A Systems Engineering Approach to Off-Site Production: Tracing Requirements Through the Development Process into a Customer Solution in Construction

Description: This project considers construction as a manufacturing process. It takes systems engineering templates and processes and uses these to trace and inform the logic of decisions in integrated Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) processes from a systems perspective. The work will be conducted in close collaboration with Laing O’Rourke.

It aims to improve the traceability of requirements through the development process into a customer solution in order to facilitate the development of new template design processes; to establish the information needed for verification; to reduce variability, and to understand the resilience/flexibility of the production process.

It will map the whole process from the stakeholder identification and need elicitation process through the partitioning of designs, design processes using a product configurator; to the customer solution and aftercare. To facilitate the move to low-carbon civil engineering, each step of this process will also be evaluated in terms of carbon as well as costs and process efficiency. Different systems engineering templates will be compared, contrasted and evaluated in terms of the information required in construction as a manufacturing process and the adoption and barriers to adoption of systems approaches.

SKFigure: Typical Construction Project Flowchart-Project Data Review

Working with our industrial partner, Liang O’Rourke, and utilizing the existing System Engineering Centre’s resources within “Imperial College” the objectives of this projects are:

  1. Create and develop framework/systems template for construction projects using DfMA approach
  2. Verify the system’s interdependencies across the project system and create a view point in the Systems Engineering Model to establish the verification loop process to ensure the requirements are traced in the system
  3. Create and calibrate a simulation model platform to identify the impacts as a result of introduction of variation and change
  4. Develop the platform to establish a visual representation of the change impact by running simulation model.

The research will be establishing a toolset that can enable the user to adjust the MBSE model created for specific DfMA tools in specific project environment, e.g. the digital bridges tools with the components configurator in use for HS2, to suit another project with additional or different requirements set, e.g. water retaining solutions for tanks and basement structures for water industry requirements, and enable the user to introduce and assess the changes in the requirements and visually see the impact on the processes/project overall.

Contribution to practice for this research is in adopting the system engineering approach into the current DfMA solutions/manufacturing procedures in construction industry, which would help the industry to develop both efficiency in the process by using system engineering templates as well as improving the sustainability targets by adoption of most carbon friendly template into the system.

Research Plan

The main activities will consolidate and apply knowledge captured from industry and research literatures to create and develop the Systems template for use in construction project where DfMA approach is adopted. These will therefore be formed in the following 5 stages:

  • Stage 1: Structured literature review (Knowledge Consolidation from Literatures) - (August 2018-November 2019)
  • Stage 2: Creating and developing systems architecture for a sample project and build a systems template in MBSE format (Systems Architecture Creation and Development) -(September 2019-February 2020)
  • Stage 3: Simulation model development (Simulation Template Creation and Development) – (February 2020-August 2020)
  • Stage 4: Veryfying Systems Template Model to suit Stage 3 findings (Testing Sample projects Data) – (August 2020-January 2021)
  • Stage 5: Creating a toolkit to extract visual data from simulation model on the calibrated Systems Template Model (Monitoring live project briefing in use of toolkit) – (August 2020-December 2021)


Zhang, R., Zhou, S., Tahmasebi, S., and Whyte, J. (2019). Long-standing themes and new developments in offsite construction: The case of UK housing, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers – Civil Engineering, (Forthcoming).

Expected Practical and Academic Contribution

Systems templates are typically utilised in Aerospace space and production lines, however this has not been tested in construction and in particular in DfMA adopted projects; hence, this research project is contributing to the limited body of research is in integration of systems approach in construction, by testing its application in an active construction project. The contribution to construction productivity improvement research is through supporting a culture of innovation in the construction sector.

The new toolkit can provide a platform for change control in construction and therefore this can contribute to body of research in construction management and change control literatures. Systems approach will bring further certainty into the processes in DfMA projects, The Simulation Toolkit, will bring a visual tool to understand the impact of a given change in the process, this can therefore bring more certainty in the change control process, and can help to assess the impact of any VE proposal with higher level of certainty prior to formalising proposals on site. 

We remember the strong contributions to our team that were made by Saeed Tahmasebi, a Laing O’Rourke employee and part-time doctoral candidate, who tragically lost his life in the Iranian plane crash in January. Thanks to all those friends and colleagues who joined us at the memorial event. Imperial College has set up a Saeed Tahmasebi Prize. Please also see the Imperial tribute.