New platform-based approach to construction unveiled

  • Seismic excels against traditional construction methods: 75% faster, 70% lower in carbon (both embodied and operational), and 47% better value.
  • Delivered by a consortium of seven companies, including MMC experts, manufacturers, and consultants.
  • Demonstrator building combines components from three manufacturers and two systems in one.
  • Seismic is one of the case studies included in the pending Platform Rulebook from the Construction Innovation Hub.

With the UK government pushing for platform-based construction solutions, a new demonstrator building offers a glimpse of the future.

The Seismic demonstrator is the culmination of a four-year project developed by a consortium comprising consultancy blacc, offsite manufacturers Elliott Group and the McAvoy, Tata Steel, the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), the National Composite Centre (NCC) and Specific (part of Swansea University).

Designed in line with the government’s Construction 2025 targets, it exceeds them in every way, delivering a building that is 75% faster to complete, 70% lower in carbon impact and 47% better value than traditional construction.

One of the unique aspects of the project is the combination of three manufacturers working independently on the same building. The demonstrator shows this to good effect incorporating systems from McAvoy, Elliott Group and Tata Steel.

Richard Crosby, director at blacc, said: “Seismic was developed to help drive a shift towards Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) in the industry. What the consortium has achieved demonstrates the value of a standardised, platform-based approach to construction. It is faster at every stage, from design through to manufacturing, assembly and fitout, and offers better quality and value, alongside a dramatically lower carbon impact.

“Seismic sets the template for a platform-based approach to construction and proves that it can be done now. This offers a huge opportunity for unlocking development, providing a solution for a range of sectors, including education, healthcare, workplace, leisure and residential.”

Seismic has been worked on in two stages. Phase one was developed in response to work with the Department for Education (DfE) to improve the delivery of schools. It focused on the design of a standardised, lightweight steel frame and connector and was completed in 2020.

Because of its success, a second stage was commissioned. The objective was to design and construct core components that would work with the frame system, including wall, floor, ceiling and roof cassettes, offering an “all-in-one” solution for clients.

Sam Stacey, Challenge Director for Transforming Construction, said: “Most modular construction relies on bespoke systems created by individual manufacturers. A lack of standardisation means that different systems are incompatible, which adds risk for clients, especially once they take on responsibility for the building’s operation and maintenance.

“What Seismic shows is that if everyone works to one system it is possible to deliver buildings much more effectively, whether compared with existing modular techniques or traditional construction.”

The ambition is that Seismic provides a blueprint for the modular market to grow. Other work packages within the project included the development of a framework to analyse a manufacturer’s ‘MMC readiness’. Led by the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), it also includes a methodology to set up the most effective production processes within factories.

There has also been extensive testing and analysis of the materials and components used within Seismic, with over half-a-million pounds spent on analysing fire, thermal, acoustic and structural performance. The latter included extensive vibration testing which has opened a new avenue of research into the link between floor movement and occupant wellbeing.

The National Composites Centre (NCC) was appointed to analyse and recommend the best materials to be used for the platform. It also developed a window shroud which was used within the demonstrator building.

This supported a wider package of work led by Specific, part of Swansea University, to assess the carbon impacts of Seismic. This looked at the whole process including design, materials, manufacturing, component performance and logistics.

The analysis showed that a standard Seismic module comprises 581.3 kgCO2e per m2, well below Construction 2025’s target of 1,300 kgCO2e per m2. And, because Seismic can be reused, either by relocating modules to other sites or by refurbishing individual components and cassettes, it adds a 234 kgCO2e per m2 clawback. This brings Seismic well beyond even the lowest stretch targets being discussed in construction today.

Keith Waller, Programme Director, Construction Innovation Hub, added: “A project like Seismic can bring significant learnings to the construction industry, clients and end users, meaning projects can be delivered faster, with lower carbon impact and better value.

“Seismic is platform-based, meaning it is future proofed and as manufacturing becomes more efficient and new technology comes to market, better solutions can be switched in as and when appropriate.”

