Design for manufacturing, assembly, and disassembly: The evolution of DFMA

Design for manufacturing, assembly and disassembly (DfMAD) is a design methodology that has been successfully applied in the manufacturing sector for decades to drive quality and minimize costs.

By Sean Turner May 18, 2023
Courtesy: Brett Sayles

Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) is a design methodology that has been successfully applied in the manufacturing sector for decades to drive quality and minimize costs. In recent years, the AEC industry has been adopting these same principles to optimize the cost and quality of construction. However, in addition to cost and quality benefits, there is a growing need for sustainable, circular, and resource-efficient building practices. This is where design for manufacturing, assembly and disassembly (DfMAD) comes in.

What is DfMAD?

DfMAD is the next evolution of DfMA, shifting the focus from not only on optimizing the manufacturing and assembly processes but also to designing for disassembly. The goal is to create buildings, and building systems, that can easily be taken apart at the end of their useful life. Their components can then be reused, repurposed, or recycled, reducing construction waste and the carbon footprint of the building industry.

To achieve this goal, DfMAD requires a shift in mindset, especially with regard to specific design considerations:

  • Component standardization: Standardizing components simplifies the process of taking buildings apart as each component can be easily identified and replaced. This also makes it easier to reuse or recycle the components in projects with the same standardized components.

  • Access and flexibility: Designing for disassembly requires consideration of access to the building’s components. This means creating a modular design that has the space to be easily taken apart without damaging the components and allows for flexibility over time as components can be added, removed, or replaced as needed.

  • Material selection: Choosing materials that are robust, easily disassembled, and can be recycled or repurposed is essential to the success of DfMAD. Materials such as wood, steel, and aluminum all meet these requirements.

  • Lifecycle analysis: Conducting a lifecycle analysis of the building and its components can help find opportunities to reuse or recycle the components, reducing waste and the carbon footprint of the building industry.

  • Collaboration: Collaboration between architects, engineers, manufacturers, and contractors is essential to the success of DfMAD. By working together, the design can be optimized for disassembly by ensuring the building’s components can be easily disassembled and reused.

So, how does adding the disassembly aspect help achieve sustainability goals?

Current building industry practices are responsible for a significant portion of the world’s carbon emissions and waste. By designing for disassembly, the industry can reduce waste, carbon emissions, and the depletion of natural resources through a circular economy. Let’s look more closely at each of these areas of impact:

Waste reduction

When we approach the building systems design using standardized, modular components, we limit on-site waste. For instance, designing HVAC duct work around standardized duct modules allows us to optimize the duct module size around standard sheet metal constraints, thus reducing (and in some instances eliminating) waste during the manufacturing process. This has a ripple effect on the project site as well. With modularized duct components, there is less on-site ductwork sheet metal waste. And if these duct modules are not only designed to be assembled easily but also deconstructed, reusing those same components on a different project reduces and eliminates waste during disassembly.

Carbon emissions (Embodied carbon)

Many stages of a building project contribute to carbon emissions, and not just during the construction phase. From extracting the raw materials, to transporting materials and products to the site, through the use and maintenance of the building, and even those activities related to the end of project life, embodied carbon is ever-present. When we apply the concept of DfMAD, we limit the number of lifecycle stages by removing the production, disposal/recycle, reuse/recovery stages.

By using modular components that were designed to be deconstructed, it reduces the hauling/waste from the site both during construction and end of life. When components can be reused on a different project after they’ve been disassembled, either in the same building or in another building, there is an opportunity to support reuse into the circular economy.

Circular economy

The circular economy supports the idea that products, materials, and even services are kept in circulation for as long as possible. In the AEC industry, there is a major opportunity to build and support the idea of a circular economy. By upcycling, reusing, or repurposing materials that were previously used in a building, the systems become assets to be used again as opposed to something to be thrown away.

DfMAD is an important concept in building a circular economy. Through thoughtful project design, which keeps in mind manufacturing and assembly of building system components and planned disassembly of systems at the end of their project life, we start to build foundational components and assets for the circular economy.

This approach not only reduces waste and conserves resources, but it also has other benefits. It can result in cost savings for building projects by reducing the need for new materials as well as the cost of waste disposal. Additionally, it can create new business opportunities for companies that specialize in material recovery, repair, or repurposing.

Why does this matter?

Buildings require natural resources to construct and that there is a lot of opportunity to optimize building design and construction. With that in mind, striving to make the building industry more sustainable, even regenerative, is in the spirit of building a better world.

DfMAD is an important step in achieving this goal. By focusing beyond optimizing just for manufacturing and assembly processes, but also disassembly, the building industry can reduce waste, carbon emissions, and depletion of natural resources as well as support the circular economy.

Original content can be found at Henderson Engineers.

Author Bio: Sean is Director of Innovation & Research at Henderson Engineers.