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A Case Study in Design for Manufacturing and Assembly

Aug 06, 2021

by Jeff Kiblen, Associate Vice President, U.S. Engineering Innovations

Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) is one method U.S. Engineering Innovations (USEI) is implementing in our quest to reimagine ways to execute construction projects. I introduced DfMA and talked about how we’re using it in my first article in this series

This article examines a recent project that used DfMA to produce a duct module component. Our design partners at Henderson Engineers worked with a client who was interested in using modular design and construction in their HVAC airside systems. Because of its potential for a repeatable floor plan, which could be mirrored for left and right applications, this project was a viable candidate for DfMA. We could design, manufacture and assemble the same duct modules for both configurations. 

Design for Manufacturing and Assembly in Practice 

Our process with Henderson began as an exercise to find a duct size that made the most effective use of USEI’s standard metal coil widths. The right size would drive out waste and maximize our machine capacities. Simultaneously, Henderson ran all the critical engineering calculations to establish the most flexible size module for their designs. 

Once the basis of the design was established, our virtual construction teams consolidated the design content and coordinated with structure and ceiling to make everything fit within the envelope. They then converted that BIM content into buildable components for our shop floors. 

Investment in Manufacturing Infrastructure 

A key factor that enables us to work closely and seamlessly with our design partners on DfMA projects like this one is our commitment to improving our manufacturing infrastructure. For years we’ve invested in the machinery on the floors of our manufacturing facilities. We’ve invested in the software that communicates with that machinery. And we’ve invested in the teams that code the software and operate the machines.  

Thanks to those investments, DfMA projects like this one are true joint efforts: we’re able to drive designs to work best within our machinery’s capabilities, all the while being completely attentive to meeting client needs.   

As Henderson’s Sean Turner notes in his article about this case study, the owner’s goals in this case were to reduce costs and improve schedule. USEI helped achieve those goals by driving a common design and size for all of the owner’s store configurations and by performing 70+% of the mechanical work in our facility. As a result, we removed almost three weeks from the original build schedule.  

A Sustainable Future in Construction 

DfMA dramatically reduces the margin of error. From design to manufacturing to installation, the process is safer and more reliable than the traditional approach. But the process also improves sustainability, a topic USEI and Henderson take seriously. We work in a historically wasteful industry and are actively seeking out ways to minimize project excess. DfMA, in its effort to maximize efficiency, is a design-build method that reduces elements of the manufacturing process that end up in landfills.  

Whether designing shipping frames that become the supplemental hanging steel on site after delivery, or repurposing modules like the ones we created on this project for completely different builds, we see DfMA as a method of sustainability. And we’ll continue to explore this approach on future builds.

Jeff Kiblen is Associate Vice President of U.S. Engineering Innovations and K-Malt, a wholly owned subsidiary. Starting as a pipefitter apprentice in Kansas City, he spent a decade in the field working his way up to superintendent. From there, because of his passion for technology and problem solving, he pivoted to virtual construction and building information modeling. Today he and his family reside in Colorado.

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