A return to Design to Value in the digital age

‘Design to Value’ is a well-recognised phrase in manufacturing but has almost never been applied to infrastructure; and that’s surprising, as the true function of space is central to design and architecture. John Dyson explores the concepts.

UK Construction Builders Stock Image
Somehow, the connection between architect and client has been broken.

Traditionally, the architect would have been involved from an early point, clarifying the customer’s needs. A factory project, let’s say, would have meant understanding not just the manufacturing process, but the business as a whole.

Future adaptability, supply chain and so many other factors would have to be carefully considered, with the aim of grasping a business opportunity through design, rather than delivering an asset of a certain spec.

The distancing of architect and customer

Somehow, the connection between architect and client was broken. The sheer size of projects and the size of the endeavour in the built environment can drown out underlying value.

All too often, solutions are compromised and opportunities are missed. The architect (particularly on large-scale projects) has been distanced from the true customer, and responsibility for design now rests with many different organisations and project teams.

Contrast that with the integration of the supply chain in manufacturing organisations.

This article first appeared in the March issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here

A resurgence of the traditional methodology

Today, with data analysis, expert systems and artificial intelligence, the traditional approach to architecture can be reinvented in a more powerful form. It delivers far more than just financial value.

Metrics such as capital cost and return on investment don’t define how well an asset functions and fits with the rest of an operation. Whether it’s the flow through a factory, or interactions in an office, there’s more to it than that.

Design values such as aesthetics, efficiency, adaptability and working environment are all important. So are the social values of environmental impact, democratisation, accessibility and the meeting of needs.

And let’s not overlook the value from doing – of engaging in the building of something – and the education, collaboration and capabilities that all of those things provide.

The power to visualise data

Design to Value - A digital twins is a computerised versions of a physical asset, data from sensors in the real world can be inputted in to the twin to create simulations - image courtesy of APS
Digital modelling makes it possible to experience the finished asset, make changes, and assess the effects – image courtesy of APS.

The balance of value that’s right for one client will be very different for another. As in manufacturing, digital modelling makes it possible to experience the finished asset, make changes, and assess the effects.

Modifications can then be evaluated, and more improvements made in an iterative process that puts the people who matter back at the centre of the process. In the same way, operational and supply chain performance can be modelled.

So, whether it’s the speed of a production line or the number of vehicles passing down a road, the proposed solution can be clearly visualised, understood and improved.

AI frees people to be creative

Artificial intelligence also has a huge role to play. Currently, repetitive, time-consuming tasks in architectural drafting and documentation absorb fees without offering corresponding value.

Computers can perform these tasks, freeing human designers to use creativity and explore more solutions. AI can also increase value by resolving complexity. A case study published by WeWork, outlines how machine learning predicted meeting room utilisation around 40% more accurately than human designers.

It can also optimise the design of components, reducing waste and improving performance, iteration by iteration.

How construction is becoming like manufacturing

These digital tools and workflows can drive a new kind of construction that’s a lot like manufacturing. Standardised sets, or ‘platforms’, of interoperable components with common interfaces can create multiple building types.

So, a single platform could construct anything from a school to a hospital. With that comes high, ongoing demand for a limited set of components that can be efficiently manufactured by a diverse range of SMEs.

Data is elemental to this approach, and so too are many of the projects that Bryden Wood undertake, as the following examples demonstrate:

Finding the true value chain for an African bottled water facility

An enterprise looking to expand their African market through investment in a new facility could not make the business case work. The hunch was to simply build the factory for less, and this could have been done – initial capital investment was reduced by 30% through systemisation and digital design.

However, when we applied an integrated model of process, supply chain and market data, the true issue was exposed, namely a critical link between price-points and regional energy costs was discovered.

Bottled water used to fill excess capacity in the earlier years would lose money.

Reducing risk in a pharmaceutical facility investment

In vaccine and biological industries, investment risks in a new facility are particularly high due to unpredictable development, yield and sales. So, it’s especially challenging to accurately predict the capacity needed.

That’s why we undertook a design study using sophisticated statistical models. Then, through digital decomposition of the building and process, the opportunity to add future capacity rapidly was incorporated into the design.

At the same time, core process building was separated from support, reducing time and cost to market, and mitigating risks in late development. Together, these data-led design approaches vastly reduced time, cost and risk while increasing the NPV (net present value) by millions.

Optimising design for Highways England

Motorway redevelopment is a vital but costly way to increase road capacity. A study we undertook with Highways England, on the systemisation and productionisation of roadside equipment construction, yielded data modelling of motorways and parametric design – the Rapid Engineering Model.

Using data from multiple sources, such as geo-spatial environmental and digital topography, and linking it with design constraints, gave the optimal design for each motorway section while reducing design time from months to weeks. The design models also offer the opportunity to virtually ‘drive’ each motorway stretch and experience any aspect of the design.

Whether it’s architecture or manufacturing, the pursuit of value through design will clearly increase the benefit of any endeavour. And when you combine that approach with data modelling, the value increases exponentially.

John Dyson is Professor of Human Enterprise at the University of Birmingham and business partner to Bryden Wood