Perkins&Will—Design for Manufacture and Assembly—A Primer

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Design for Manufacture and Assembly ― A Primer An approach to embedding engineering and manufacturing intelligence in the design process.

February 2024

This primer was created as part of the Researcher-in-Residence program in the Vancouver studio. It aims to summarize the principles, objectives, and methods of Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA), and to provide architects with the primary knowledge and guidance to approach DfMA in their projects.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This report was authored by members of the Vancouver and Calgary studios of Perkins&Will. Research Team: Mahdiar Ghaffarian, Elton Gjata Advisory Committee: Yehia Madkour, Kathy Wardle, Andrew TsayJacobs, Adrian Watson. Industry Partners: Etro Construction, Spearhead, Zahner, Kalesnikoff Mass Timber, Ledcor, Multivista.


Introduction 4 Methodology and Objectives

What is DfMA DfMA Defined


6 6

DfMA Methodologies


Related Concepts


DfMA and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC)


DfMA Principles


Why DfMA? DfMA Advantages

DfMA and the Design Process

12 13


DfMA Design Mindset


Design Workflow and Delivery


DfMA Principles in Design Projects


UBC Gateway Tall Timber Student Housing Dawes Road Library

Examples of DfMA Tools for Design Process


PWZ Tools Timber Bay Design Tool Offsite Wood Plugin for Revit

DfMA Design Charter


Current Industry Challenges




Market Readiness and Challenges DfMA Adoption


Contracts, Delivery Methods, and DfMA


A Story of Holistic Collaboration



Cities are in the midst of profound challenges: rapid urbanization, housing affordability crises, aging populations, a shortage of skilled trades, and responding to climate change. As a result of these challenges, the construction industry is also in the midst of a transformation, forcing us to rethink not only what we build, but how we build it—including the materials we select and their supply chains. Digital technology, automation, offsite manufacturing, and prefabrication are unlocking new opportunities in overcoming these challenges and optimizing the way we build. As the way we build is changing, design professionals are faced with an exciting opportunity to redefine the design-tofabrication chain, develop new design mindsets, create new methodologies, and forge new relationships and methods of collaboration. Embracing this change will allow us to take positive steps in overcoming the challenges we face today.


Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) synthesizes

Perkins&Will’s strategy is to be the best partner for any

a range of fabrication and assembly techniques—such

builder, fabricator, or client in any of our operating markets.

as modular design, prefabrication, and standardization

This desire is not limited to bettering BIM collaboration

of components—to help designers reduce the number

practices, or simply adopting a kit-of-parts approach to

of unique building elements required and indicate more

design. We aspire to embed technology, manufacturing,

efficient manufacturing and assembly processes. This can

and engineering processes into our design process—

lead to a range of benefits, such as reducing the time and

establishing a seamless construction-aware workflow from

cost of production, improving quality and consistency, and

design to construction.

minimizing waste.

Research Methodology and Objectives

DfMA is an approach to design that aims to simplify the

This research report provides an introduction to DfMA and

design-to-construction process. It mitigates the complexity

is based on a literature review of industry and academic

and inefficiency of construction by considering the

reports, and nine one-hour in-depth interviews with general

manufacturing and assembly requirements of building

contractors, fabricators, a mass timber manufacturer, and

components earlier in the design process.

one academic researcher.

As a design methodology DfMA is focused on streamlining

This report aims to spread a mindset for embedding

the design process to optimize for manufacturing and

technology, manufacturing, and engineering intelligence

efficient assembly. Independent disjointed work of

into the architectural design process. This document does

players in the AEC industry—such as designers, engineers, product manufacturers, and contractors—all result

not propose an absolute solution, but rather:

in communication, data flow, and knowledge gaps


between project partners. DfMA bridges some of these

Provides an introductory overview and a vision for DfMA in architecture.

gaps, resulting in improvements in knowledge transfer,


construction quality, cost and schedule savings, and

Shares current knowledge of design-to-construction processes and DfMA principles.

increased efficiency of material and labour. 3.

Although DfMA approaches are gaining ground in the

Describes a framework for fabrication-aware design and DfMA—a framework for embedding construction

industry, much of the research available and current industry

intelligence in design and retention of design

trends focus on vertically integrated solutions. Vertical

intelligence in construction.

means integrating design with additional roles in the supply 4.

chain under a single entity—such as a design firm owning prefabrication or manufacturing facilities—to better control

Suggests a series of guiding principles for architectural designers.

production of building components and the quality of the

This report is primarily intended for architects, designers,

built product. This approach has clear strengths, and affords

and other professionals working in the engineering and

greater control, but the significant investment and expertise

construction industry who are interested in learning about

required may not be appropriate for all firms.

DfMA and how it can be integrated into their process.

In contrast, partnership structures that involve

The report also describes Perkins&Will’s approach to

collaborating with external partners, such as prefab

DfMA and presents a vision for the future of DfMA in the

manufacturers, can provide building components. This

architecture industry.

approach can be more flexible and cost-effective but requires coordination and communication between firms. 5

What is DfMA

DfMA Architectural Cycle

DfMA Defined Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) is a design

carefully selecting materials, and optimizing for the complex

approach that emphasizes manufacturing simplicity and

logistics of construction. While the conventional design-to-

assembly efficiency.

construction process also attempts to do this, there are two key challenges:

Traditionally, DfMA has been applied to sectors like


automotive manufacturing and consumer products. Both

The modern AEC industry has separated the creation of

of these industries produce large quantities of high-

design intent (the architect) from the execution of this

quality products. DfMA has been highly favoured in this

design intent through means and methods (the builder).

context because of its potential to improve the efficiency

The former is abstract, the latter is a physical process.

of production through two practical considerations—how a

This division of labour leaves behind the notion of a

product will be manufactured, and how it will be assembled.

master builder capable of creating design intent as well as translating it into a physical environment.

In construction and other industries, these considerations 2.

are often neglected in favor of Design for Use. As

The phases of work where design intent is translated

the construction industry transitions to include more

into instructions to the builder—the Construction

prefabrication, offsite manufacturing, and automation, it

Documents (CD) and Construction Administration (CA)

becomes necessary to balance use and aesthetic qualities,

project phases —are not currently optimized to the

with approaches that drive cost and efficient construction.

shift towards the standardization of components and assemblies, productization, offsite manufacturing and

This is typically done by rationalizing the design, building


from a limited palate of repeated elements and assemblies, 6

DfMA Methodologies DfMA combines two main methodologies—Design for Manufacturing (DfM) and Design for Assembly (DfA). Both DfM and DfA seek to reduce material, overhead, and labour costs. This can also be extended to the following definitions.

Design for Manufacture (DfM) DfM involves designing for the ease of manufacturing of a product’s constituent parts. This methodology is concerned with the production process—including the time, cost, complexity, and difficulty in creating parts. It also concentrates on selecting the most cost or production efficient materials. DfM optimization also considers set-up costs for the manufacturing facility, or specialized tooling processes. Finally, DfM considers the time and resources required to achieve compliance or execute performance testing in order to qualify parts as compliant.

Design for Assembly (DfA) DfA is a set of practices intended to make a product easier and less costly to assemble. DfA strategies emphasize reducing part count, the number of assembly steps, and making the design as mistake-proof as possible during assembly. In DfA, the focus is mainly on design to lower thresholds of time, cost, skill, and complexity during assembly. This includes making components ‘plug and play’ wherever possible, designing for realistic tolerances, and utilizing commercial off-the-shelf components.