Seismic was part funded by the Transforming Construction Challenge, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The project team worked closely with the Construction Innovation Hub supporting the work on the Hub’s Platform Rulebook.

People can visit the demonstrator building at BRE Watford until the end of the year. To find out more visit

Elliott Group – Jim Cowell, UK Technical Director:

“You could argue that every building is a prototype, designed and built once. It is a combination of multiple materials, manufacturers, consultants, and contractors coming together to interpret and deliver against the client’s brief. This creates uncertainty and creates potential gaps between what is expected and what the end result is.

“A platform-based approach like Seismic takes that away. Everything is comprehensively tested together, it is all produced in factory conditions and what arrives on site is exactly what was asked for, with fewer defects and operational issues.

“Ultimately, standardisation means faster procurement, manufacturing, assembly and handover, all delivered at a higher quality standard and on a safer site.”

McAvoy – Martin Harvey, Head of Design and Technical Services:

“The advantages of a platform-based approach are huge, with reduced delivery programmes, consistent quality, and more cost certainty for clients. The platform approach also comes with many benefits for the manufacturer; reduced design time due as testing and analysis is already complete, reduced procurement due to the ability to hold stock, and reduced build times due to efficiencies in the repetitive manufacture process. These benefits are ultimately passed on to the client through speed of delivery, improved quality, and cost certainty.

“At the centre of the platform is a standardised frame and connector which allows a number of repeatable components to be held in stock and built offline. This frees up time to focus on areas that add the most value to the design and create a quality sense of place for the end users.

“There are also wider benefits for the industry. For example, by moving more of the construction process into a factory environment we can improve health and safety. Work takes place in a very controlled and safe environment where working at height and manual handling are significantly reduced.”

MTC – Jonny Reid, Senior Research Engineer:

“The core part of our work package was to develop what an optimised production line would look like. The result is a blueprint for construction manufacturing that ensures that control, quality and traceability are effectively built into the process.

“By removing variability, it makes for a much more effective industry overall, which can achieve economies of scale and ramp up production of modular buildings to meet demand across a range of sectors.

“We linked this to detailed work to understand the future skills that we would need in the workforce too and have mapped out the roles and opportunities for progression that people can expect to see in the future if adopting this methodology.”

NCC – Neil Appleton, Construction Lead, NCC:

“The National Composites Centre became involved with Seismic to find and test applications where composites can address a real industry need.

“We investigated alternative materials to reduce the element part count and improve the productivity of off-site construction, and we exploited the thermal benefits of composites to reduce heat loss in buildings.

“Platform construction is key to increased reuse, disassembly and recycling of materials, and these are all essential to reduce whole life carbon. The Seismic II project has proved that composites can play a key role in the design of an energy efficient building.”

Specific, led by Swansea University – Tom Bassett Senior Technology Transfer Fellow:

“Construction 2025 uses a 1990 baseline. Since then, there have been lots of moving targets and campaigns for stronger reductions. And, while we started our calculations by looking at this baseline, we soon determined that we could go much further.

“The most positive aspect is that Seismic is partly about providing a proof of concept and the results that we have achieved are based on the performance of it today. Every component has been designed to a high standard, with efficient, modern materials, resulting in something very effective from a whole-life perspective. And, as production processes improve and demand increases it will be easier to continuously improve the system, bringing even greater savings, efficiencies and lifetime value.”

Tata Steel – Alex Small, BIM & Digital Platforms Manager Construction & Infrastructure:

“We were responsible for designing a second option for the system. This involved the creation of a separate set of floor, wall, ceiling and roof cassettes. This is the exciting part of the project that proves that it is a successful platform-based approach – the ability to use different elements from different manufacturers interchangeably, with the same frame.

“The reuse element of Seismic makes for a highly efficient solution. As it is both a platform (so uses standardised components) and suits modular manufacturers, reusing the steel frame, and other elements, is significantly more likely. We can’t take the traditional view that a building lasts for 60 years and just demolish it and move on.

“With Seismic there is no need for demolition. We can either move the building to a new location or strip it down and reuse or recycle nearly every component.”