AMRC Factory 2050 Tour

The Offsite Manufacturing & Technology Theme Group visited Factory 2050 at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at Sheffield, to find out how their approach to manufacturing innovation is being applied to the construction sector.  The group were particularly impressed by the AMRC’s approach to industrial digitalization and driving profitability through productivity, in particular the approach to smarter offsite manufacturing.  Factory 2050 focusses on four key technology areas:

  • Robotics and automation
  • Integrated Large Volume Metrology
  • Digital
  • Manufacturing Informatics

Allan Griffin, Head of Construction at the Centre provided a really warm welcome for the delegates.  A copy of Allan’s presentation can be downloaded here.  The group were then given an excellent tour of the facility where some fantastic examples of where advanced technology can and are being applied.

Key points from the discussion included:

Where is innovation coming from? The AMRC is mainly focussed on horizontal innovation from other sectors, within the construction sector the challenges are coming from new entrants and trailblazers, not necessarily from the traditional sector.

Parallels with automotive We often compare construction to automotive, however further down the supply chain there are small family run businesses who have been operating in a particular way for many years, just like within construction.

Big improvements are achievable The AMRC believe that the scale of the challenge in construction means that big productivity improvements can be achieved.  For example, savings of 50% are realistic as opposed to smaller incremental gains of 5% in automotive.

Virtual and Augmented Reality The creation of digital twins can bring real benefits, it prevents the use of physical prototypes, enables supply chains to get involved early in the design process enabling product suppliers and specialists to be much more involved in the design process.  Using data from digital operations should be used to inform future designs and look at opportunities to improve process and performance.

When to automate? We always look to automation and robotics as a silver bullet for productivity.  However the experts believe that automation only works on repetitive processes  and that construction will require a range of processes.

Change the process Participants were struck by how low-tech the manufacturing processes are in the majority of the offsite industry, essentially the offsite processes are no different to onsite processes.  Technology doesn’t need to replicate existing approaches there is a real opportunity to re-design existing solutions and approaches to be more productive.

Influence planning system Problems with planning restrictions etc. force unhelpful and uneconomic decisions e.g. insistence on brick appearance, replicating pitched roofs, not flat roofs.  Need to influence planners to think slightly differently.

Leadership needs to filter down The AMRC reported that Construction-sector CEOs very much up for embracing new technologies, but sometimes it fails at the next tier down who are focussed on today’s challenges.

Learning from Denmark

Andrew Gamblen from Willmott Dixon reported on a learning visit they had made to Denmark to see understand more about the approach to digital and BIM.  They specifically visited the Aalbourg Hospital project, one of a number of repeatable hospital projects being rolled out across Denmark.  They were particularly impressed with how the 3d model, whilst not a contractual document, is used throughout the project. This included mobile on-site BIM Kiosks for  contractors to consult the 3d model.  They reported that the Danish supply chain is about 3-4 years ahead of the UK in their approach to digital.

BPS standard

Dr Mike Perry of BRE Group gave a brief presentation on Quality, the forthcoming BRE Product Standard 7014 (BPS 7014) and linked certification scheme, which have a target launch date of September 2018, and complementary operation with BOPAS accreditation.  There will be further opportunities for the group to get involved with this standard.

Insurers view

Marcus Saunders from Stackhouse Poland provided an insurers’ view on Offsite.  Marcus reported that insurers see the potential of Offsite to overcome issues around project delays and quality as well as issues around risk management.  We are looking at bringing together the insurance sector specifically to discuss offsite.

The next meeting will take place in July.  Potential future topics include Procuring for Offsite and Driving Quality through Offsite.

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