Extended to the construction sector, this also includes factors such as just-in-time delivery, requirements for site equipment, sequencing, and allowing different teams to work independently of each other. It also includes trying to design out health and safety hazards.


Related Concepts The concepts described below outline design considerations that go beyond Design for Use. In order to execute a building designed with DfMA approaches, the builder and its manufacturing and construction methods must be involved and considered early in the design process—leading to a more collaborative process compared to conventional construction.

Design for Maintenance Design to reduce the cost and difficulty of accessing, maintaining, repairing, and replacing components during the building’s service life. Employing a digital twin to aid in maintenance and operations.

Design for Disassembly Design to make the building as simple and safe to disassemble as possible, so as many components as possible can be reused or recycled.

Platform Design for Manufacture and Assembly (P-DfMA) A platform approach to DfMA (P-DfMA) is to design a kit of components, subassemblies, and assemblies that can be put together in different ways to create a variety of products. In the context of the built environment, this means a set of digitally designed mass customizable components usable across multiple types of assets—creating varying configurations while minimizing the need for bespoke components.

Smart Slab This exhibition project showcases a technique of translating the structural requirements of a given concrete slab into a 3D printed mold. This mold is then used to cast a concrete slab that is highly optimized to the specific structural properties required by the building geometry— maximizing performance and minimizing material use.

The Smart Slab of the DFab house: an ETH Zurich and NCCR Digital Fabrication collaboration in 2018—an example of Fabrication Aware Design.


Fabrication Aware Design Fabrication-aware design is an approach that takes into account practical aspects of fabrication and assembly during the design phase of a project. It involves the integration of fabrication techniques, material properties, and construction methodologies into the design process to optimize efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance constructability. By considering the limitations and capabilities of the fabrication processes from the outset, designers can develop designs that are not only aesthetically appealing, but also constructible for the given constraints. The Smart Slab of the d-Fab house is a good example of Fabrication Aware Design.

Modularity and Prefabrication The prefab-modular sector is rapidly expanding. Prefab and modular manufacturers have focused on a variety of specific elements such as floor assemblies, unitized wall systems, structural columns, and beams. Some have ventured into supplying volumetric modular elements, such as washroom pods, or modular housing units.(1) Some manufacturers have ventured further to focus on supplying whole building solutions. Most of these are proprietary systems, and the firms that supply them typically vertically integrate to better control their product—from input materials, to manufacturing, design, and final assembly on site. The high cost of bringing these solutions to market has meant they are closed ecosystems competing for market dominance, rather than interchangeable parts, subassemblies, or components. This limits competition for clients who have fewer potential bids on projects and need to commit to a manufacturer early on.

Mass Customization Mass customization leverages the efficiency of mass production, while offering customers the ability to customize the product within a limited palette of options. Car manufacturers, for example, offer different levels of trim, choice of materials for the interior, choice of paint colour, and the ability to tack on optional accessories. Translated to the construction sector, mass customization implies standardization of certain aspects of construction, while allowing for customization within predefined parameters. It involves the use of modular components, pre-engineered systems, and advanced manufacturing techniques to enable efficient customization at scale. Mass customization allows designers to create highly complex, customized buildings, while benefiting from mass production.





A modular building system facilitating easy design, precision manufacturing, and high-performance building assembly. It promotes digital fabrication, sustainability, carbon negativity, and opensource platforms to empower communities for zerocarbon construction, with decentralized and accessible manufacturing. (2)





Open systems Lab—Wikihouse: an open-source design to fabrication platform based on DfMA Principles.

DfMA and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) is the collective term for the innovative construction methods that have emerged seeking to increase efficiency, productivity, safety, and sustainability in the construction industry. These methods favour prefabrication, preassembly, design standardization, mass production, mass customization and/or automation in some capacity. There are many construction innovations that can be considered MMC, including a range of pre-manufactured and pre-assembled systems, but also non-system components, site-based material innovations, and process innovations. (3) (4) Both DfMA and MMC rely heavily on the application of digital tools. This allows designers to not only communicate design intent, but also information about the material, component, manufacturing, and assembly considerations that were coordinated throughout the design process. DfMA and MMC work together in a virtuous cycle. MMC provides fabrication and assembly information that feeds into the DfMA process and DfMA provides project-specific information that can be used in an efficient or seamless way within the MMC process.

DfMA for Construction and other related areas



Minimize the number of components Reducing assembly and ordering costs, reducing work-in-process, and simplifying automation. Final products are more reliable and easier to service.

Design for ease of part fabrication Simplify the geometry of parts and avoid unnecessary features in parts.

Consider tolerances of parts and assemblies Parts should be designed within capabilities of the system and consider assembly tolerances.

Design fail-safe assembly Components should be designed so they can only be assembled one way.

Minimize flexible components Parts made of rubber, gaskets, or cables should be minimized to simplify handling and assembly.

Design for ease of assembly Snap fit and adhesive bonding is simpler than threaded fasteners. Where possible parts, sub-assemblies, and assemblies should include a means of locating other components quickly and accurately.

Eliminate or reduce required adjustments Designing adjustments into a product means there are more opportunities for out-of-adjustment conditions to arise.


Why DfMA?

The construction sector is facing increasing demands to deliver high-performance and complex buildings while ensuring cost efficiency, quality, and reduced delivery times. To address these challenges, higher performance products and systems are being introduced to meet stringent new standards. However, this has resulted in a more complex building procurement and design process, making it difficult to predict the performance of the final built architecture and leaving room for unforeseen errors during construction. The production of buildings has become more complex and, as a result, productivity in the construction industry has not kept pace with other industries. Off-site manufacturing is considered essential for targeting these challenges as it provides a timely means to increase efficiency in the delivery of buildings while maximizing performance. To achieve high performance and low cost, these products require manufacturability and supply chain knowledge to be integrated earlier in the design process.


DfMA Advantages

Architectural Quality and Operation

DfMA and MMC can help in improving productivity,

nj More Efficient Operation and Maintenance:

competitiveness, and achieving better economic,

DfMA also brings savings to the overall life

environmental, and social outcomes. This process-

cost of assets, as BIM data can provide asset

focused approach can lead to significant reductions in

owners with full procurement, assembly, (10)

total capital costs and time savings of up to 30%. (5) The

operation, and maintenance details, allowing

main advantages of DfMA can be categorized into the

for efficient management throughout the

following sections:

lifecycle of the asset. Another benefit of DfMA is the “plug-in, plug-out” modular solutions, which greatly reduce time and cost spent on maintenance as damaged components

Architectural Design Process

can be easily replaced with identical, readily available products. By better considering

nj Optimized Design Process:

principles of disassembly, maintenance, and

Standardizing the design of elements like

operations, building components may be

stairs, wetpods, wall and façade panels,

more easily serviced or replaced, thereby

structures, and guardrails, etc. allows

extending a building’s lifecycle.

architects to focus on designing the spatial qualities to enhance the user experience.

nj Higher Quality of End Product:

DfMA reduces design costs by eliminating

An automated approach can greatly

the need to constantly redesign the same

improve the quality and efficiency of the

components in every project. This work

construction process by reducing mistakes

happens in the Design Development phase

and variations in components and processes.

