Building a case for DFMA with Legos

Who doesn’t love Legos? There are a few — my mom because she hated cleaning them, and my boss because he hated stepping on them as a kid. While the debate over enjoyment of Legos can go either way, there’s no question that they’re valuable as a simple example of design for manufacture and assembly (DFMA).

At Syska Innovations, one of our seven focus buckets is industrialization of design. To support this focus, we have been trying to instill the concept of DFMA to our engineering team. See, almost all built products today are built using some sort of DFMA process, but for some reason the built environment of office buildings, hospitals, datacenters and airports, etc., do not employ DFMA. Getting DFMA to work in the bult environment could dramatically reduce costs, increase quality, reduce waste and reduce schedules. So I ask the question: Why is adoption taking so long?

I have a pretty good idea of why. At our latest internal innovations roadshow, we had our office personnel go through an exercise: assemble smaller-scale Lego packages. One is of the colorful duck, another the police car, another the space shuttle, and finally, the Mandalorian (Star Wars). Each team was supplied with a kit. But we had made some modifications to the instructions. The colorful duck had multiple pages that were printed in black and white. The space shuttle had pieces missing, and the police car had way too many pieces in it. The Mandalorian had no instructions. It was a competition to see who could get to substantial completion first.

Every team struggled mightily to complete the task. The outcome of the exercise mirrored a lot of the reasons why DFMA has not gotten a foothold in the built environment. First, there are a lot of ways it can fail, and it is hard to get right. On top of practical reasons, some will say it’s the legal framework of the construction industry. Others will blame architects who want every building to be its own individual piece of art. I say the DFMA delay is because it’s just hard, really hard.

So if that’s the case, why not give up on it? Nope. That not in my DNA; there is always a way. How about we start applying it in small MEP pieces of projects? At Syska we have begun cataloging designs of repeatable portions from one project to another, and also when we have multiple portions in the same project. The hope is that subcontractors will start recognizing these repeatable portions and they’ll be quicker to install and fabricate. Clear, repeatable instructions or templates for the Lego competition would have significantly sped up completions.

In the end, Legos and DFMA serve different purposes. Legos are toys that encourage creativity and imagination, while DFMA is a methodology used in engineering to simplify the manufacturing process of a product. Syska is committed to making this work for the built environment.

And in case you’re wondering, the space shuttle won the competition even though it was missing 20% of the pieces. After all, it wasn’t rocket science.

Written By Robert Ioanna