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November 17, 2017

Why geometry is more important to offsite construction than data

In the 12 months since release in the UK of the Farmer Review, Modernise or Die, the perception has grown that offsite construction is where the industry is moving. However, if you discuss this with many contractors, offsite is only considered as an option when a tight schedule or other constraints make it necessary, so it is often seen as an afterthought.

Some contractors, such as Laing O’Rourke, have gone ‘all in’ on an offsite strategy, placing it at the front and centre of their thinking, building their own factory at Steetley and encouraging early engagement with clients and designers to look at how to build differently. It’s an approach that has been questioned by many in the industry over the last decade, but is now looking like a shrewd move as government reports endorse offsite, while the rest of the industry catches up.

While benefits can be seen by adopting an offsite strategy at Stage 4, the greatest benefits really occur when consideration for offsite is taken at a much earlier stage and embedded as part of the design process as the recent Digital Built Britain reports from Bryden Wood encourages.

So, if adoption requires design process changes then it seems like a good time to adopt BIM processes. UK standards like PAS1192-2 are largely about improving the flow of information and reducing the chances of working on outdated or incomplete information, essential to ensuring assembly on site is successful.

Much of the discussion around BIM in the UK has been around the importance of data and using standards like COBie. Now while this is very important for a range of tasks like operations and maintenance later in the process, or even procurement earlier in the process, offsite succeeds or fails based on the quality of the geometric design information.

As we move more towards a manufacturing process in building and infrastructure delivery, we need to be much more aware of clash detection, building in tolerances, expansion joints and being more aware of materials and interfaces to maintain quality for the lifecycle of the built asset. Imagine if car manufacturers built their latest models using the same quality design information as construction, and didn’t run the thousands of checks that they do to ensure quality. Would you still feel confident driving them the same way?