(20-25% of project fee), and it is subsequently

This can lead to superior quality finishes

documented in the Construction Documents

and the elimination of defects at an early

phase (25-35%). This means DfMA could help

stage. Additionally, reliability improves as

find savings in roughly half of design fees. (6)

the number of components and assembly

(7) (8)

steps are reduced, resulting in a decrease in transport costs and the need for excessive

nj Better Design for Efficient Construction

materials on site.

Process and Better Collaboration:

Construction Speed and On-Site Advantages

The implementation of DfMA in a project requires early involvement from all

nj Overall Speed of Construction:

stakeholders in the design and construction

One of the main benefits of DfMA is its

process. This is enhanced by better digital

speed as it allows for faster assembly

collaboration through the use of BIM. (9)

through the use of standard practices such

While this may initially increase consultants’

as vertical assembly and self-aligning parts.

costs, it has been shown to ultimately reduce

Additionally, DfMA optimizes the planning

overall project expenses by improving

and logistics of building, leading to improved

collaboration, minimizing delays, and

health and safety on the job site. Reduction in

decreasing the need for change orders,

construction time through the use of off-site

claims, and requests for information.

fabrication is the most influential factor for

Additionally, the build process is streamlined

DfMA adoption, making it an efficient and

through standardization of parts and

effective option for construction projects.

production processes, controlled production

nj Reduced Lead Times:

environments, and automation.

By utilizing DfMA techniques, the predictability of the project increases and uncertainties caused by external factors,



such as weather or safety incidents, are minimized. Additionally, better organization

nj Minimizing Material Waste:

of logistics and on-site installation further

DfMA minimizes material waste through

contributes to the reduction of lead times.

modularization, standardization, and

nj Reducing Time on Site:

efficient design. By producing standardized

Conventional construction methods rely on

components and embracing off-site

site fabricated elements. Replacing on-site

manufacturing, DfMA reduces the need

construction methods with on-site assembly

for custom-made parts, and allows for

can bring significant time savings, with

more precise measurement and cutting

literature suggesting a reduction of 50-90%.

of materials. The emphasis DfMA has on

(11) (12) This can benefit the project schedule,

simple assembly practices reduces the

improve worker safety, and minimize

need for excessive fasteners and adhesives.

disruption to adjacent properties.

Finally, DfMA means better planning and collaboration, optimizing material usage,

Cost Optimization and Risk Management

reducing errors and rework.

nj Lower Cost and Higher Quality

nj Better Air Quality, and Less Noise Pollution:

of Manufacture and Assembly:

Off-site manufacturing limits air and noise

DfMA is a cost-effective approach to

pollution on site. Furthermore, since time

assembly that utilizes fewer components,

on site is reduced, disruption to building

reduces labour requirements, and minimizes

surroundings is minimized. This approach is

the number of unique parts. This results

especially valuable for buildings situated in

in significant cost savings in the assembly

dense urban environments.

process, as well as in the production and quantity of component parts required. (13)

nj Reducing Whole Life Carbon: DfMA can reduce a building’s embodied and

nj Reduced Risk and Increased Reliability:

operational carbon footprint. Embodied

DfMA allows users to integrate and

carbon is reduced by minimizing material

test models to identify potential risks or

waste, and by selecting components,

inaccuracies and detect conflicts between

sub-assemblies, and assemblies that

elements, such as ductwork and beams,

are manufactured and assembled more

earlier in the design-to-manufacturing

efficiently. It is also easier to control for a

chain. By identifying these issues early on, it

cleaner energy supply in a manufacturing

is more cost-effective to rectify them. DfMA

and assembly facility compared to an on-site

also increases reliability using standard

conventional build. Operational carbon is

components and processes that are less

reduced by achieving tighter manufacturing

subject to variation and uncertainty in supply

and assembly tolerances, and by extension

and performance.

achieving higher building performance. (17)

nj Safety:

nj Supporting a Circular Economy:

Safety can be improved and accidents

DfMA is a positive step towards achieving

reduced by moving construction activities

circularity of building products. Currently the

from the site to a controlled factory

construction industry is not able to effectively

environment. This allows for greater control

disassemble, reuse or repurpose building

and stability in the construction process,

materials at the end of a building’s life. DfMA

as well as reducing opportunities for

opens the door to Design for Deconstruction,

safety issues to arise. By minimizing onsite

Design for Remanufacture, and Design for

processes, the frequency of accidents is


greatly reduced. Furthermore, the ability to use automation in off-site manufacturing frees humans for higher tasks. (14) (15) 14

DfMA and the Design Process

DfMA Design Mindset

DfMA is a design mindset that goes beyond just understanding how a building is put together, but also takes into account the entire supply chain and manufacturing processes. It is a philosophy that can be seen as an extension of the designer’s usual way of working and does not change the fundamentals of good design and production. Instead, it helps to push them further.

To address the rise of prefabrication and the

state-of-the-art digital tools, as they tend to

increasing complexity of building systems, as

focus on single disciplines without considering

well as societal, financial, and environmental

the actual manufacturing stage.

challenges through DfMA, designers need to build product-oriented knowledge bases and digital tools that support design on a projectby-project basis. Additionally, they need to help identify a set of optimal solutions that consider the specific trade-offs, requirements, and performance requirements.

In contrast, DfMA encourages the creation of multiple assets of similar and predictable quality, which still retain the flexibility to meet a variety of user needs. This can be achieved by standardizing a set of core components into a “kit of parts” that can be manufactured and used multiple times, and by combining

Knowledge-Based Engineering (KBE)

this with a set of rules and common standards

applications can potentially fill this need by

for how these parts should be assembled. This

providing a digital Product Model that informs

“platform DfMA” approach gives the supply

designers about manufacturability aspects

chain the confidence to invest in new systems

and expected performance. However, it has

and facilities that will meet the standards.

been noted that there is currently a gap in


Design Workflow and Delivery Architectural design workflow and delivery for DfMA involves a series of steps that ensure the building design is optimized for efficient and cost-effective construction. Use of DfMA in the process can be discussed as follows:

1. Pre-Design

2. Schematic Design

3. Design Development

4. Construction Document

5. Construction

6. Occupancy

7. PostOccupancy

Stages of the architectural design process from pre-design to post-occupancy. (16)

‒ the project’s size and budget, and how DfMA could enhance value; ‒ any site-related limitations or logistical


constraints that may impact DfMA approaches;

DfMA can impact a project’s feasibility and is increasingly a

‒ the availability and capabilities of known

core driver in some sectors. Site appraisals should consider

products or suppliers in the sector;

if modular construction is possible, and clients with multiple projects may benefit from reusing previous DfMA principles.

‒ current utilization of DfMA methods in the specific

The Project Brief should require DfMA adoption, especially in

sector (such as housing or healthcare); and

sectors where it is common. Client-set criteria can assess the

‒ the potential for repeatable DfMA processes

design team’s ability to deliver innovation with DfMA.

and opportunities for improvement.

This process starts with the conceptual design phase when

When developing a DfMA strategy as part of the

the architect works closely with the client to understand their

Construction Strategy, members of the design team should

needs and requirements. The architect can then create a

consider the advantages of DfMA and how they can be

preliminary design that incorporates DfMA principles, such

applied to a specific project. For instance, reducing the time

as modularization, standardization, and prefabrication.

spent on site can minimize disruption to the community, leading to more positive engagement during public consultations. A well-executed and sustainable construction strategy for schematic design, taking into consideration DfMA, would: ‒ incorporate standardized or repeated

Schematic Design

aspects without hindering creativity;

During the schematic design phase, the architect begins

‒ efficiently utilize Building Information

to consider how the building will be manufactured

Modeling (BIM) and standardization to

and assembled. This includes selecting materials and

automate repetitive tasks and allow design

components that are readily available and can be easily

teams to focus on bespoke elements;

fabricated off-site.

