Construction Innovation Hub Platform partner Richard Crosby, Seismic Group Ltd, shares the challenges, options, outcomes and learnings from Seismic to encourage more organisations to consider Platform approaches.
The Seismic project is an exemplary industrial application of the rules underpinning the Product Platform Rulebook. Its characteristics span reconfigurability, modularity, offsite manufacture and a defined interface. The Seismic Product Platform Construction System was launched in March 2022 and is suitable for a range of different sectors, including schools, hospitals, offices and apartments.
In terms of site assembly, the volumetric modular market is significantly more efficient than traditional or even componentised traditional construction. However, the offsite manufacturing process is often flawed due to lack of standardisation and volume. Moreover, its specialist nature was putting clients off its use due to the need to use one supplier’s specialist system that puts risk on clients of a single source supplier.
We considered all forms of construction initially, but we needed to decrease the number of individual components to reduce the reliance on labour intensive activities. We also needed to aggregate demand for those components to increase efficiency and quality and reduce cost. We realised that the traditional construction process of building the structure and envelope first creates constraints for the fitout, making it unnecessarily labour intensive and highly inefficient.
We started with a volumetric modular construction process as it has the most potential to be more efficient. Traditional construction sequencing and processes have evolved relatively slowly. Advances in materials, plant and technology have helped, but the process is still inherently inefficient and labour intensive. For example materials must be cut to small sizes and weight to meet manual handling requirements and then carried to upper floors for assembly. We needed to build using the basic principles of DfMA ie reducing the number of components, making connectivity easier and aggregating demand. Completing as much of the work as possible in a factory environment – the structure, envelope and fit out together – was the best way to gain those efficiencies.
We developed a patented connector block that would be available as a component for any modular buildings supplier to purchase and use. To get the wider market to use it, it had to provide better value than their current system. The connect block facilitates a 50% reduction in steel and a 50% cut in assembly costs. Importantly, it enables the volumetric units to be manufactured in two-dimensional cassettes, i.e. floors, ceilings, roofs and walls. These cassettes can be assembled into three dimensional form either at the end of the production line or even onsite if needed. These cassettes speed up and de-risk the process as they can be manufactured as sub-assemblies offline. For example, Tata Steel are developing their own roof, floor and ceiling cassettes for sale to the general market.
We created a true collaboration of industry experts and academic specialist partners. Importantly, we operated as one team with the single objective of improving the construction process.
We have developed a market-ready cross-sector physical construction platform system that can be used by any supplier or contractor for offices, schools, residential and healthcare, leisure buildings and beyond. We have developed a demonstrator building to showcase our process and the product testing that has been undertaken. The building is manufactured in subcomponents to at least two different specifications and to show its flexibility. In a similar way to how the aerospace industry operates, it has been manufactured by three different manufacturers in different geological regions: McAvoy Group in Northern Ireland; Algeco in England; and Tata Steel in Wales.
Our main take out is that problems are much easier to solve within a collaboration when everyone is working to the same objective.
Be clear about your objective from the beginning and make sure everyone will benefit from it.