Future of Building: Design for Manufacture and Assembly

January 6, 2021News

We are experiencing a building revolution. With rapidly evolving priorities for what a building should provide its occupants, manufacturers, developers, engineers and architects are looking for ways to efficiently provide people with consciously constructed, beautiful spaces, without experiencing increased costs.

One practice that has emerged as beneficial to every level of the building process is Design for Manufacture and Assembly.

What is Design for Manufacture and Assembly?

Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) is a building approach in which a structure’s kit of parts is designed in partnership with a project’s engineer and architect, and then prefabricated off-site. This approach means looking holistically at a project in its early phases in order to design the appropriate manufacturing and assembly processes that will meet the functional goals of the structure that is being built – be it a school, a tall wood office, or a midrise condo project. By prioritizing the ease of manufacturing for the project’s parts, and simplifying its final assembly, a project can be built faster, better, and at a lower in-place cost.

How it works: The essence of DfMA is that it delivers a more cost-competitive and high-quality building. Simply put: more value at a lower cost. The process starts with Structurlam’s Mass Timber Specialist, who plays the role of ‘orchestrator’. Working closely with the project design team, a very collaborative approach is established in the early stages of the project design.

There are two key elements of DfMA that make it a better building choice:

1.) Optimization of construction schedules, thereby lowering costs. Each project will have a unique balance of Design for Manufacture and Design for Assembly. While the primary project stakeholder will determine what is most important to each design, Structurlam and the larger project team will collaborate on the best system to implement based on the agreed-upon balance of gains in manufacturing efficiency (which lowers product costs) and ease of assembly (which lowers jobsite costs).

Design for Manufacture

Design for Manufacture allows Structurlam to consider steel connections and fabrication, tooling capabilities, and wood design considerations. It also allows for the consideration of scheduling. Overall, this benefits both the project team and the manufacturer.

Design for Assembly

Not only is it easier and faster to manufacture construction components in a controlled offsite facility but, by bringing Structurlam into the early phases of a building project, parts can be manufactured in collaboration with the project architects and engineers. As a result, parts are manufactured to optimize the construction process by ensuring the ease of component connect-ability and accounting for onsite issues such as tolerances and compatibility, which can improve building precision. Additionally, Design for Assembly benefits the mass timber installer by optimizing the construction sequence, streamlining product precision and fit, and taking into account installer work practices for safety and risk.

A fully realized kit of parts is easy to assemble on a jobsite, thereby decreasing onsite installation time. One example is Brock Commons, an 18-storey residential building that was installed in approximately 9 weeks.

2.) It minimizes process waste. There’s a growing awareness of the business benefits of offsite construction and streamlined installation (i.e. time and cost savings). But beyond that, DfMA also helps to minimize manufacturing and onsite material waste. This has become increasingly important to builders as residential and commercial space buyers voice rising concerns around climate change and the impact their decisions and dollars have on the environment.

The Structurlam Advantage: More important than ever

Whether applied to a project that’s breaking ground today, or in a post-pandemic world, DfMA is a valuable approach to building construction that prioritizes time and cost savings, as well as the health and safety of all involved. However, it is an in-depth process that demands the collaboration of a full team to look comprehensively at a project and work with a number of stakeholders. At Structurlam, with nearly 60 years’ experience as fabricators of complex GlulamPLUS and CrossLam CLT mass timber building components, the care that we have for this process is what gives us our advantage. Our team of experts take pride in every step of a project, supporting the project team’s needs from preliminary consultation and design, through to manufacturing, shipment, and installation.

Design for Manufacture and Assembly will be an important method of building in the future and will be made even better when considered alongside mass timber. From a broader perspective, there’s a need for more sustainable, health-oriented spaces as people reconsider what they want to get out of the places they live, work and play. Celebrated as a more sustainable alternative to concrete or steel, mass timber is a proven and impactful solution that effectively champions biophilic design and easily fits into a DfMA model.