‒ streamline the delivery process to

Certain aspects of DfMA must be integrated into the design

generate required design information

at the schematic design stage. For example, a building

effectively and deploy creative skills

based on a column and grid system is fundamentally

where they add the most value; and

different from one based on a volumetric modular structure.

‒ emphasize cost reduction by addressing

The design team should consider:

risk, program duration, rework, and waste

‒ the most suitable DfMA solutions

elimination in the construction process.

for the specific project; 16

traditional building elements are fabricated in a more efficient and productive manner. Pre-packaged “fit-out kits” can be delivered to the site, containing all the necessary components for a specific part of the construction process. For example, for an apartment, these kits may include

Design Development and Construction Drawings:

pre-cut boards and studs, pre-tested and terminated wiring looms, prefabricated bathrooms in volumetric

DfMA requires a Construction Strategy that prioritizes

or flat-pack form, and prefabricated service units. This

more efficient methods of assembling buildings,

approach streamlines the construction process and

rather than adhering to traditional construction

enhances efficiency. Additionally, it reduces the need for

approaches during the Design Development phase.

on-site customization, allowing for faster and more accurate

In this phase the architect finalizes the design and begins

assembly of building components.

to create detailed drawings and specifications informed by a collaboration with the contractor, suppliers, and manufacturers. Coordination of elements that are designed with prefabrication in mind, especially within a collaborative BIM model, and the increased use of multi-functional components can help eliminate duplication and reduce

Occupancy and Post-Occupancy:

costs. Early procurement and the creation of factorymanufactured prototypes can assist the design team in

During the occupancy and post-occupancy stages of a

refining their designs before mass production begins,

building, it is crucial to record asset information, including

addressing any challenging on-site installation details and

on-site decisions, to provide high-quality information for the

fine-tuning visual aspects.

building’s ongoing use and maintenance. This information may include various details from manufacturers and DfMA

If DfMA is considered in the Construction Strategy during

information, such as disassembly instructions for end-of-life

Schematic Design stage, and the building components are

considerations. It is important for clients to consider their

progressively developed and coordinated during Design

project outcomes at an early stage and incorporate them

Development stage, Construction Document Stage should

into professional services and building contracts.

involve the generation of design-intent information from the design team and the subsequent development of fabrication

Assessing a building’s performance in real-time will become

information (such as drawings or models) for approval.

more common, allowing clients and design teams to receive feedback on how a building is performing, which can inform future projects and optimize performance in a circular process from Post Occupancy stage to Pre-design Stage. Maintenance issues related to DfMA aspects can be identified and shared with contractors and their supply chain as part of these exercises. This feedback loop can help improve the performance of future projects and unlock value


throughout the building’s lifecycle.

Once the design phase is finished, the architect collaborates with the contractor to prepare for construction. This involves coordinating with the manufacturer to ensure timely and accurate delivery of materials and components. The architect also works closely with the contractor to ensure proper assembly of the building and prompt resolution of any issues that may arise. In some cases, the construction site may be transformed into a manufacturing or consolidation centre where


The architectural design workflow and delivery for DfMA

construction drawing is simply a graphical representation

involves incorporating design and fabrication within

of instructions, and if these instructions can be precisely

a feedback loop, eliminating the need for traditional

defined and communicated through a different medium,

construction drawings. This is achieved through the use

then the drawing is no longer necessary.

of an algorithmically driven workflow and fabrication

Both BIM (Building Information Modeling) and DfMA

grammar. This digital workflow, while advanced compared

require an increased level of information and process

to traditional drawings, still has the drawback of incurring

standardization for optimal functionality. While

friction when transferring information between platforms.

international standards for information exchanges, such as

Additionally, it does not eliminate the need for “reworking”

open standards for BIM exist, the underlying processes to

when fabrication constraints are not understood during the

support DfMA need further development and formalization.

conceptual design phase.

For example, in the context of offsite fabrication, the level

To effectively implement DfMA, the design and production

of development of the models is dependent on the level

process must be reconceived as a bi-directional continuum,

of information required at the factory and the level of

allowing for multiple feedback loops and negotiations

prefabrication in the project. Additionally, the fabrication

between design intentions and various influences such

process (automated or manual) and the use of different

as fabrication constraints, material properties, financial

types of machinery govern the required level of development

pressures, and contextual considerations. To enable this,

of the fabrication model. Other processes such as feedback

a software platform must be developed that allows the

loops and decision tracking also need to be standardized

designer to seamlessly migrate between design and

to ensure continuous improvement of project delivery in

fabrication, minimizing the need for one-way translation.

this context.

This software platform is built on the understanding that a

Assembly Diagram Residential Tower Design Project Perkins&Will Vancouver


DfMA Principles in Design Projects UBC Gateway Vancouver, British Columbia Client: University of British Columbia Size: 25,135 square metres (270,550 square feet) Completion Date: 2025 Sustainability: Targeting LEED v4. Gold®; Certified to the CaGBC Zero Carbon Building Design Standard. Design Collaboration: Schmidt Hammer Lassen Awards: Award of Excellence, Canadian Architect, 2021

Gateway Material Expression

Pre-fabricated Construction

The University of British Columbia’s Gateway building exemplifies DfMA Public Realm Material Expression

principles in architectural design, particularly focusing on prefabricated timber-hybrid structural panels and terracotta facade modules. nj Process: The project prioritizes early commitment from manufacturers and contractors to foster collaboration during design discussions and decisionmaking. This proactive approach optimizes the overall design process, enhances cost-efficiency, and contributes to project success. The designassist process is utilized for prefabricated components, covering both structure and facade elements. Collaborative manufacturing involves multiple trades closely working with third-party virtual construction consultants. Weekly workshops ensure effective communication, resulting in shop drawings that more efficiently integrate prefabricated elements into the construction process. nj Prefabrication: Prefabrication techniques are employed to accelerate the construction process, create flexible spaces, and protect the timber structure more efficiently from weather factors. The project showcases a hybrid timber structure with composite timber and concrete panels pre-assembled off-site. Long-span composite timber floor panels and prefabricated building envelopes streamline assembly, highlighting the benefits of prefabrication for architectural and sustainability goals. The project places significant emphasis on the use of terracotta cladding as modular prefabricated components. This choice aligns with DfMA

A full size mock-up of the prefabricated terracotta cladding modules.

principles, highlighting the integration of design intent with materiality and construction methods. 19

Tall Timber Student Housing Burnaby, British Columbia Client: British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) Size: 20,683 square metres (222,630 square feet) Completion Date: 2025 Sustainability: Targeting CaGBC Zero Carbon Building Design Standard.

Fully Integrated 1. 7m Façade unit 2. 3.5m bedroom 3. Corridor 4. Shared washroom 5. Unitized curtainwall

The BCIT Tall Timber Student Housing project serves as another precedent for the application of DfMA principles in architectural design. This project predominantly focuses on modularity, off-site fabrication, extensive collaboration with the manufacturing industry, and an integrated designassist process. This project showcases how DfMA can streamline construction processes through off-site fabrication and standardized components. The collaboration with the manufacturing industry highlights the significance of involving manufacturers early in the design process, ensuring manufacturability considerations are integrated to optimize the design solution. Furthermore, the designassist process aids in refining design details, addressing fabrication constraints, and optimizing the building’s various aspects, ultimately enhancing both efficiency and quality for design, documentation, and construction.

