• Mike Eggers

DfMA 101

We’ve talked at length about the need for change in both practice and mindset to enable the construction industry at large to address the global building challenge. We know we need to embrace a technology platform and a kit of parts, along with automation, as a replacement to the “old” way of building.

As if the list of things needed to truly transform a construction company into an Industrialized Construction organization wasn’t already long enough, we must add the concept of integrating a “Designing for Manufacture and Assembly”, or DfMA, mindset into your business.

Historically, designers worried about the intent of the design – what problem needs to be solved. Today, we worry about whether something can be built. But what we need to be talking about is how it will be built. With an IC approach, the concept of creating a design must also include communication with other stakeholders down the line, like manufacturing, about how that design will be built, how it will be installed and how it will be maintained over time.

At one level, the concept is relatively simple – reduce the number of parts required and simplify methods of installation and you’ll cut time and cost. In practice, it’s a little more complex. In fact, it requires a lifetime of continuous feedback and improvement. It’s optimizing every design for the fabrication process, for installation and ongoing maintenance over the life of the building. It’s injecting fabrication and maintenance expertise into the design process itself.

DfMA is truly a quantitative method of assessing a design, and not just by designers themselves. It can be used as a communication tool with other engineering disciplines, as well as other departments, like manufacturing and sales and marketing.

When there is greater opportunity for these groups to provide input during the engineering phase of your project, you have created a way to attack hidden waste areas before you even commit to a design. And that will positively impact the bottom line. #DfMA

An interesting example of thinking about the impact of design on manufacturing and assembly is reflected in a current project underway in the UK. As Crossrail Ltd. works to finalize 26 miles of new, underground subway track across London, one of their partner companies was responsible for the massive panels that line the tunnel. The panels met the needs outlined in their plan and were installed accordingly. But then those same panels needed to be removed for maintenance work behind the walls. What worked in design, and even essentially in installation, was a major problem when it came to maintenance.

Moving the heavy, massive panels required large pieces of special equipment and many hours of labor. Tunnels needed to be shut down for a full day, or longer if unforeseen problems arose. Tasks, expected to be simple fixes, took all day long.

By simply reducing the weight of each panel, down to a component that could be removed by one person, the eight-hour process became a thirty-minute process. While the fix clearly solved the problem, what if the problem had reared its head in the design process, rather than after installation?

Part of the DfMA concept is learning from each challenge or failure and going back to the design process to refine that initial step, continuously using feedback to modify the process.

The payoffs are big, but there’s an even greater impact on the companies that adopt this model. As you continue to refine the design/build process, you begin to build your own Intellectual Property (IP), adding perceived value, and competitive boost to your work.

The Numbers

Did you know that simple fasteners typically represent just five percent of BOM cost, but contribute a staggering 70 percent to the labor cost? Clearly, reducing the number of parts and the complexity, and the number of steps for assembly or installation reduces your overall cost. Fewer parts mean less time for design, documentation, and revision, a lower BOM and fewer parts to receive, inspect, store and handle. Less complex parts take less labor and energy to build. And all that means your outcome is a high-quality product that gets to your customer much faster, giving you a competitive advantage.

That’s not the only benefit – shifting assembly from on-site to in the factory is less expensive from a manpower perspective. Trade wages can be $100 per hour on a job site, while a factory worker costs top out around $30 per hour. Add to that the amount of space at a site – by shifting production and assembly to a factory setting allows site-specific work to be done in tandem.

According to buildoffsite, an international membership organization, “DFMA takes a number of forms, but the common factor is the application of factory (or factory-like) conditions to construction projects. This is critical for many reasons including:

  • Health and safety: factory conditions are 80 percent safer than site conditions

  • Cost: site labor is approximately 2.2 times more expensive than factory-based labor

  • Productivity: factory productivity reaches 80 percent compared with 40 percent for a typical site

  • Sustainability: waste is reduced to just two or three percent in efficient factories and almost all can be recycled.”

DfMA in Industrialized Construction

In the Industrialized Construction world, using a DfMA approach to business allows you to constantly evolve your kit of parts, making each component more efficient, less costly and easier to assemble, install and maintain. And, as you continue to improve your DfMA, the value of your kit of part content grows. DfMA enables a higher quality product at a lower cost and in less time.

Mike Eggers, VP, Product & Innovation

Mike is a licensed architect in the state of California with over 15 years of experience with highly detailed and complex construction projects. His expertise in program management and product development, along with deploying integrated hardware, software and operations solutions at scale. Mike has a passion for solving architectural problems with an emphasis on scalability and repeatability of design. Follow Mike on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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