Bryden Wood breaks down projects into mass produceable, off-site manufactured components, to save clients time and money.
There are many skills the engineers at Bryden Wood bring to clients, and an intricate knowledge of toothpaste production is one of them.
The 217-strong London-based inter-disciplinary consultancy has just won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise, in part for its “Chip Thinking” concept which has been applied to a toothpaste manufacturing facility, owned by pharmaceutical giant GSK.
The concept breaks down all aspects of a building’s construction and function into small bits – known as chips. The data from these metaphorical chips is then put into a common online platform open to all stakeholders. From there assets, processes, design and construction can be optimised.
For example, there might be a chip about a piece of equipment which would contain data on how much it costs, how much space it takes up, how much energy it uses, data from past project use and so on. These chips also include elements such as rooms, where data is collected on space, its use or energy usage.
A library of chips is then built up.
The concept was developed with GSK, which wanted to better manage its capital spend. The Bryden Wood team looked at the entire business case for each facility, using its mathematics team to assess volumes and demand and suitability.
“Often the problem clients have is that they will build a facility or build a building based on what they think is the best understanding of the volume of product and the things they need to do in it. I think they oversize that facility and end up spending more than they need and having to adapt it after,” says Bryden Wood structural and civil engineering director Kevin Masters.
Once all the data on the different elements or chips is collected together, efficiencies can start to be drawn.
“What it allows you to do is learn from facilities you have already built, facilities that are in use, but also rapidly test different scenarios,” says Masters.
It is an example of how traditional engineering is crossing paths with what one might expect a technology firm to do: using algorithms, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and even gamification – the concept of rewarding and incentivising the user to continue using the technology and take it to the next stage.
Full scope understanding
“It taps into the reason why I became an engineer in the first place, which is to really understand the full scope of the problem, not just the structural part. I have done toothpaste facilities, seismic rehabilitation in Japan, paracetamol and salbutamol plants, just to name a few with GSK. You don’t just learn about the civil or structural engineering, you understand about the process. I have a weird understanding about toothpaste and the ingredients that go into it, because if you don’t understand that, you end up building a building which isn’t any use at all,” says Masters.
It is all part of the Bryden Wood vision for a highly productive, digitally-led industry. It also wants to help solve some of construction’s big problems in terms of innovation and speed of build.
“We have a construction sector that hasn’t really innovated in 80 years, the production rate isn’t really any better than it was 80 years ago, which, when you compare against the automotive or IT sectors, we’re decades behind,” says Masters.
To do this, Bryden Wood is designing for off-site and manufacturing. Here it uses the concept of platforms – customisable construction systems. These platforms bring together components of different sizes and scales, which allow repeatability.
“From an engineering background you design things the other way around. Typically, when you’re designing a building you would work out the loads, the forces on that element and then you would design an element that would fit those forces. But this turns it on its head in the sense that you look at the element itself, and you work out what are the maximum forces it can take and then you effectively produce a catalogue for you to be able to use those components on a range of different things,” says Masters.
Whether the components are used for a riser, a window or a structural element, they can be customised to fit the requirements of the building.
“You can still have that level of customisation, but it allows clients ultimately to better understand the programme, the cost certainty around their project, because you’re drawing from components which have been tested and learnt from,” says Masters.
Because components can be mass produced, the firm will invest time in cutting what might be 2% from the price. If 10,000 are manufactured, then the savings add up.
This method is now being put into action, including being prototyped for prison construction for client Ministry of Justice. Here, it is using the method on two levels: one for less complex and more repeatable housing blocks, and another, which is more adaptable for less repetitive areas such as medical blocks or prison entrance areas.
These structures have been designed to be lightweight – no cranes are needed – and easy to assemble. They can be built by more teams of general constructors, rather than specialist steel fabricators, bricklayers and so on, as elements such as risers come pre-built and validated. Masters says typical construction times for a prison can be cut from 24 months to 16-18 months with a vastly reduced labour force.
So how does the firm bring about this innovation and forward thinking in its staff?
Graduate recruitment policy
Masters says it likes taking on graduates, as they are easier to mould into the firm’s way of thinking. More experienced staff are successfully recruited, but it can sometimes be harder to adapt to Bryden Wood’s mindset. The firm also likes engineers who have trained on the Continent, where more of their degrees are spent learning a broad spectrum of engineering, only specialising at the end, thereby keeping their skill bases broad.
“As a combined group we are responsible for delivering the project, so we need people to see what the problems are, come up with solutions and not be afraid to step beyond their normal boundaries to solve them,” says Masters.
With the staff ready to go, Masters wants to see more of the construction sector following suit, particularly in adapting their commercial perspectives to allow more innovation.
“A client who wants to heavily innovate, and then ultimately wants to go to a design build contract and give all the risk to the contractor is never going to provide that level of creativity and that sharing of risk and reward that you want to achieve and it completely erodes it,” he argues.