In the UK, construction practice and productivity has evolved at a slow pace in the last 40 years. Houses as a product have been criticised as cost-inefficient and failing to meet the market demand. The UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund launched a Transforming Construction Challenge to accelerate a shift towards manufacturing and digital processes and help address the lack of innovation in the sector.
Through this initiative, Innovate UK funded Project Sirius, a two-year project and multidisciplinary consortium led by Walsall Housing Group (WHG) and made up of Birmingham City University, Energy Systems Catapult, Hadley Group, Northmill Associates, and QM Systems to develop a new platform for the efficient and economical construction of ‘designed for manufacture and assembly’ (DfMA) houses. DfMA houses have their components manufactured in factories using advanced manufacturing systems, the pieces of which are then transported to site for assembly.
The project was created to enhance the manufacturing process of DfMA houses by adopting a ‘kits-of-parts’ approach to minimise rework, waste and risks; to boost automation, precision and quality of the manufacturing process; to adopt best practice for site assembly, onsite storage and transportation; and to deliver design solutions that maximise energy efficiencies across the project’s lifecycle at a minimum whole-life cost.
A team at Birmingham City University provided research and insight, defining the design criteria and the data requirements for the platform based DfMA house, and supported the development of the design solutions. Energy Systems Catapult supported the University’s research with assessment of the energy performance of DfMA house design, undertaking dynamic modelling assessments using their Home Energy Dynamics (HED) tool-kit to calculate the building’s energy and thermal efficiency, building materials, power and heating systems, and occupancy profiles.
HED was used to identify blended improvements to building fabric, heating system and control, to meet elements such as emissions, comfort and running cost requirements without undue stress on the distribution networks. With a whole-home approach to monitoring the energy behaviour of occupants, HED allows analysis of the impacts and interactions between all aspects of the home’s energy use. Energy Systems Catapult then created a modelling report which outlined their findings, including the energy efficiency gains, emission reductions, lowering the electricity demand by integrating solar PV and battery storage, and the most effective combinations of products for the greatest benefits.
The results of the assessment fed into Birmingham City University’s knowledge-based engineering (KBE) tool, which can be used to select optimal building configurations, materials, and energy management strategies to maximise efficiency and minimise costs. The platform enables house design to be more economical to build and faster to construct, meeting Government’s ambitious net zero targets, addressing the housing shortage at hand and overcoming challenges associated with small and restricted spaces.