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An education in construction

John Edwards | 22 Feb 2016 | Comments

There’s no doubt that for the idea of the Northern Powerhouse to become a reality we need better infrastructure in the North, and we need it fast. But how do we build the schools, houses, hospitals, rail stations and other buildings we need across the region quicker and cheaper, without sacrificing quality?

For me, the answer is simple. We use Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA). If you look at the education sector, they had (and still do have) a similar problem – a lack of infrastructure meant students in some areas were being left behind. So they addressed it by using standardised design and offsite construction to build schools more efficiently.

The collaboration of Laing O’Rourke and Atkins on the Yorkshire PF2 schools project combines Laing O’Rourke’s Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) capability with Atkins’ design and technical expertise on large build programmes to deliver high quality buildings and infrastructure quickly and efficiently. This partnership shows the need for engineering companies and contractors to work together to deliver the Northern Powerhouse, with early collaboration with all stakeholders to balance the interests between creating an inspiring environment, while maximising the capital investment.
The DfMA approach we’ve taken in schools is based on smart, predefined assemblies that can form any number of arrangements and layouts. Combining these with other pre-assembled components, such as façade panels and stairs, forms a unique building that reflects its end users’ specific needs, as well as its local environment and context.

Once the designs are completed, the specifications for the pre-assembled components are fed directly to Laing O’Rourke’s manufacturing facilities where both standardised, structural and modular components are manufactured in a controlled factory environment. This assures much higher quality, greater design integrity and more reliable and resource efficient delivery than traditional construction.

The social, environment and economic benefits of DfMA that we’ve seen in the education sector equally apply to building the Northern Powerhouse:

  • Safer, cleaner delivery with improved health and safety performance on site and a safer, operational asset over its lifetime
  • Higher quality construction with guaranteed quality assurance levels achieved on the end-product
  • Speed – innovative construction projects delivered faster than traditional construction, enabling an earlier return on investment
  • Earlier adoption of the latest innovations, fully tested and approved prior to commissioning
  • Greater sustainability through advantages in thermal and environmental performance, lower operational maintenance costs and less waste generation in the construction phase
  • Less waste and greater onsite recycling of materials delivers a ‘greener’ construction outcome
  • Greater efficiency in site logistics with fewer vehicle movements reducing disruption to the surrounding communities
  • State-of-the-art manufacturing facilities adopting lean automation processes utilising the latest technologies, providing the necessary scale and capacity to meet all project demands.

Meeting the needs of the education sector so effectively has helped Atkins and Laing O’Rourke become a leader in the field of school design and construction, delivering creative and attractive learning environments that are cost-effective to build and run.

Schools have a vital role to play in building the Northern Powerhouse, ensuring the region’s young people have the qualifications, skills and attitudes to take advantage of this economic and political vision. This includes catching up with the national rate for early years attainment, closing the gap in GCSE attainment and meeting the projected 2.4 million person demand for level 3 qualified workers by 2020.

As I said in my previous article ‘Mind the Gap’, the success of the Northern Powerhouse needs to start with schools. And in some ways, maybe it needs to end with schools, with learning taken not only from the bright young minds of the North, but from the innovative construction methods that could help build Northern infrastructure quicker and better.