Design for Manufacture & Assembly (DfMA): Manufacturing Process to Improve Building Delivery

By Akio
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Building Delivery @buildingSMARTIn @3DSAEC @Dassault3DS

Richard Kelly, Operations Director for buildingSMART International

Richard Kelly, Operations Director for buildingSMART International

We interviewed Richard Kelly, Operations Director for buildingSMART International, to get his take on the Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) trend in AEC Industry.

The concept of DfMA was developed in the 1970s as a structured way of making product development more efficient.

Today, however, DfMA is one more manufacturing concept that is transforming the efficiency with which buildings are brought to market.

While it’s not a new concept, it is gaining greater acceptance as new technology allows for improved communication among AEC practitioners.


Review this Slideshare to learn more about buildingSMART’s perspective on BIM & DfMA:

buildingSMART - BIM and DfMA Slideshare


When applying this concept to the AEC industry, DfMA is about taking a holistic view of a building to determine the best way of making it.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: DfMA takes a holistic view of a building to determine
the best way of making it @buildingSMARTIn @3DSAEC

It has as its goal the efficient production of a high-quality, cost-effective facility that, despite its mass production of certain processes, still provides the variety the client desires.

To understand how this is accomplished, it’s important to understand the two main components of this approach.

Breaking Down the Approach

Design for Manufacturing Assembly refers to the creation of manufacturing processes that are capable of producing a desired product. This is not about creating the highest-quality product — it’s about creating the means to cost-effectively and efficiently create the highest-quality product.

According to Kelly, DfMA aims to create a series of components that can be put together in various ways, thereby providing both efficiency and variety in product creation. It’s a process well-suited for construction because it’s geared toward quickly producing a variety of parts.

In this approach, one might see:

  1. Component sharing, swapping or mixing to make distinctly different products.
  2. Common interfaces that allow different components to easily fit together.
  3. A “cut to length” type modularity where variety can be created by a few different sizes.
  4. A busbar-type of modularity where different components fit into a common framework.

[Adapted from Mass Customization: The New Frontier in Business Competition]

Together, DfMA encourages collaboration among the trades to manage interfaces, eliminate clashes, and more effectively capitalize on innovative offsite practices. DfMA can be made more efficient still when combined with a Lean approach that reduces wasteful practices.

Benefits of a DfMA Approach

Through DfMA, contractors can identify when to take work offsite to put it into a Lean factory environment and how to achieve better flow for the elements that are on site. This leads to various improvements that each contribute to reduced costs and tighter overall scheduling.

Among the benefits are:

  1. More predictable installation. A DfMA approach also looks to eliminate components, since more parts means greater potential for assembly problems. It also requires tolerances among various trades to be agreed upon in the early design stage. Therefore when components do arrive at the job site, they all interface correctly.
  2. Higher quality components. Since much of the project assembly is done in a clean factory environment, the end product can be of higher quality than what’s produced onsite. Also there is opportunity for better quality materials which, as a piece part might be more expensive, but overall the costs are saved through less construction time and reduced lifetime maintenance.
  3. Improved worksite safety. This prefabrication focus means that fewer trades are required onsite, and the site aspects are better illustrated and the workspace is more predictable, which leads to improvements in both safety and logistics.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “DfMA improves predictability, quality & safety
on a construction project” @buildingSMARTIn @3DSAEC

Benefits also carry over to the building’s operation and maintenance, including:

  1. This holistic design approach gives consideration to providing easy-access for maintenance or end-of-life component replacement.
  2. Because the DfMA approach relies on the use of modeling tools it is simple to pass building information on to the owner and operations team. Owners then have at their disposal information guiding decisions on preventive maintenance and predictable insight into the asset’s performance through its life.

The Need for Early DfMA Buy-In

To effectively use a DfMA strategy, all parties must contractually agree to this approach at the onset of the project. Such was the case in the design of Heathrow Airport Terminal 5C, a DfMA project cited by Kelly.

The owner wanted to improve worksite safety, but the DfMA approach demonstrated cost and quality benefits for the terminal construction as well.

