a digital vision whereby architects and engineers continue to design the buildings the way they always have, using their key skills and experience. However, smarter integration of digital software design tools will seamlessly optimise the design data, and therefore allow it to flow directly into the manufacturing ecosystem to better suit the needs of MMC.

By simply understanding the manufacturing needs, applying a level of standardisation, and implementing some smart digital software tools and processes, we can remove the wasteful and time consuming activity that exists. Think of it as using the digital tools that are out there in a better, smarter way – we can make sure that data is produced in the right format, right from the very start, so that it removes the need for duplication of effort at the manufacturing and construction stage.

We live in a world that has rapidly evolved over the last decade, to produce high quality, full three-dimensional models and presentations of buildings. This has allowed the design process to become more efficient, and improve the quality of the data and information that is produced.

However, I believe that there is still a gap with BIM in terms of ensuring that the design information is ‘manufacturing ready’. In most cases, when the design reaches the point that it can be constructed and manufactured, it’s perhaps not always in the right format or the right level of detail to suit the supply chain and manufacturing process.

I believe that there is still a gap with BIM in terms of ensuring that the design information is ‘manufacturing ready’.– David Clark, McAvoy Group

All too often, another ‘transitional’ design stage is required to take the information and produce a further set of detailed manufacturing instructions, drawings or CNC file outputs to allow materials to be processed and manufactured efficiently in a factory environment. The information may be adequate to construct buildings in a traditional manner on site, but it doesn’t easily translate itself to a true manufactured approach within MMC.

Seismic II will deal with the product design, standardising the approach for both design and manufacturing stages. That is forcing us to deconstruct our traditional thinking and challenge the status quo.

When we understand the current pitfalls and pain points, the project can forge a new future state that will solve the issues though development and implementation of smarter digital solutions.

Will the solutions and outputs be applicable beyond the Seismic project and the wider Transforming Construction agenda?

Our outputs are based around understanding the digital solutions at a process level, so we know they can be taken and used for other sectors beyond education – whether we accept it or not, digital ways of working are now at the core of everything we do, so it’s vital that we embrace digital challenges and start to evolve our thinking and application of the tools that are available to us.

The entire Seismic II team is committed to finding workable solutions to the construction challenges we’re faced with, taking positive steps towards providing new and better ways to deliver projects and the targets set out in the Construction 2025 strategy and beyond.

MMC is the future of construction and we look forward to sharing new digital innovations to come out of Seismic II by Q4 of 2021.