Applying the Principle of Design for Manufacturability (DFM) to Architecture
The “constructability” of an architectural design is of foremost concern for owners, architects and construction teams as they collaborate on projects. Design for Manufacturability (DFM) is an industrial principle that assures product designs meet economically achievable material qualities and dimensional tolerances using existing manufacturing capabilities.
Architects and construction engineers are well advised to apply the DFM principle in architectural metals design. Fabrication plants must have the capability and shop capacity to manufacture structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing architectural metal features, or the design is really no good.
A comprehensive understanding of metal forming and fabrication processes will allow architects and engineering teams to manage project costs and improve construction results. Several major cost centers must be understood before successfully implementing a custom architectural metals project. The costs and constructability of metal building components are affected in large part by the following:
- Labor vs Machine Costs- Understanding the range of variance between skilled labor; welding and manual machining, and large scale high-speed CNC machining and other automated processes.
- Labor vs Heavy Equipment- When and how to deploy crane, hoisting and rigging versus fabricating and installing the metal in sections. Will onsite welding interrupt construction work flow or can factory welds work just as well or better for some sections?
- Surface Finishing Considerations- What about tank size for galvanizing or oven size for powder coating? Will aluminum surfaces require anodizing or paint? Will these processes be subcontracted by the fabricator and will turnaround time be affected?
- Dimensional Tolerances and Fit Up- The above decisions will significantly affect the accuracy of the architectural feature’s fit and finish. The best decisions require foresight into additional labor that may be required to finish a project based on the different fabrication methods used.
Perfection or Perfectly Good?
Is there such a thing as perfection? You know the answer. Absolute dimensional perfection in manufacturing processes is unachievable in the real world. However, there is such a thing as making something “perfectly good” for its intended application. There are certain realities of metal fabrication that dictate how precise dimensional tolerances can be before they put costs out of range for the market to tolerate. If you go too far in striving for perfection, you may end up with something too expensive to build.
It’s important to separate what owners actually need from what designers may at first want, in terms of manufacturing feasibility. An architectural metals consultant can help bridge any gaps between what’s perfectly envisioned for the building to something perfectly good for aesthetics and full functional occupancy.