We all know the scene: there’s a lane closed for works, and every week as you drive past it seems that there’s been only a small amount of progress. This is partly a reflection of how road schemes have traditionally been delivered. Most of the work happens within a constrained environment and to a set sequence on the highway. Each step in the sequence must be completed before the next can begin, and the disruption to road users lasts as long as the whole sequence takes.
The traditional approach to delivery has other downsides too. It results in solutions that vary from scheme to scheme, missing out on the potential to benefit from implementing at scale. Furthermore, the supply chain typically doesn’t become involved until after the design stage is significantly progressed, or even complete – when it’s often too late to incorporate key knowledge and ideas, or an inefficient cycle of ‘value engineering’ and pressured redesign takes place.
Modern Methods of Construction and Digital
By combining modern methods of construction with a systems thinking approach, we can address these downsides. Through early supply chain engagement, digital delivery and off-site manufacturing, project outcomes can improve realising improvements in productivity, cost, carbon, quality, safety and more. The UK Government’s Construction Playbook emphasises the many advantages large schemes can gain by identifying at an early stage and making the most of opportunities for using modern methods of construction.
Digital complements this approach. When designing in a fully 3D environment, you can automate processes and outputs across schemes. So, for example, instead of different schemes using different – but all perfectly compliant – layouts, the solution and configuration can be standardised and automated, enabling consistency across the road network. By standardising the components and assemblies that are repeatably used, delivery teams can focus more effort on the specifics that make their project unique. Furthermore, this consistency benefits the construction and maintenance phases and enables key learning to be captured and acted upon in a much more agile manner.
With the supply chain integrated into a digital design process, developing standardised components and assemblies, these can be manufactured and pre-assembled away from the highway, realising the benefits that a controlled factory environment provides, whilst not disrupting the public.
This facility could be on-site, near the works but not actually on the highway, providing agility across a portfolio of projects. An example of this would be extending a site compound to assemble prefabricated elements that can then be lifted into place on the highway whilst other activities are progressing.
Facilities could also be off-site, in warehouses, client or supplier locations. A process such as the fit-out and testing of electrical cabinets, for example, could happen in such an off-site facility.
With suppliers on board and standardised digital designs available, you can weigh up factors such as the demand for different products across schemes and the location of schemes and different suppliers to identify the optimum location for assembly facilities.
More efficient, safer and less disruptive
With more of the work happening away from the highway, you can carry out activities in parallel and reduce the programme. This reduces costs and disruption to road users, and enables project benefits to be realised sooner. It also means fewer people working on the highway. Instead, it creates high-skilled jobs in safer manufacturing environments.
How much difference does this really make? At the SMP Alliance, we’re targeting 20% efficiency and 25% carbon reduction in our delivery. Standardising what we build and how we build it is a vital part of this.