The project is built with a number of fully integrated modular systems.


Dawes Road Library Toronto, Ontario Client: Toronto Public Library Size: 2,445 square metres (26,300 square feet) Completion Date: 2026 Sustainability: Targeting CAGBC Zero Carbon Building Design Standard - Design; and Toronto Green Standard (TGS) V3 Awards: Award of Merit, Canadian Architect, 2023

The Dawes Road Library project’s focus on façade panelization and a collaborative partnership with metal cladding fabricator, Zahner, serves as an illustrative example of integrating DfMA principles into complex architectural projects. Through intricate parametric analysis and a close collaboration with the manufacturing industry,

Define Control Surface

the project has transformed a concept inspired by the star blanket motif into a highly efficient and repeatable modular facade system. This process involved optimizing complex geometries while ensuring cost-effectiveness. The resulting design achieves maximum sculptural impact by isolating and prefabricating complex curvatures. This case study underscores the value that DfMA brings to architects and designers by enabling the realization of intricate and culturally significant architectural visions through advanced manufacturing techniques and close collaboration with industry experts. This process aims to elevate both the design and manufacturing processes, achieving a harmonious blend of design and efficiency.

Facade Assembly

Prefabricated Panels Designed for Transport


Parametrically Controlled Star Pattern

Prefabricated Panel Assembly

Flat Seam Zinc Panels

Examples of DfMA Tools for Design Process Within the construction, design, and manufacturing industries, pioneering companies are developing innovative DfMA solutions for the design process. This section highlights three industry examples of digital design tools that integrate manufacturing intelligence into the design process.

PWZ Tools Perkins&Will and Zahner Perkins&Will, in partnership with fabricator A. Zahner Company, has developed a dynamic design and feasibility workflow, also known as PWZ Tools. This cloud-enabled 3D modeling solution facilitates direct data exchange between designers and fabricators, optimizing collaboration dynamics. Focused on cladding and envelope, PWZ Tools incorporates analysis and workflows for envelope and cladding manufacture, surface curvature, panelization, sheet size, and shipping optimization. The system addresses design challenges by introducing shared workspaces and specialized tools, fostering collaboration through regular reviews aligning design objectives with fabrication considerations. The resulting efficiency gains include heightened design efficiency, increased confidence levels, and the delivery of precise cost estimates and accurate production schedules. PWZ Tools continuously examines feasibility, minimizing resource-intensive rework cycles by integrating fabrication considerations early in the design phase. Its seamless integration into existing workflows ensures a pragmatic adoption without disrupting established processes. This technology-driven approach, coupled with a DfMA mindset, aims to enhance design fidelity and shorten project delivery schedules, allocating more time for critical design aspects. In practical terms, PWZ Tools serves as a risk mitigator against unforeseen issues and rework, aligning with DfMA principles to optimize manufacturing and assembly processes. While the collaborative effort underscores the tool’s significance, it is essential to view PWZ Tools as a

PWZ Tools allows for direct exchange of information between designers and fabricators.

nuanced solution, with its impact contingent on seamless integration and a comprehensive understanding of design and fabrication interdependencies.

Image Perkins&Will and Zahner


Timber Bay Design Tool Fast +Epp Fast + Epp Structural Engineers has introduced the Timber Bay Design Tool as part of its Concept Lab collection, offering architects, designers, developers, and builders a powerful solution for exploring mass timber options in architectural projects. Developed by their parametric design team, this web application enables users to quickly assess mass timber grid options by adjusting parameters, with automatic calculations producing member sizes, volume Explore multiple options for mass timber grids by adjusting the parameters. Image Fast + Epp website

outputs, and 3D visualizations. This tool not only streamlines workflow by eliminating repetitive tasks but also enhances the client experience by providing instant 3D visualizations and valuable insights into spans, material costs, and design parameters, facilitating more efficient decision-making and design refinement.

Offsite Wood Plugin for Revit Autodesk + Quebec Wood Export Bureau Offsite Wood offers architects robust wood structure families with embedded sustainability, fire resistance, and dimensional coordination criteria, streamlining early design phases. The BIM plugin provides architects with an intuitive platform to customize and download structural wood components, optimizing product families according to specific project requirements, thus facilitating sustainable, efficient, and dimensionally accurate design. Additionally, it supports architects in considering environmental metrics and lifecycle assessment, enhancing early-stage carbon benefit estimation. Furthermore, it fosters collaboration within the architectural and construction industry and

Offsite Wood software in Revit. Image Via QWEB

enables the optimization of offsite prefabrication. Overall, Offsite Wood serves as a valuable DfMA tool that empowers architects to efficiently integrate wood structures into their projects while considering various design and fabrication constraints.


DfMA Design Charter The “DfMA Design Charter” is a framework for architectural design teams, outlining the key phases and principles of DfMA. It serves as a recommended guiding document aimed at improving the efficiency, sustainability, and quality of architectural design by emphasizing meticulous planning, efficient manufacturing, streamlined assembly, quality assurance, and sustainable practices— all while promoting a circular approach to design.


Effective planning lays the foundation for successful DfMA in architectural design. Analyze function, character, usability, and producibility of design components. Determine suitable design and production methods based on product character and Function. Conduct thorough product function analysis to inform design decisions. Carry out design-for-producibility-and-usability study to assess opportunities for enhancements without compromising functionality.


The assembly phase in DfMA for architectural design centres on optimizing the process of putting together various components to create the final product. Consider assembly process and sequence while aiming for simplicity. Prioritize ease of assembly through techniques like snap fits and adhesive bonding. Minimize required adjustments to reduce the likelihood of out-of-adjustment conditions. Design an appropriate assembly process tailored to the product’s characteristics. Utilize widely available, standardized parts and materials to ensure interoperability. Design out dependencies that can lead to delays in other tasks. Foster an open-source approach to share solutions for collective adaptation/improvement.



Efficient manufacturing is a core aspect of DfMA in architectural design, focusing on creating designs that are optimized for streamlined production processes. In this phase, the aim is to minimize complexity and increase predictability, ensuring ease of part fabrication and compatibility with both production and assembly methods. Streamlined manufacturing enhances reliability, reduces costs, and simplifies servicing. Minimize the number of components to reduce costs and complexity. Design for ease of part fabrication by simplifying geometry and eliminating unnecessary features. Review each part’s compatibility with production and assembly methods. Minimize flexible components like rubber and gaskets to enhance predictability and handling.


Quality assurance and tolerance management play a critical role in the success of DfMA for architectural design. This phase focuses on ensuring accurate and reliable assembly while considering the limitations and capabilities of the system. Precision and predictability in assembly enhance overall product quality and reliability. Design parts and assemblies with suitable tolerances, considering system capabilities. Implement fail-safe assembly design to ensure correct component alignment. Incorporate fail-safe assembly techniques mistake-proofing techniques allowing components to be assembled in only one correct manner. Design components for predictably accurate and straight assembly. Keep designs simple by minimizing unique materials and joining methods.

