Raj Kotecha Explains How Collaboration & Off-site Construction Can Deliver Landmark Projects


Raj Kotecha, Engineering Project Leader for Laing O’Rourke, explains how collaboration & off-site construction can deliver landmark projects.

Whether referred to as ‘design for manufacture and assembly’, ‘off-site construction’ or ‘industrialised building systems’, these methods are possible panaceas addressing safety, productivity, quality, cost certainty and sustainability in construction. However, implementation of these techniques depends on collaborative working across the industry.

Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) is a proactive and concurrent design and engineering process that focuses on meeting customer requirements while balancing cost, quality and performance. In this approach, components are manufactured and preassembled in a controlled environment, prior to delivery to a construction site for installation. Unsurprisingly the best results occur when DfMA is used in the conceptual stage. Giving cross-functional teams, comprised of clients, designer and suppliers, the opportunities to optimise the design for reducing waste and achieving efficiencies, i.e. reduction in labour, build programme, carbon footprint and accident frequency.

During my time with Laing O’Rourke I have witnessed a significant shift in how buildings and infrastructure are procured and delivered. Negotiated opportunities, early contractor involvement and relationships with knowledgeable clients and consultants have helped us implement cutting edge technology and develop the latest in construction innovation. Having an off-site construction delivery partner alongside client design teams at concept stage aligns the design process with the client’s budget, unlocking significant opportunities to de-risk the project through efficiencies in not only design but also in manufacture and construction, and delivers better whole lifecycle performance. I believe this is the opportunity of a lifetime to change the image of our industry by collaborating early and building long term, value-based relationships built on trust.

In the past we have been able to; offer increased net saleable area through rationalisation of the structure, interrogate codes of practice to decrease the volume of reinforcement required in precast components and standardise components to decrease the number and variation of elements leading to less design and installation time. All of this happened when the design was developing from RIBA Stage 2 to 4, eliminating the abortive works that would have resulted if these changes were made at late RIBA Stage 3 or early Stage 4, which is when most traditionally tendered contracts are awarded to contractors. Moreover, having detailed design plans we have been able to build assets virtually using Digital Engineering and BIM and plan logistics to ensure programme surety.

Overall, early knowledge of the constraints and boundaries within which off-site construction must operate allows design teams to align the structural, MEP and architectural offering with current manufacturing capabilities. Furthermore, if a new technology or innovation is being considered all stakeholders would have the opportunity to carry out robust technical due diligence to identify and negate any unforeseen secondary effects. This not only provides the client with programme, cost and quality surety, it is also the only way to plant innovation on projects and showcase its capabilities and in so doing change the image of an industry.

The uptake of DfMA will undoubtedly grow, however we need to form better collaborative partnerships between contractors, supply chain, design partners and clients. Through collaboration with main contractors the design partners need to understand the mechanics of off-site construction and build this into concept stage design, contractors must then do more to communicate the value proposition of off-site manufacture. Finally clients need to articulate succinct output requirements and openly share affordability criteria and budgets. The whole team must then invest more time in front end design and planning such that construction methodology, logistics and test plans are well established and coordinated in Digital engineering models prior to getting to site.

The face of construction is changing and I genuinely believe that the construction professional of the future will not only work in collaborative multidisciplinary teams but will also be well versed in lean manufacturing, just-in-time delivery planning and engage in continuous process improvement. This will, in my view, help deliver the step change in the diversity of our industry, which is absolutely critical to developing the next generation of talent needed to deliver landmark projects. DfMA engenders wider appeal by offering fixed workplaces, more flexible working, technical skills development and the opportunity to be at the forefront of innovation – transforming the industry as an attractive and rewarding career choice for the very best and brightest people.