Laing O'Rourke's Steetley Design for Manufacture and Assembly factory debate, Nottingham

15 September, 2015 | 13:00 - 17:00

Laing O'Rourke's Steetley Design for Manufacture and Assembly factory debate, Nottingham

About this event

Explore Industrial Park in Steetley

This £100 million Laing O’Rourke Explore Plant in Steetley, Nottinghamshire opened in March 2010. The precast factory was built to strengthen the company’s offsite manufacturing (aka Design for Manufacture and Assembly, DfMA) capabilities and to support its construction projects across the UK. It contains:

  • a High Speed Carousel System “HSC”,
  • a Bespoke Carousel System “BSC”,
  • a Bespoke Static Production Area,
  • a Batching Plant and Concrete Delivery system, with two huge curing ovens
  • a Reinforcement and Cage Production Area
  • a Product Surface Finishing Area and
  • a model block of flats and house.


Amy Lammie, Business Development and Marketing Assistant, Laing O’Rourke


Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) aims to minimize product cost, through design and process improvements. Fewer parts, modularisation and componentization are ways to achieve this, although usage has been slow to spread in construction and especially infrastructure. It is sometimes seen as a designer/architect issue, or useful, but too expensive to use.

There are not enough good examples being shared or discussed. to prove it is worth being aware of. DfMA chimes with the current BIM agenda and the drive for a more integrated supply chain (i.e. design engagement), and replacing adversarial with collaborative cultures.

This debate was held to elucidate these issues and elaborate on blockers within industry, and to get people talking about this new(ish) process, that seems to tick a lot of boxes but is far from widespread as yet.

In September 2015, the ICE took a party of 40 civil engineers on a tour of the Laing O'Rourke Design for Manufacture and Assembly factory in Steetley, Nottinghamshire. This debate followed the tour.

Debate panel:

  • Zara Lamont, Carillion (Contractor)
  • Jamie Johnston, Bryden Wood (Architect/designer)
  • Mark Enzer, Mott Macdonald (Consultant)
  • Paul Jackson, NG Bailey (Contractor)
  • Dale Evans, Anglian Water (Client)
  • John Roberts, Laing O'Rourke (Consultant/contractor)

See here a video on the DfMA used in constructing the Leadenhall building:

You can also view a shorter version of the debate below:

Insights from the debate

  1. If DfMA concept is so wonderful, why is it not more prevalent?
  2. Who should be leading this?
  3. The construction industry is completely fragmented, and creates something completely bespoke.
  4. If clients
    • hold on to their existing technical specification,
    • aren't prepared to procure differently
    • have a supply chain that does everything in series
    • they limit their opportunity for working better.
  5. Clients need to engage and procure differently
  6. Is lack of imagination (by architects) preventing DfMA?
  7. Architects have given away the cost element/contract management part of their job, divorcing them from the realities involved in their concepts
  8. Level 2 BIM is now a standard taught in Universities
  9. There's a real opportunity for engineering designers, if we can focus design effort on to where bespoke adds value, that's the best use of this time and effort
  10. An integrated delivery process is necessary to get the most out of DfMA
  11. Often in infrastructure nowadays there is not sufficient design time
  12. We need to have confidence in our professional judgement that DfMA can deliver savings, to ensure we push back and allow enough time spent on design.
  13. 'Putting teams together early' is a fundamental enabler.
  14. 13 requires a different approach to procurement.
  15. Traditional procurement, i.e. the in series procuring of all the services required in the design team, means that by the time you've got the team, you are already mostly decided what you're building, and there's very little value anyone could theoretically add.
  16. Where do our leaders believe value comes from?
    • The route to value – View 1: The traditional view of 'the way you get value' is to create a specification first, then go out and source the cheapest price for that specification. Most procurement departments believe this as they've been trained that way.
    • The route to value – View 2: Create a working specification, then, working with the supply chain, create a specification that's even better than the one you have.
  17. Clients may be put off from using Laing O'Rourke's DfMA as they are so singular (with an integrated supply chain) that clients lack the ability to choose from a marketplace of similar suppliers.
  18. As you plan for increasingly large 'lumps' of asset, so the logistics of moving them around becomes more important. Lorries and cranes need to enter into your DfMA thoughts.
  19. How sustainable can the DfMA factory, producing big lumps of concrete that need to be trucked from Workshop to wherever, ever be?
  20. From DfMA work in Anglian Water: Lower carbon came through repeatability. They designed units once, and then drove down the carbon per unit. This counterbalances any carbon cost of haulage.
  21. Carbon saved from base material selection and lean design work are likely to far outweigh any extra carbon cost of the logistics, i.e. to drive a unit from the factory to site.
  22. There is an acceptance that the skills engineers will need in future will be very different to those needed up to now. Logistics will be one of the skillsets increasingly needed. Collaboration and a very broad understanding of a wide range of aspects of construction/the asset will also require upskilling in the industry.
  23. The biggest barrier to change, of any kind, is 'it costs more' and clients aren't prepared to pay more. How to counteract this viewpoint?
  24. From 23: There needs to be an accounting for 'delivering faster'; 'repeatability'; fewer people on site so lower Health and Safety risks; consistent quality, no weather factors slowing productivity, no 8am-6pm restrictions of working time; reduced waste, reduced amount going to landfill, All these add to the value, and need to be summated.
  25. Quantity surveyors do not currently have the savings from DfMA (listed in 24) in their cost models yet. They need to be challenged/cajoled to include these.
  26. We all need to get involved, and challenge standards collectively – The time is right!
  27. We need good leadership in this, and the leaders to show consistency, stability and standardization
  28. We need to rethink cost and value, and understand where real value lies
  29. Skillsets for all engineers will change, to include logistics more predominantly
  30. What should we be called, if not the construction industry?

Follow on thoughts:

"Zara summed up well when she referenced logistics as part of engineering training, whether it be the delivery of often heavy and large items of prefabricated material to sites, the handling of such items at factory and site, transport craneage etc; the requirements for ever faster neater, safer construction in confined city sites, on busy highways and rail lines or at critical transport nodes be they ports, airports, stations or junctions.

"Also whole-life asset management and planning. How long will it be before a court prosecutes a client or engineer for that matter for not making appropriate provision for major maintenance of infrastructure, be it a bridge bearing or a building façade? We can now have working virtual models such that any future worker can rehearse the removal, replacement or repair of a component of infrastructure using the methodologies of the designer.

"Despite being on the cusp of achieving this the industry is slow to embrace and I see no evidence of this philosophy being taught in educational establishments nor driven hard by the Institutions in order to protect the public in future and their members!" From Joe Burns.

"It was striking that a lot of other industry-improvement issues came up - more and more it seems when discussing the problems of the industry there is actually one answer, made up of doing lots of the smaller, good stuff - e.g. project bank accounts, changing procurement rules, early contractor engagement, better inclusive design mining the supply chain for ideas, using collaborative behaviours, understanding client needs, measuring success and creating value against the client's underlying motive, companies needing to take the long term view and invest for success (easier said than done)." From Charles Jensen.