A knowledge-based engineering platform for DFMA houses

Project partner: whg

Working with whg and a consortium of industry partners on this Innovate UK-funded project, Franco is leading the development of a knowledge-based engineering system, which will help inform the manufacture of DFMA (Design for Manufacture and Assembly) houses. 

Construction - housing

These houses are manufactured offsite and are designed to be assembled easily onsite, considerably reducing build time. Led by Franco, Birmingham City University will be developing a system that will eventually allow decision makers to measure and predict a number of factors in their offsite build project, including the cost of the build, energy efficiency, construction scheduling, assembly time and more.

The opportunity

According to the Independent, the UK is facing its biggest housing shortage on record, with a backlog of four million homes. As one of the Midland’s leading homing providers, whg is investigating ways meet the housing shortage and the growing demand for housing. This led whg to consider offsite manufacturing of DFMA housing as a way of decreasing build time and ensuring consistent quality for every future homeowner.

With the help of the knowledge-based engineering system being designed by Franco and his team, the project will benefit from a wealth of data which will allow decision makers to assess the best and most efficient building model to be produced offsite. By developing an interface that collates data from a number of sources, including building models, production data, and assembly data, contractors will be able to make a number of suitability and cost estimates of possible designs, ensuring houses are affordable and fit for purpose before production begins. The data solution will also be designed to be digestible to artificial intelligence and machine learning software, so that future design maps can be automated and optimised by intelligent systems that use the information provided to find the best solution. The use of AI would also reduce planning time and streamline the workflow of future building projects.

The delivery

Along with a consortium of partners, including QM Systems, Northmills, Hadley and Energy Systems Catapult delivering on different areas of the project, Franco and his team will be working on producing a proof of concept for the knowledge-based engineering system. The work will involve data sharing and collaboration with all partners on the project, and Birmingham City University will be providing expertise in offsite manufacturing, carbon footprint measurement, cost modelling as well as technical programming skills that will be used to create the tool.

Success to date

Franco has been successful in securing £190K of Innovate UK funding to begin work on this proof of concept.

Looking to the future

The possibilities for the future could be extremely influential to large-scale building projects and the UK housing market. Whg intends to use the project to produce an evidence case for the offsite construction of DFMA housing and are comparing the productivity data of this project to data gathered from a project using more traditional construction techniques. Positive results could lead to investment in this type of construction, helping whg to reduce the housing shortfall in the long-run. The evidence provided by whg would also provide an incentive for other housing groups or local councils to invest, leading to reduced build times and increasing quality assurance in housing across the UK.

The knowledge-based engineering system has the potential to be an adaptive model for similar projects and construction businesses across the UK and internationally. Businesses like Premier Inn already make use of offsite manufacturing to ensure their hotels have a consistent feel and quality from one stay to another, and the knowledge-based engineering system being developed by the BCU team could improve their processes to ensure a streamlined workflow.



Franco Cheung

Associate Professor in Quantity Surveying

Coming from the professional background as a quantity surveyor, Franco developed his specialism in cost modelling and forecasting techniques through his PhD study. Franco’s recent research studies are in the areas of risk analysis, building information modelling (BIM) and value co-creation. He is keen to develop links with the industry through research studies and has managed and contributed to research projects funded by EPSRC and Innovate UK. Currently, he is the principal investigator for an Innovate UK funded project led by whg to develop a Knowledge Based Engineering tool for their Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) houses.

Franco moved from industry to academia in order to meet some of the challenges of the industry and is a keen believer in industry 4.0 and its potential to change the construction for the better. As centre head of Birmingham City University’s Built Environment, he is at the forefront of an academic team, producing a variety of industry-focused research projects.

Working in the following areas:

Cost modelling