Current AEC software is, for the most part, developed around traditional methods of design, construction and delivery. In 2023, we are struggling against our own and our client’s aspirations to deliver a design using modern methods of construction (MMC) or Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) approaches.
Construction approaches have evolved in the last 5-10 years. A myriad of construction efficiencies, site planning, communication, quality control and safety initiatives have enabled MMC approaches such as offsite and modular approaches to delivering construction. The volumes achievable through safe and high build quality 'factory' construction are an inevitable, unstoppable, and increasing requirement that our design tools simply do not align with out of the box.
We are more collaborative with our constructors and suppliers than ever before, and that relationship will only get closer. Through earlier appointments of contractors, collaborative contracts, pre-construction services agreements (PCSA) or simply earlier tendering of construction packages, we need better ways to incorporate construction levels of details and exchange of information with project partners.
Today we are limited as our tools cannot interface with construction and manufacturing levels of detail in design models, and so those models are often rebuilt from scratch upon handover. We are often unable to coordinate within design tools between our concepts / intent and modular units / components provided by suppliers.
In contrast, we see that the early-stage feasibility software sector is competitive, with various new products brought to market in the last few years. This is a small piece of the AEC pie. Yet, all of them are not fit for purpose in the absence of integrated modular/DFMA intelligence we need to design buildings at early stages. As such, we continue to walk towards unbuildable, unprofitable design proposals for modular/prefabricated buildings that strain suppliers and constructors—mostly wasting significant amounts of time and energy.
Software that enables DfMA and MMC approaches
To enable MMC and DfMA through our software, we require tools that meet criteria across design, construction and delivery:
The next generation of the design tools must be flexible enough to support modern methods of construction and an evolving construction pipeline.
DfMA and MMC approaches, such as volumetric design and kits of parts, are developed by rules. Software should understand this and facilitate rules-based design. Real time design and system validation, optimisation and coordination are essential in these tools.
These future platforms should manage scale, repetition and complexity; the hallmarks of DfMA. Collaboration with fabricators and contractors should not require reworking of models to increase the level of detailing.
Construction and Delivery
Future AEC tools should enable design teams and contractors to work together in the same environment, drawing upon intelligence and input from both to produce a true DfMA process.
For this, these tools should understand modern methods of construction by default. Whether it be a modular kitchen, pod bathroom or apartment building by modules, design tools must support fabrication levels of detail across an entire building and incorporate construction intelligence.
This is possible. Game engines can support high levels of detail, and industry and software developers have built configurators of industrialised construction systems, aware of how products can be applied to designs based on the parameters and production logic as defined by the manufacturers themselves. This isn't easily accessible within our current design software, but it could be closed through the 'Data framework’.
We are also aware that methods of construction and delivery are going to be constantly evolving to stay “modern”. Our tool ecosystem needs to do the same by continuously staying relevant and in touch with the actual work of industry.
Future tools should allow project teams to define key design parameters and constraints for compliance, regulatory assessment and design qualification. These are not necessarily set values, but an ability within the data framework to set parameters.