Disassembly and Circularity

The Disassembly/Circularity phase in DfMA for architectural design is centred on sustainable practices that enable efficient disassembly and promote circularity. Sustainable disassembly and circular practices contribute to a more eco-friendly architectural approach. Design for disassembly to facilitate efficient and straightforward disassembly processes. Prioritize ease of disassembly by avoiding messy and intricate wet-trades and favoring methods like slotting, bolting, screwing, clicking, stapling, or taping. Utilize components and materials that support reuse and full recycling. Prioritize circular design to minimize environmental harm and resource consumption.


Current Industry Challenges Collaboration challenges, process, and pipelines for communication are the main pain points. Some of these challenges suggest a need for a better digital handshake, but the issues are deeply rooted in the structure of an industry that is not tuned for modern methods of construction, or for modern methods of modeling, documentation, and collaboration. Introduction Our initial research was based on the hypothesis that current

of an industry that is not structured for modern methods

collaboration procedures have room for improvement.

of construction, or for modern methods of modeling,

Our intent was to gather information on points of friction

documentation, and collaboration.

or shortcomings of the current ways of working, with the

Finally, there is a need to bring manufacturing knowledge

goal of defining better digital collaboration processes and

earlier in the design process. Earlier engagement of system

pipelines to support a transition to DfMA.

manufacturers is challenging due to constraints of current

What we found instead was a much more complex set of

methods of construction project delivery. There is insufficient

challenges and barriers to DfMA adoption and chronic

knowledge transfer from manufacturers to designers, clients,

inefficiencies that lead to wasted effort and lost value in

and contractors.

the industry.

The pain points described in this chapter make a clear

Clients and contractors share uncertainties around DfMA

and compelling argument for change within the industry.

such as cost, the capacity for this new market to supply, and

However, this change is not a simple implementation of

interoperability with other systems. Designers are concerned

new standards or development of new digital pipelines or

about perceived limits to architectural expression.

software. The challenges described point towards chronic issues with the structure of the industry that will require

Collaboration challenges, process, and pipelines for

targeted change management in order to unlock the

communication make up the bulk of the pain points. Some

benefits of DfMA and MMC in construction.

of these challenges centre on the need for a better digital handshake, but the issues are deeply rooted in the structure 26

Market Readiness and Challenges of DfMA Adoption

nj Standardization vs Flexibility Standardization of the interfaces between components is more important than the components themselves. If

Uncertainty around DfMA

components and interfaces are standardized, it becomes

nj Uncertainty about Supply and Demand

simpler to attach one component to another, hence making on-site assembly more efficient. A limited number

There is currently a lack of confidence among clients

of options available in the market, along with a need to

and suppliers in regard to investing in DfMA platforms

standardize interfaces, is a disadvantage for designers

and production pipelines. Clients are uncertain about

seeking variety and flexibility in the expression of their

the capabilities of these platforms to handle large-scale


deployment, while suppliers are hesitant to invest in production pipelines without certainty of demand.

nj Lack of demand in parallel with lack of capabilities Lack of demand from clients and authorities having

nj Uncertainty around interoperability

jurisdiction is a key challenge that hinders widespread

Many of the leading DfMA providers in the North

adoption of BIM and DfMA practices. Many architects and

American market are taking a closed platform approach.

engineers may not deploy BIM nor DfMA if project clients

The large research and development investment that is

are not asking for it. Since the use of BIM is not mandated

required drives a desire to protect this intellectual property by creating proprietary systems.

by federal, provincial, or municipal processes, clients do

However, clients are hesitant to commit to a single

come from downstream project team members who have

not demand it. In the case of DfMA, demand has typically

proprietary platform early on due to concerns about the

little to no influence on decisions early on in the project.

provider’s ability to deliver and remain viable in a rapidly

Educating project leaders engaged in upfront decision-

changing startup environment, and uncertainty about

making with the client can support the adoption of DFMA

interoperability with other systems. Both concerns pose

best practices.

significant risk for clients not wanting to be locked into a singular proprietary platform.


nj Cost Perceptions

nj Lack of collaborative behaviours

DfMA may be perceived as increasing project costs. We

The high level of risk in construction projects often leads

found limited information on project costing—therefore it’s

to the use of protective contractual relationships which

difficult to reach conclusions about better overall project

can limit collaboration among parties involved and can

cost outcomes—but we can clearly see a redistribution

be detrimental to the overall success of a project. To

of cost earlier in the project. DfMA approaches require

overcome these challenges, it is necessary to re-evaluate

more coordination and planning in earlier project phases.

and redefine contracts, roles, and collaboration in the

Further study is required to determine whether overall


project financial benefits are favourable in the long run.

nj Asymmetry of effort and benefits

Further concern about cost is driven by early commitment

In line with contractual and organizational challenges

to a manufacturer limiting the ability to host a competitive

is the question of distribution of benefits. At its core, the

bid. The diverse and proprietary nature of these platforms

challenge lies in the asymmetry of upstream effort to

makes the application of both early involvement and a

create a model that benefits downstream uses. When

competitive bid challenging.

applied to a conventional delivery model such as DesignBid-Build, DfMA stands to benefit contractors and

nj Limits to Architectural Expression Dealing with proprietary approaches, or specialty

fabricators, but requires additional upfront effort from

contractor products, requires the manufacturer to be on-

design teams to coordinate.

board early on in the process. This is sometimes seen as a

New contracts and new delivery models may be required

limitation to architectural expression.

to mitigate this asymmetry. Some argue for the necessity to raise fees due to the increased burden of 3D modeling and collaboration required. On the other hand, there are


nj Right of Reliance

arguments to reduce fees since construction documents might not need to be as thorough when using pre-

Although architects often share models with contractors,

engineered systems.

fabricators, and consultants, they always come wrapped in an Electronic File Distribution Agreement (EFDA) that

nj Contractual Structure and Risk Allocation

limits the degree the models can be relied on and used

Currently, contracts are not equipped to handle the

in construction. Our EFDA language states that the “true

risks associated with DfMA approaches, and not all

and accurate record of the design is the most recent issued

clients have the capacity or willingness to commit to a

printed hard copy […] not the requested electronic data.” It

fabrication strategy early on. The slow development and

also states, “Electronic file data is provided […] without any

planning cycle can also exacerbate the issue, as clients

representation of accuracy or sufficiency for any purpose

are hesitant to engage the project team early enough to

whatsoever.” While our fabrication partners want to rely

make collaboration possible. Some contracts are more

on our models, architects seem to lack the confidence in, or

conducive to DfMA approaches than others.

the processes to, Quality Control 3D models as a potential

nj Contracts, project organization and scope

deliverable and seem unwilling to take on the asymmetry

The advent of BIM has uncovered challenges with the

of risk.

sharing and the hand-off of information between project

Additionally, the availability of models is uneven. While

team members. The application of DfMA principles

contractors can sometimes obtain models from architects,

exacerbates these challenges due to the necessity

they often don’t have access to engineering consultants’

to involve downstream fabrication information and


constraints during the early design phases. As highlighted

nj Specifications and specificity

in the findings, establishing clarity of scope and hand-

As designers, we have a desire to bring knowledge of

off of risk in the DfMA process is a key challenge that

assembly and material up front in the process to represent

must be addressed. BIM can potentially help structure

the client’s interest in the best way possible, and to ensure

the discussion, in the context of the development of a

project outcomes reflect the design intent. Contemporary

BIM Project Execution Plan for instance, but this requires

construction specifications are normally prepared with one

a good understanding of downstream processes and

of these approaches:

information requirements to support the uses of BIM to

‒ proprietary (describing specific products

support DfMA.

