Government pushes ahead with Platform DfMA

Infrastructure & Projects Authority working on ‘granular detail of strategy’, following last year’s consultation, MMC lead Will Varah tells BIM+.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) will this year outline the next steps in its Transforming Infrastructure Performance (TIP) strategy, including a platform approach to design for manufacture and assembly (P-DfMA), which it consulted on last year.

Will Varah, programme director for MMC at the IPA, says the P-DfMA call for evidence received around 60 industry responses, identifying barriers to adoption and how the government should behave as a client.

“The industry wants certainty that this approach remains the government’s direction of travel, particularly considering the barriers that low margins and wariness of previous policy changes present,” said Varah.

Strong partnership between government and industry is essential. The work being demonstrated in the Construction Innovation Hub is moving the agenda forward.
– Will Varah, Infrastructure and Projects Authority

“The strategy hasn’t changed. We are now working on the granular detail of P-DfMA, in particular on the way in which by harmonising, digitalising and rationalising government construction specifications and standards, government can aggregate demand to more effectively provide a pipeline to support increased manufacturing approaches in the construction industry.”

“Currently there are examples of this – for example the good collaboration between Highways England, Transport for London, Network Rail and industry to rationalise the various designs for footbridges, but the macro picture is piecemeal across public procurers,” he said.

“Strong partnership between government and industry is essential. The work funded through the Construction Sector Deal and being demonstrated in the Construction Innovation Hub is moving the agenda forward. It’s encouraging to see the strength of the collaboration in industry’s response to the Construction Innovation Hub’s platform design programme open call.”

Varah has been impressed by the emergence of standardised configurator apps, which pull together information such as geospatial data, planning rules and Building Regulations, and help automate the design process.

Examples include Bryden Wood’s Prism, developed for housing with the Mayor of London, Seismic, created for primary schools with the Department for Education, and Highways England’s Rapid Engineering Model.

“The next step is to increase the codification of government specifications, applying open data principles, so that these approaches can be applied more broadly across government procurement,” Varah said.

The government announced a “presumption in favour of offsite” in November 2017, and that is still in place, added Kerry Smith, senior policy advisor at the IPA. “We are likely to see a spending review by the new government this year which will allow us to provide more detail on long-term spending commitments,” she said.

A procurement challenge for the government, Varah explained, is in defining value. “In the absence of that, too often we procure on the basis of cost,” he said. “Lagging indicators can be seen now in procurements that seek offsite approaches, and specifying offsite can have unintended consequences such as ‘picking winners’. In the longer term, defining value would enable wider societal needs to be addressed in portfolio approaches to procurement.

“The housing sector has identified seven different MMC typologies. Linear infrastructure may diverge. Within just one typology, how can a client decide whether precast concrete or cross-laminated timber is the right approach for them, and should that be the question? We need procurement approaches, underpinned by the right data and benchmarking, that can be applied to any type of MMC, which brings us back to defining value.”

Main image: Bryden Wood’s Prism is an example of standardised configurator apps, which help automate the design process

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