Aspects of the facility were designed as a combination of flat-pack and volumetric solutions. Tolerances were taken out of ground level and component parts were made in the factory on an optimized flow line then delivered to the site as needed. The aircraft to terminal nodes were assembled by six onsite workers at a rate of two weeks for each of the 12 stands.

Approximately 33,000 hours of labor were removed from the site.

Overall, the delivery schedule was shortened by 75 percent, which led to approximately £2.5 million ($3.6 million USD) in operational savings.

Factors Preventing DfMA Adoption

Elements of this approach have been used in AEC for decades, but they have not yet been cohesively linked, nor is it routine for each of these elements to be used in the design, build and operation of a facility.

According to buildingSMART, one of the chief elements holding back more widespread adoption of DfMA is the lack of open, shareable data. Numerous companies work on any given project, but without a common platform or data standard (i.e. Industry Foundation Class, IFC) for sharing information, each trade is working in a silo. There is no sharing of tolerances and other data that can improve a project’s assembly and future maintenance.

Forward-thinking designers, contractors and subcontractors — as well as owners who encourage preferred partners to adopt the technology necessary to succeed in a DfMA approach — stand to gain significant benefits.

In addition to reduced schedules and costs, and higher levels of job site safety, the client stands to gain a documented process that describes how to maintain the facility and dispose of it at the end of its life.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: DfMA: Manufacturing Process to Improve Building Delivery @buildingSMARTIn @3DSAEC @Dassault3DS

Related Resources


WHITEPAPER: End-To-End Collaboration Enabled by BIM Level 3: An Architecture, Engineering & Construction Industry Solution Based on Manufacturing Best Practices

WHITEPAPER: Prefabrication and Industrialized Construction

SLIDESHARE: BIM to support DfMA and Lean Construction


Redefining How AEC Can Apply BIM for Digital Design & Construction: A Recap of BIM World 2016

By Akio
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for Digital Design & Construction

Each year, BIM World aims to bring together all of the members of the AEC chain to discuss how BIM tools can improve the processes of individual companies and people in the industry forward as a whole. This year, a number of innovative presentations redefined how BIM can benefit AEC professionals.

Strong attendance at this year’s event, which took place this year in Paris, April 6-7, demonstrated just how much the adoption of BIM tools and technologies has grown in France. The theme of the event, “breaking the innovation code of real estate industry and urban design,” attracted an audience that included software vendors, as well as architects, general contractors and subcontractors.

BIM World expo floor

Dassault Systèmes was on hand with information about all of its product offerings, from the latest versions of CATIA to its 3DEXPERIENCE platform. At the 2016 event, Dassault Systèmes received more than double the number of inquiries compared to last year. Part of that expanded interest could be attributed to presentations given by Dassault representatives and customers.

Presenting Solutions for Big- and Small-Scale Needs

The BIM World presentations featured a unique range of Dassault Systèmes solutions—from the very large to the very small.

On the large end of the spectrum, Alexandre Parilusyan, vice president, Business Transformation, Smart City and Asia Pacific South, Dassault Systèmes, co-presented on the use of 3DEXPERIENCity in constructing a Virtual Singapore, a government-mandated digital initiatives of the existing city.

The goal of this unique project is to create a collaborative platform for city departments and businesses, and a communication platform between the city and its citizens. The digital twin is set to incorporate real-time data from a number of state departments that, through 3DEXPERIENCity, will provide useful updates of activity around the city and the potential impact of any construction or other projects.

The first phase of the project, the 3DEXPERIENCity Platform, is set for completed in 2018.


But solutions from Dassault Systèmes aren’t just for the large scale—a separate presentation proved how these tools can be adapted for designing an apartment.

HomeByMe is a service from 3DVIA that helps consumers create an online 3D home through which they can create, plan and manage any type of home-related project.

This unique B2C solution uses the power of Dassault Systèmes technology to help consumers better visualize their purchases before making an investment. It is a community that is growing in popularity among home builders, kitchen retailers, architects, and consumers around the world.