and systems by trade name), or

nj Lack of Early Engagement

‒ generic (describing the material, product,

The ability to implement DfMA on projects is greatly

or system’s physical characteristics).

impacted by the timing of engagement of manufacturers and contractors in the design process. Early engagement

The most common method, Design-Bid-Build or CM,

allows fabrication knowledge to be downloaded to the

encourages the production of generic models, drawings,

design team, and design decisions to be made early on

and specifications. As designers, the documentation

that are optimized for efficient manufacture and assembly.

and project information that we produce are full of manufacturer-agnostic information about building

All the fabricators and contractors that we interviewed

components that operate in extremely specific ways.

expressed concerns around being engaged too late in the design process and the reworking and inefficiency this

Fabricators are therefore forced to reconstruct models


and drawings based on their understanding of the design intent and contract documents. This results in a loss of

An alternative approach would be a highly modularized,

information in the interpretation between design intent

and component based DfMA approach that corresponds

and fabrication.

with the high level of modularity and productization in manufacturing and construction. For this goal to be

Manufacturing Knowledge

achievable—aside from access to data and early decision

nj Lack of Manufacturing Knowledge/

making—there is a requirement for early involvement of

Fabrication Aware Design

the contractors in the process.

In order to achieve high performance at low cost,


manufacturability and supply chain knowledge must

currently available in Canada and the US are behind

be integrated earlier in the design process. The current

those in other regions that have been more proactive in

industry is organized around the production of one-off or

this transition—such as the UK’s RIBA DfMA Overlay to

bespoke buildings.

The Plan of Work and Singapore’s Construction Industry Transformation Map (ITM).

The current structure of design teams has been greatly influenced by the dominant project delivery and

Process & Pipeline

procurement methods. This has resulted in a disconnect

nj Pipeline Development

between designers, product manufacturers, and the contractors charged with assembling these products on

There is an industry wide need for Pipeline Development:

site. To effectively address the adoption of DfMA practices

establishing open, collaborative, and platform

in industry, there must be improved collaboration and

independent tools and protocols.

better understanding of manufacturing among all team

While most of the organizations we interviewed


have developed robust and sophisticated internal

Interview respondents frequently complained about

processes enabled by technology, many seemed to

designers lacking this knowledge. Designers often fail to

struggle in communication and coordination at the

understand the complexity of cost drivers behind their

same sophisticated level outside of their organization

decisions. We lack a mechanism to effectively transfer


construction knowledge from product and system

The contractors interviewed communicated an active

manufacturers to designers. Current training tends to be

interest in using increasing amounts of 3D information

very product specific, rather than communicating product

from architects. They reported being frequently

agnostic design principles. Current product manuals don’t

challenged to coordinate with and visualize the 2D

do an effective job at communicating design principles for

information provided by architects—leading to inefficiency

working with these systems.

and wasted effort.

nj Reorganizing and Re-Skilling Labour Chains

nj BIM is insufficient

DfMA and prefabrication comes bundled with

Building Information Modeling (BIM) was the promised

manufacturing automation. Although this could help

path for solving the problems of Digital Delivery. It has

alleviate the shortage of skilled labour the construction

been promoted as a “… shared digital representation of a

industry has been experiencing, re-skilling of the

built asset to facilitate design, construction, and operation

labour force is required. Manufacturing automation

processes to form a reliable basis for decisions” (18). BIM

and harnessing the benefits of MMC requires skilled

improves collaboration and coordination by helping all

workers that can program and operate complex

project members clearly visualize and communicate their

machines. Designing for efficient manufacture and mass

scope of work to others.

customization also requires skills in computer coding, data science, and 3D modeling. On the design front, although

However, this is not a simple question of how we

3D modeling and BIM are widely used in the industry,

structure our BIM models, or how we share, transmit, or

standards such as ISO 19650—designed to improve

receive these models with consultants, contractors, or

collaboration, accuracy, and reduce inefficiencies in

fabricators—nor is it simply a lack of standards. Robust

duplication of effort—are not commonly followed.

BIM standards currently exist, but the application of these standards are inconsistent. The current international

nj New Design-to-Construction Skills

standard for managing information over the entire

Implementation of DfMA creates a growing need for

building lifecycle is ISO 19650—it has arisen primarily from

professionals with computer coding and information

the excellent UK standards.

management skills—computer coding skills to proactively integrate design and production automation into teams,

The UK and Singapore have mandated the use of BIM

as well as information management skills to handle

on construction projects as a way to better design, build,

the large amount of data generated during projects.

maintain and integrate building assets. Research by the

Additionally, new skills are required to manage the design-

University of British Columbia BIM Topics Research Lab

to-construction process, and the skills and standards 29

nj Information Wrangling

has found BIM adoption in the North American market still lacking.

Contractors and fabricators ingest information from many different disciplines and are faced with the challenge

Furthermore, BIM standards and software are currently

of coordinating, synthesizing a federated model, and

insufficient in dealing with complex manufacturing

visualizing the information. They are charged with taking

information required for DfMA. BIM is currently being

increasing amounts of information from architects in order

used as a platform to streamline design documentation

to simplify coordination and construction. This effort would

to ultimately deliver 2D information as the instruments

be vastly sped up by coordinating 3D models rather than

of service. While possible, it is not currently a common

2D drawings, but these models are often not available. In

practice to embed product information in 3D models

many cases, the information only exists in 2D. Frequently, a

because of the missing link between design and

3D model exists, but it isn’t shared with the contractor and

manufacturing, thus the manufacturing side of DfMA


remains non-present in the 3D design models. With the current state of industry, it is challenging to have a

nj Digital tools and downstream fabrication processes

bidirectional design dialectic with a builder using BIM

The majority of components being produced by the


fabricators we interviewed utilized digital fabrication tools like CNC cutting or machining where the process

nj Streamlining processes and standardization

is directly driven by the fabrication models. Fabrication

Both BIM and DfMA demand an increased level of

models contain detailed material and process information

information and process standardization to be fully

embedded in them, knowledge that can be used to

functional. While international standards for information

optimize parts.

exchanges exist, such as open standards for BIM, the underlying processes to support DfMA need to be

A point of frustration for the fabricators interviewed was

developed further and formalized.

the lack of connection between the design and fabrication models, and no power at the fabricators’ side to demand

For instance, in the context of offsite fabrication, the

that a certain pipeline is developed. When architects are

level of development (LOD) of the models depends on the

willing to share design intent models with them, models

level of information required at the factory and the level

usually come with a file distribution agreement that makes

of prefabrication in the project. The fabrication process

it impossible to rely on any of its properties or dimensions.

(automated or manual) and the use of different types of

Interviewees reported that as a result, they are forced to

machinery governs the required level of development of

re-create their own models from scratch. This duplication

the fabrication model.

of effort dampens their ability to provide rapid, iterative

Another issue concerns the upstream involvement of key

feedback on fabrication, material intensity, and ultimately

project team members to enable the development of

cost certainty.

a complete and coordinated model before the start of production and manufacturing. Other processes such as feedback loops and decision tracking need to be standardized to ensure continuous improvement of project delivery in this particular context. nj Lack of capabilities/maturity Lack of individual and organizational capabilities/maturity with both BIM and DfMA were amongst the biggest challenges identified. The capabilities required range from understanding of software tools and technologies to production workflows, analysis, and optimization.


