Configuration of modularised building systems

Abstract: Swedish building industry is mainly project-oriented where the design process is sequential involving various disciplines separated both in time and space. During the last decades the industry has been criticised and accused of having problems with quality and low productivity. One cause is believed to be deficiencies in information transfer between different functional teams in the project organisation. A more product-oriented approach has been proposed by some as one solution that can improve quality and productivity. Several construction companies have started to develop platforms consisting of standardized technical solutions and processes that can be adapted and used in specific projects. However, the current practice of involved disciplines need to adapt to new methods and processes and the question is; Is it possible to apply principles based on mass customisation in the one-of-a kind project dominated construction industry?In the shift to mass customization, the manufacturing industry is developing product platforms from which customized products can be configured in a so called configuration process. A product platform in the manufacturing industry consists of modules that can be combined into customized products using a configuration system. Modularization is the method used to organize the components of a product family with the aim to simplify and minimize the number of component variants to improve customization without compromising the productivity of the manufacturing process. Erixon (1998) defines modularization as; "Decomposition of a product into building blocks (modules) with specified interfaces, driven by company specific reasons". The aim of the thesis is to study and propose solutions of the integration between architectural design, engineering and production using mass customisation principles without changing the traditional structure of the AEC industry. The author's background as practising structural design engineer in an AEC consultancy company has made it possible to study, propose and apply methods in two real-life industrial cases and in one development project of a building system for multi-storey wooden houses. The research performed mainly relies on qualitative research methods combined with action research. The result of the thesis is a configuration demonstration, in which four product views been identified; the customer, the engineering, the production and the assembly view. Constraints and rules of the building system is transferred upstream while design information is transferred downstream the value chain using design automation and design guides embedded in the different disciplines CAD applications. The process has been illustrated for a cut-to-fit configurable wooden slab module in which a design guide is used in the architect tool transferring dimensional information via XML to the knowledge based engineering tool where the detailed design is automated. The result, including shop floor drawings, bill of quantities and CNC files is then used in the prefabrication of the customized floor slab module. The knowledge based engineering tool used in the demonstration is a product configurator integrated into a 3D CAD system mainly used in the mechanical industry. To implement configuration processes in the construction industry it is evident that constraints and rules of the building system needs to be transferred upstream to disciplines working early in the specification process. Otherwise the risk is high that "ad-hoc" solutions violating the rules of the building system will be transferred downstream to engineering and production causing quality issues and lower productivity as a result. Implementing configuration processes will also require new business models. AEC consultants with competence in engineering and advanced design tools can develop new modularised building systems and configuration tools rather than selling engineering hours in design of specific buildings. This can also foster the development of more open and flexible building systems on the market.