Digital Solutions Support the Transition to Energy Efficiency

BW16 ENGIE Valentin Gavan (3)\

Valentin Gavan, Ph.D., Building Energy Efficiency Project Manager at ENGIE Lab, presenting First Steps to the Development of a 3D Generic Modeling Platform for Urban Infrastructures.

Beyond using 3D technologies to model the construction and assembly processes, a building’s “behavior” can be modeled to simulate energy usage and optimize building performance. CATIA, powered by the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, offers building energy efficiency analysis capabilities.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: A building’s “behavior” can be modeled to simulate
energy usage, optimize performance | @ENGIEgroup @3DSAEC

Arbodomia Demonstrates How the Smallest Businesses Can Benefit From Digital Design

BW16 Arbodomia (3)

Thierry Albert, CEO of Arbodomia, presented another unique use for BIM:

While the AEC industry has long seen the value of digital engineering for large-scale, highly innovative projects, few small businesses have understood the potentially high return an investment in these tools could earn them. Not so for Arbodomia.

This single-family home builder with a staff of four has not only seen speed and efficiency improvements through its use of CATIA, but also is selling its subcontractors on the benefits.

Albert became familiar with CATIA during his work in the automotive industry, and later applied his digital skills toward industrialization of sailboat manufacturing.

About five years ago he launched Arbodomia to optimize the construction of single-family homes. His specialty is homes that use cross-laminated timber (CLT), an engineered wood solution growing in popularity in northern Europe, as well as the United States and Canada. This prefabricated wood panel is known for being lightweight and quick to install, while offering high thermal, acoustic, fire and carbon storage benefits. These large panels can be cut and prepared in a factory environment and then assembled onsite, making it a perfect fit with the trend toward industrialized construction.

It’s unusual today for such small business owners to put these high-tech tools to use, but Albert sees big benefits through his use of CATIA.

First, using highly accurate digital design tools, Arbodomia is able to produce energy-efficient passive houses. In fact, Albert finds CATIA to be invaluable in this regard because it helps manage the intersections among various trades, where efficiency can be lost.

Second, Arbodomia is able to accommodate design changes late in the game without a significant impact on the overall schedule.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: .@Arbodomia can handle late #design changes
w/out significant sched impact #AEC @Dassault3DS

When working in residential design, the schedule is based upon the whim of the homeowner. But Albert is able to add changes into the design and easily update the entire model to get updates on materials needed, drawings to be generated for the construction permit, etc.

Arbodomia also has been able to generate savings for its subcontractors. The company works primarily in small towns with local family businesses, few of which have sophisticated design tools on hand. But Albert takes subcontractors drawings and integrates them into his 3D mockup while the subcontractor watches.

This 3D run-through becomes a “site preview” that helps the team to identify issues that may arise onsite, and the type of tools necessary to solve any challenges. This process has helped small subcontractors reduce workflow and costs by about 40%.

New Understanding to Lead to New Application of Digital Design

Armed with this new insight that nothing is impossible when armed with the right digital design solutions, this year’s BIM World attendees are prepared to expand their application of these tools.

Next year’s BIM World event is set for March 29-30 in Paris. Visit for more information.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: Redefining How #AEC Can Apply #BIM
for Digital Design & Construction

Related Resources

Collaborative & Industrialized Construction with Dassault Systèmes

[WHITEPAPER] End-To-End Collaboration Enabled by BIM Level 3: An Architecture, Engineering & Construction Industry Solution Based on Manufacturing Best Practices


The Chrysalis Amphitheater: Transforming AEC Through Collaboration

By Akio
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clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “#ChrysalisAmphitheater: Transforming #AEC Through
Collaboration | @Dassault3DS @azahner @THEVERYMANY

In nature, “chrysalis” refers to the metallic-gold shell that encases a butterfly’s metamorphosis.

Like its namesake, the Chrysalis Amphitheater in Merriweather Park, Maryland is making a bold transformation.

The futuristic band shell, designed by Marc Fornes of THEVERYMANY, features a dual-curved steel and aluminum shell over a concrete base.

From curved tubes to custom shingles, the project is a wide-ranging, geometric display made up of many unique panel-types.