Contracts, Delivery Methods

There is a misconception that at the core of DfMA is prefabrication, or off-site construction. While the AEC sector is unquestionably trending in this direction for many reasons, DfMA at its root is a collaborative design approach. It is a process that makes buildings easier to design, procure, manufacture, and assemble. It is impartial to the way buildings are delivered, as long as the delivery process is improved. This improved collaboration unlocks modern methods of construction and practices that may otherwise not be possible—such as prefabrication and off-site construction.

Selection of delivery method should be done with careful consideration of multiple factors. (19) The factors that may have the greatest impact on DfMA are: PROJECT ISSUE





Scope Definition

Clear definition required early. Scope can be better controlled.

Depends upon the quality of the project brief.

Potential scope creep due to multiple contracts.

Depends on quality of process management.

Performance Requirements

More likely to be met due to owner’s involvement in design.

Depends upon the quality of the project brief.

More likely to be met due to owner’s involvement in design.

Potential for slippage due to priorities given to performance requirements and costs.

Provides opportunities for fast-tracking and potentially reducing overall project completion time.

Provides opportunities for fast-tracking and potentially reducing overall project completion time.

Higher degree of certainty due to fixedprice contract.

Higher degree of Moderate degree of certainty if a fixed-price certainty if multiple contract is used. contracts are tightly controlled.

Minimal allocation of owner’s resources and construction expertise during construction

Moderate allocation of owner’s resources and construction expertise.

Schedule Requirements


Allocation of Human Resources and Construction Expertise

Higher allocation of owner’s resources and construction expertise.

Comparison of delivery models overlaid on to DfMA


Project team structure, owner’s direct involvement, and target price arrangement will allow for project issues to be managed in a collaborative way, inherent to the contractual obligations of the parties.

Owner is contractually a member of the Project Management Team.

DfMA carries opportunities and challenges that impact this cost-benefit equation. While elements of DfMA are possible under any contract type, many common delivery methods pose challenges.

Design-Bid-Build (CCDC 2, 2MA, 3, 4, 18)

side of this is that the owner is required to have the capacity

The Design-Bid-Build delivery model is characterized by a

and expertise to manage the process.

separation of responsibilities and contracts for design and

Some interviewees cited challenges with this model centred

construction. This creates a linear process that requires the

on Intellectual Property (IP) rights. Some manufacturers

design to be completed prior to bidding and selection of

may be reluctant to provide detailed design input or pricing

a contractor. The least successful project examples cited

early on in an attempt to protect their proprietary process

by our interview respondents were bound to contracts

or product.

that did not allow for the contractor to come on board sooner and to provide their expertise. Separating the

Integrated Project Delivery (IPD)

design and construction phases of the project makes it very

IPD is a multi-party agreement where all parties share one

challenging for design teams to have access to information

contract, and the financial risk and reward from the project

on constructability and construction systems. As a result,

outcome. The DfMA literature reviewed applauds IPD as a

projects often face a great deal of waste and redesign once

better fit for projects aspiring to include DfMA. Suitability

a builder is chosen.

for DfMA is not the only selection criteria, however. Owners may not have the capacity or expertise to participate in

In addition, the nature of a competitive bid means the

the process to this degree, nor does it provide the cost

bidding parties are bound to a strict scope and budget. This

or schedule certainty that some owners and projects

contractual environment does not lend itself to innovations

may require.

in delivery that could ultimately benefit clients—although it controls for risk in a way that can be desirable for

The most successful project examples cited by our

some clients.

interviewees were able to establish a contract that allowed the contractor to engage some scope early on, and the


design team was able to use their fabrication knowledge

This delivery model can take many forms, but at its core, it

to create forms that are more conducive to fabrication

gives the owner a single point of responsibility for design

from the beginning. Projects may not necessarily need to

and construction: the design-builder. As a result, there is

select IPD if the DfMA scope can be identified and the right

an enhanced opportunity for collaboration among design

manufacturer input can be brought on board early enough.

and construction teams, and an opportunity to fast-track execution of the project. Many firms employing DfMA today have chosen to pursue some version of this model because of the simplified collaboration and control over the design to construction process. The critical challenge here is that it requires the owner to have much more certainty over the project requirements. Construction Management Under a Construction Management (CM) arrangement, the owner contracts directly with consultants to design the project, and simultaneously contracts with a Construction Manager to manage the construction process. Typically, the CM is engaged early in the design phase to provide input on the design with respect to constructability, budget, and schedule. This approach is DfMA friendly because tendering can happen sequentially before design is completed—allowing for manufacturers of some discrete scope to be engaged earlier on. Performance requirements are more likely to be met because of greater involvement from the owner—the flip


A Story of Holistic Collaboration

In the evolving landscape of digital prefabrication,

We advocate for every building designer to adopt a DfMA

the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC)

approach, thereby considering efficient construction

disciplines are undergoing a profound shift towards

methods that harness the advantages of manufacturing

new digital workflows and collaborative approaches.

and assembly. Designing with these principles from the

To navigate this transformation effectively, it is imperative

project’s beginning is pivotal. Initiating the DfMA journey

that we thoroughly grasp, reevaluate, and optimize the

can be challenging, but a promising first step is to remain

design-to-manufacture chain.

informed about Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) innovations and contemplate how these advancements can

At Perkins&Will, our commitment lies in becoming the

be harnessed to deliver superior project outcomes.

ultimate partner for manufacturers, contractors, and engineering consultants. Our core values of innovation, research, sustainability, and design excellence drive us to establish seamless workflows spanning from design to construction. We are dedicated to crafting robust processes adaptable to fabricator needs while aligning with the diverse goals of our clients. Understanding DfMA both as a methodology and a mindset, we are not confined to the capabilities of Building Information Modeling (BIM). Rather, we are pioneering the development of a universal language that embeds technology, manufacturing, and engineering intelligence into our design process. This intelligence seamlessly flows through every phase of an architectural project, forging a unified workflow from visioning to construction. Our primary objective is to comprehend the dynamics of

Data Feedback

these novel collaborative methods and dissect their impact on our design processes, our interactions with engineering consultants and manufacturing partners, project outcomes, and the essence of our architectural expression. As architects, we recognize that we are not product or manufacturing experts, which is why we refrain from constraining our supply chain with preconceived notions. Instead, we champion innovation and creativity, fostering a culture without traditional hierarchies. It is only logical that we seek the expertise of our supply chain to collectively

Design to Construction Workflow Diagram

achieve our goals.


Works Cited Building Institute. research-whitepapers-studies/

1. Boafo, F., Kim, J.-H., & Kim, J.-T. (2016). Performance of modular prefabricated architecture: Case study-

12. Salama, T., Moselhi, O., & Al-Hussein, M. (2021). Overview

based review and future pathways. Sustainability,

of the characteristics of the modular industry and

8(6), 558.

barriers to its increased market share. International Journal of Industrialized Construction, 2(1), 30–53.

2. WikiHouse. (2024).

3. Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.

13. Wasim, M., Vaz Serra, P., & Ngo, T. D. (2020). Design for

(2019, March, 29). Modern Methods of Construction:

manufacturing and assembly for sustainable, quick

introducing the MMC definition framework.

and cost-effective prefabricated construction—a

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