Platform construction systems are by no means a new topic of conversation in the construction sector. As a key evolution of modern methods of construction (MMC) and Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA), significant voices across government and industry have been calling for platforms to become mainstream for many years. The recent publication of the results of the IPA’s call for evidence for P-DfMA and the Construction Playbook has significantly ramped up this call to action, outlining a firm commitment to develop an organisational strategy which will aggregate and standardise demand, to drive the adoption of platform approaches.

Crucially, the Playbook shone a light on the barriers that construction companies have historically faced around the adoption of platform construction systems, namely the lack of standardisation that exists around construction. Ultimately, social infrastructure such as schools and hospitals will continue to predominantly be built in traditional ways until the industry has access to fully interoperable, standardised sets of manufacturable components that can be used to create such buildings and support a sustainable pipeline of opportunity.

A complex task ahead

With the need to “harmonise, digitise and rationalise demand” in mind, how can a task of this scale realistically be accomplished? It’s a challenge that requires government backing, industry buy-in, a clear set of shared rules and a crucial shift in culture. But the good news is, thanks to the Hub’s ongoing collaboration with government and industry, we are already well on our way to making this momentous change happen.

As the next major milestone of our flagship Platform Design Programme, we are developing the Platform Rulebook: a set of open-source processes, tools and guidance which apply to platform construction. As well as building on the ambitions set out in the Construction Playbook, the Rulebook will plug the gaps that were highlighted in the Defining the Need report, which emphasised the scale of opportunity for platform construction systems against the equally urgent need for standardised process, tools, and guidance to support the emerging market.

How will a Platform Rulebook help?

Platforms support market exchanges. It is in the Government’s best interest to support the broadest and most open platform approach to keep barriers to entry low, incentives for innovation high, and to encourage effective competition.

But for platforms to be successfully adopted at scale, an extensive ecosystem of suppliers, manufacturers and assemblers is required to underpin the delivery of infrastructure and meet the demand generated. Already, a pipeline of £35bn over five years has been identified that could be delivered in part or in full by a platform approach. Therefore, the market needs a way to establish and adhere to good principles of governance to ensure the sustainability and growth of these ecosystems.

Principles to regulate by

Given the central role that platforms are expected to play in complying with the Construction Playbook, policy makers need clear principles to decide when, how and what to regulate. This requires the ability to understand barriers to entry and any systemic issues preventing effective competition within the marketplace.

To achieve this, rules are required to enable (as a minimum):

  • Interfaces and interoperability, to encourage competition and resilience;
  • Consistent and reliable governance, to foster trust in the multi-sided market; and
  • Implementation detail, to make platforms easier to use reliably.

That’s where the Platform Rulebook comes in. A collection of hierarchical principles, processes and information, the Rulebook will set out the basics such as what platforms are, how they are implemented and governed, and go into further detail on how the interoperability of platform elements (such as physical products, design processes, or manufacturing organisations) can be achieved and where and how these reusable elements are accessed, used and updated.

The Rulebook will define common measures and metrics to enable continuous improvement and comparison, while encouraging consistent use of terminology and data structures to support the smooth integration of a diverse supply chain, suitable for the scale and ambition of infrastructure investment.

Whilst referred to as a ‘book’, it is anticipated that the Platform Rulebook will take a variety of forms and serve a number of functions, including the establishment of a digital catalogue of approved kits of parts from which future manufactured buildings can be digitally configured. Crucially, the Rulebook will enable the market to develop and deliver interoperable components and platform solutions to a consistently high standard.

Getting the Rulebook right for industry

As with all elements of the Hub’s transformative programme, the Platform Rulebook is being developed in close partnership with stakeholders across industry and government. To ensure we can shape a resource that is beneficial and robust, it’s essential that we clearly understand the needs and expectations of the users in question. As such, we are currently inviting input from across industry on the development of a draft Platform Rulebook, with a number of workshops and peer reviews planned over the coming months with industry groups.

We are also holding an additional session, open to all interested parties, on Thursday 22 April. This consultation workshop will inform the structure, content, and future governance of the Platform Rulebook, and presents an exciting opportunity to get involved in shaping the Rulebook, which will be the enabling guide for wider adoption and deployment of platform solutions at scale.

Where will the Rulebook take us?

Looking further ahead, the first iteration of the Platform Rulebook will be released in Autumn 2021. We expect this version to flex, evolve and grow as the market matures and our conversations with industry continue. We are committed to testing and improving the usability of the Rulebook through real-life examples, and with support from our partners are informing the development and exploring how the Rulebook works through the design, development and delivery of a proof of concept platform construction system.

As you can see, a considerable journey lies ahead before platforms are considered a norm of construction, but the advancement of the Rulebook represents a fundamental step in this journey to become an accessible and flourishing facet in the growing UK market of sustainable manufacturing solutions. Join us to find out more and be part of its development.

On Thursday 22nd April at 10:30 – 12:00 join the Construction Innovation Hub for a consultation workshop which will help to shape the Platform Rulebook, the next major milestone in the government-backed Platform Design Programme. Please get in touch with Nicola Dunbar (nicola.dunbar@bregroup.com) to find out more and register your interest.

Ben Carlisle is the Global Practice Leader for DfMA at engineering, management and development consultancy Mott MacDonald, and is a programme lead for the Platform Design Programme for the Hub. An experienced chartered engineer, he has worked on major infrastructure projects in the UK, Asia and Australia over the past 15 years.  Ben is a keen proponent of improving the way in which projects and programmes are delivered, particularly through the use of DfMA and the better use of information and technology.