Conceptual skin model from the architect MARC FORNES/THEVERYMANY

(Conceptual model by architect MARC FORNES/THEVERYMANY.)

The manufacturer of this form is A. Zahner Company, an internationally acclaimed engineering and fabrication company based in Kansas City.

Earlier this year, we sat down to discuss the new Chrysalis Amphitheater with Shannon Cole, Senior Project Engineer at Zahner, who is responsible for transforming an artist’s design into a realized form.

“We’ve been using CATIA for modeling in some form or another for over a decade. The 3DEXPERIENCE platform brings CATIA to the next level,” says Cole. “What we love about the 3DEXPERIENCE platform is the way that it adds other functionality available to us through ENOVIA Project Management, to improve our ability to collaborate all the way through the supply chain.”

The company, along with the entire Chrysalis project team, has brought the amphitheater project to life in a virtual world.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: .@azahner & entire project team brought
#ChrysalisAmphitheater to life in a virtual world

Using collaborative modeling tools they were able to make decisions and have a big impact on schedule and budget.

To manage the complex geometries and ensure everything fits together in the field, the shell has been developed from the ground up in a 3D environment.

The Chrysalis will be the first major project for Zahner engineers to run on Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform.

Having used the company’s CATIA software for many years, the 3DEXPERIENCE platform brings multiple software packages together on a cloud-based system, increasing visibility for stakeholders, and empowering collaboration between teams.

Close up view of secondary fins used for geometry definition

(Close up view of secondary fins used for geometry definition.)

According to Cole, digital projects once constrained fabricators, since those tools were imagined with the architect in mind.

Zahner structural steel model and secondary fins

(Structural steel model and secondary fins.)

Coordinating Throughout

Cole notes that the Chrysalis project presents a challenge in that, even though Zahner is contracted by the owner, the subcontractor must coordinate closely with the project’s general contractor who is performing the site work and laying the concrete pad.

“Coordination between us will be critical,” Cole says. “It’s important to show them how we envision this being erected.”

For example, through a tab in the 3DEXPERIENCE dashboard, Zahner has been able to easily coordinate concrete embed locations with the general contractor.

“This way we get high level of agreement from the general contractor that, yes, that’s the concrete slab they’re going to build, and we can ask for base plates to be in those locations,” Cole says.

3DPlay Widget, showing concrete base model, being used to to resolve clashes between requested concrete curbs and steel base plate locations

(3DPlay Widget, here showing a concrete base model, resolves clashes between requested concrete curbs and steel plate locations.)

Improving Collaboration

“We’re giving access to the owner and architect to let them know where we are and how things are moving forward because design is a tricky process — it’s not always linear and straightforward. Decisions that seem relatively small can have big impact so transparency helps people see why you’re agonizing over, for example, a single clip and why it’s important to you,” Cole says.

Dashboard created for project stakeholders; Images show an in-process skin test

(Dashboard created for project stakeholders; Images show a skin test in process.)

For example, as the façade team explores how the shingled skin appearance will be achieved and how it might look in its finished state, Zahner is able to post photos on the dashboard to demonstrate what they’re aiming to achieve.

That helps bring new team members up to speed, and makes the owner a more integrated part of the team.

Transforming the Process

Between the Chrysalis’ limited reliance on 2D drawings and its high level of transparency, the project demonstrates the transformation taking place in the AEC industry.

“The interconnectivity across disciplines — upstream and down, from design through fabrication, installation and analysis — is huge for our industry,” Cole says.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “Interconnectivity upstream & down—design, fabrication,
installation, analysis—is huge for AEC” @azahner @3DSAEC

This collaborative virtual design not only helps to engage all AEC team members, giving them all a high stake in the finished project, but it takes full advantage of all of the knowledge available from the full team throughout the life of the project.

Related Resources

Façade Design for Fabrication Industry Solution Experience

WHITEPAPER: Technical Changes Brought by BIM to Façade Design

Spotlight on Zahner: Improving AEC Efficiency Through Façade Design Integration

This post was originally published on Navigate the Future, the Dassault Systèmes North America blog.

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