How a platform approach to design can transform public sector property programmes  

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Chris Sargent


The UK’s public sector is facing the challenge of delivering new buildings and transforming ageing estates to meet the demands of a growing population. A step change in delivery is needed to meet these fast-evolving requirements, and a platform approach, Platform Design for Manufacture and Assembly (P-DfMA) could be the solution that revolutionises existing modern methods of construction (MMC).

Schools, prisons and hospitals across the country, many of which were built over a century ago, are no longer fit for purpose. Ever-increasing demand to meet the UK’s growing population requires the mass delivery, at pace, of new, quality buildings. However, against a backdrop of tight public sector budgets, creative solutions are needed to transform performance in major government projects and programmes.

MMC – a new approach to delivery  

A platform approach is a method of design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA) where building components are designed so that they can be manufactured offsite and easily assembled on location.  

Platform design (P-DfMA) goes one step further and focuses on the interoperability of components between projects and sectors. It aims to unify the supply chain so identical components can be produced, regardless of the factory or supplier they come from and arrive ready to be assembled in a new hospital, a new school, or both.

The use of P-DfMA has been limited so far. However, when used effectively it has been shown to be low-waste and low-labour, as well as higher quality, more efficient and more sustainable than other MMCs. 

The potential of a platform approach to transform public sector delivery is much greater than has been realised, and, if adopted across major government programmes like the New Hospitals Programme, the opportunity for efficiency is huge, without compromising on quality, speed or value. 

Progress through platforms  

A drawback to this approach is the current lack of standardisation. As cross-project consistency is rare, the potential for maximising efficiencies is limited, and with little pressure on suppliers to standardise components, projects can be vulnerable to risks such supplier insolvencies. 

A platform approach tackles this by embracing wider standardisation, consistency and interoperability – starting from the initial design and procurement stages through to final assembly.  Through a platform approach, identical components, such as partition walls to façade systems and precast concrete foundation beams, can be used in multiple ways within the same development – including in buildings from clinic to a school or courthouses. 

By working with multiple suppliers who manufacture components to the same specification, the approach can also be scaled beyond individual elements and to whole sections of buildings. For example, the administrative sections of schools, prisons and hospitals serve similar purposes, so can easily share a fundamental design.  

In addition, if components can be replicated by multiple suppliers, removing the reliance on single source MMC specialist products, developers will have greater choice, while helping to build resilience against insolvencies that have the potential to derail a project.  

The natural production efficiencies of a platform model also act as a safeguard against rising prices, as multiple suppliers of identical components will compete to show value and quality to win contracts. 

Major government initiatives, such as the New Hospitals Programme are embracing P-DfMA models. The New Hospitals Programme has been set up from the outset with a mandate to use MMC and a centralised approach to contracting to improve efficiency, quality and standardisation in hospital construction. 

The challenge of implementation 

Embedding P-DfMA more widely could streamline the public sector’s ambition to transform or construct hundreds of buildings across the country. However, there remains a number of challenges to the introduction of a platform approach for major programmes – from how design must change to accommodate building supplier capacity, to ensuring government commitment for a secure pipeline of work. 

The major mindset shift starts with changing the approach to design and early engagement.  

A designer for a platform-enabled building will need to know the standard elements they are working from and collaborate across projects to ensure compatibility. Digital tools are helping to make this achievable, with detailed digital twins that can be shared and collaborated on more easily to design buildings fit for a platform approach. 

Collaboration and engagement across the delivery ecosystem is required to be built into the earliest stages of the industrialisation process. This not only ensures that the final product will work, but it also allows clients to query fees, explore their options and, eventually, choose the best supplier or suppliers for their needs.  

Manufacturers must be brought into conversation early to check that designs are fit for purpose and realistic within the client’s specified timelines and budgets. Suppliers must also work together closely throughout programmes to ensure that plans remain on track, and that no single product threatens to delay the project.  
The final component is the role of government itself. The sector needs sponsorship and consistent commitment from across the public sector to support this new way of working. To be an achievable model, businesses and the supply chain need to know that a satisfactory, steady and dedicated pipeline of work is secured for P-DfMA product to justify investing in new the process, training and machinery needed.  

If the public sector wants to deliver the next generation of major programmes efficiently, it needs to set out a clear timetable and commitment to the model that will enable the sector to scale up and retool as appropriate. The Construction Playbook and the MMC objectives behind the New Hospitals Programme have been significant steps in the right direction. However, there are still challenges to implementation.  

Transforming the future of public property portfolios 

If the challenge around implementing platform approaches for major programmes are tackled head on, it is possible to create a new pool of MMC suppliers, resulting in a smoother and faster construction process, that also better serves the community.  

Ultimately, P-DfMA has the potential to transform how designers think and plan, drive collaboration, and revolutionise delivery and efficiency of major real estate programmes.

For further information contact:

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Chris Sargent

t: +44 (0)114 272 9025