Platform Design Open Call Overview

The Construction Innovation Hub is running an ‘Open Call’ designed to engage and encourage businesses and stakeholders, both from within and outside the construction industry, to get involved in the largest ever Government-backed R&D programme in the sector.

Please note the Open Call has now closed for applications. 

Construction Innovation Hub Platform Design Programme

What is the Platform Design Programme?

Construction is changing. For the first time there is a funded Construction Sector Deal which seeks to create a more sustainable and productive sector. The Construction Innovation Hub is playing a key role in this transformation targeting a built environment with better whole life performance and exploiting digital and manufacturing technology to help achieve this.

Government too is changing its approach to how it specifies and procures construction. As a client it spends around £15 billion each year on buildings such as new schools, hospitals, social housing and much more. At Budget 2017, it announced that by 2019, five government departments would adopt a presumption in favour of offsite construction.

Furthermore, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, who play a key role in co-ordinating construction strategy across government, launched in 2018 a call for evidence on adopting a platform approach to design for manufacture and assembly (P-DfMA), saying: ‘A platform approach to DfMA (P-DfMA) means that will we use a set of digitally designed components across multiple types of built asset and apply those components wherever possible, thereby minimising the need to design bespoke components for different types of asset. For example, a single component could be used as part of a school, hospital, prison building or station.’

The Hub’s Platform Design Programme will embed these principles, helping to create new platform solutions that can be deployed across multiple projects and sectors. By working with industry through this programme we aim to identify, refine and develop solutions that can be deployed at scale.

What are the Platform Design Programme ambitions?

Currently, the majority of buildings in the UK are procured individually, designed conventionally and constructed on site, using traditional skills and materials. However, there are examples of how modern methods of construction are increasingly being used, either through modular or volumetric solutions or different forms of offsite construction. Despite this progress, these solutions are not yet being deployed at scale, not all clients are aware of or use them, nor are the solutions in use always suitable to be deployed across multiple building types.

Through this programme, the Hub will work with industry to identify and co-develop a platform solution that can be designed, manufactured and installed on a structural carrier frame and are able to be used across multiple building types.

What do we mean by ‘Platforms’?

Whilst there is significant interest in Design for Manufacture and Assembly approaches and for using Modern Methods of Construction to deliver better buildings, there is some confusion as to what the term ‘Platform’ means in the context of buildings. Perhaps it could help to consider the approach taken in the automotive sector.

Modern cars are manufactured and assembled using a platform approach. This programme aims to implement a similar approach for buildings.

Cars have a chassis – a structural frame to which all other components are attached. Different chassis types are required for different car types (think large SUV and small hatchback), although many chassis types are similar for a particular type of car, e.g. family saloon.

The car’s components – engines, doors, wheels etc – are designed to connect to the chassis. Different components can be fixed to the same chassis. Equally components can also be designed and manufactured to fit to more than one chassis.

The chassis and individual components all comply with strict design, tolerance, quality and performance criteria. When assembled into the finished product – the car – the motor manufacturer warrants to the consumer and demonstrates to regulators that the completed product complies with all required safety and performance criteria,often backed up by testing, e.g. NCAP.

For the purposes of this programme we are going to test and develop these principles for a particular building type – a hypothetical school.

How can industry engage with the Platform Design Programme?

There are a number of ways industry might wish to engage:

  • They can develop integrated components, e.g wall panels, roofing systems, floor panels, toilet blocks – that can connect to a structural frame
  • They can develop a structural frame solution to which components can be connected
  • They can develop the professional services; design, construction management, logistics etc required to construct a building using a platform approach
  • They can provide all or any of the above.

Recognising that many product suppliers will not have their own structural frame, we will provide a minimum of two different frame options – one based on a Bryden Wood developed ‘Platform 2’ solution and the other the SEISMIC frame – for product suppliers to develop and integrate their solutions on to. Both of these frame types will support a manufactured, platform-based solution – and more detail on each is set out in the Question and Answer section.

Therefore, the final building will be a platform based solution which will:

  • Combine digital, design and manufacturing principles delivering a high degree of rationalisation and integration, supported by a clearly defined data set describing attributes and performance criteria
  • Incorporate a number of interacting elements – for example including plug and play mechanical and electrical components into a manufactured, insulated and finished wall panel
  • Manifest itself as a ‘kit of parts’ of pre-engineered components, assemblies and products that go together in pre-defined ways and are capable of being installed on site without the need for traditional crafts and trades.

Rather than conducting a purely academic or theoretical assessment, we will build a proof of concept building at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry, install the solutions that have been selected and developed through this programme, therefore showcasing the platform principles of a set of components that have the potential to be used across multiple sectors.

Moreover, this programme will not only establish the rules and standards for how components should connect to the superstructure, but also set out criteria for how the physical properties, quality, safety, environmental performance and other features will be valued and used to inform decision making in the future. We will also work with government and industry to establish clear rules that both protect IP and enable a competitive and sustainable market to be established.