Is there a better way to construct buildings that are high quality, cost-effective, customisable, aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly?
We believe the answer is “YES” and at ZURU we plan to change the way we design and build forever.
All great ideas need a key competitive advantage to be successful. At Walmart, it was to stack product high and take much less margin. Mcdonald's simplified the menu and created mass production of fast food, reducing prices and waiting times. The shipping container standardised freight, sped up loading and unloading times and increased security. Every business model that changed the world had at least one key competitive advantage. We aim to have several.
The environment is also a huge driver for us, the construction sector creates 40% of the world's carbon emissions either through raw material mining and processing, construction, or during the operational life of the building. Having a path to zero carbon in all three areas is critical. We believe for the world to meet its carbon goals it is going to be one of the most important sectors to be disrupted and we plan to lead this change.
The goal is to design and manufacture any size of building from 1 floor to 80 floors, any style of building from a townhouse, hospital, office tower, school, apartment block and more, while still meeting the building codes in each country. Everything we do and think about is how to create customised buildings, disrupt the current cost structure and make the highest quality, environmentally friendly product in the world.
To achieve our goals we believe we need to change the way we build forever. The logical way to do that is by Mass Production.
Nevertheless, the building sector is one of the few industries where mass production hasn’t been adopted. We believe it’s because of limited design flexibility, poor product design and low component integration. We’re working on solving all three!
Firstly the production line is still one of the most important concepts, there’s no more effective way to create scale, quality and cost reduction than the moving production line developed in the early 20th century.
On December 1, 1913, Henry Ford installed the first moving assembly line for the mass production of an entire automobile. His innovation reduced the man-hours it took to build a car from over 1000 hours in 1907 to 1 hour 33 minutes by 1924.
The factory was divided into sections, each assembling a single part of the car in an incremental building process. The Ford factory eventually featured 500 departments on its assembly line. Each department had well-defined jobs that a person could become an expert in quickly allowing them to do the job faster and at a higher quality. This allowed for higher-quality cars, more efficient production and the highest salaries in the industry.
As Ford worked to improve the assembly line he also noticed that he could bring 100s of downstream processes like stamping, moulding and upholstery right onto the line right where the part was needed rather than producing that part in another factory or in another building saving transport time, decreasing reject parts and reducing human movements allowing for even greater efficiency savings.
At the time the moving production line, vertical integration and the division of work into small repeatable tasks was the single biggest breakthrough in Human efficiency making Henry Ford the most successful businessman in history.
ZURU is applying these same moving production line concepts in our building project today, as well as the concepts of lean manufacturing developed by Toyota in the 1980s and the speed of innovation concepts developed by Elon Musk in Tesla and SpaceX today.
However we are taking them ONE STEP FURTHER, in manufacturing - to produce at the lowest cost, create high quality and scale quickly it’s best to standardise the product and process. BUT a building is not like a car, electronic device or toy where a single product can be made which covers a large market application. Ideally, every building is unique and this requires flexibility in the design, production and onsite assembly.
This demand for uniqueness and individuality has meant we’re changing the way we think about production. ZURU is building the factory of the future - a fully flexible facility capable of producing every part uniquely.
There are many aspects of a building that require uniqueness. These include Structural Design (for example soil substrate and geotechnical measurements, foundations, formwork, concrete cover, rebar size and location, ductility, live and dead load requirements, earthquake mitigation, flexure and shear strength), Layout (including sun orientation, building use, floor plan, site size, ground contour, fire access, building services, height restrictions, floor levels) and Aesthetics (surface finishes, windows, lights, heating, ventilation and air-con etc).
Flexibility means that all parts of the end product need to be customisable. This is the only way to meet the requirements of architects, structural engineers, the region’s building code and, most importantly, the building’s owner. This is an extremely difficult problem and no one has attempted to resolve it at the level required for success.
We are creating the world’s first factory at scale where every part flowing through the production line is unique. Traditional production lines have preset control paths for standardised components. At ZURU the control paths are created in real-time for non-standardised components using a digital twin. As the component moves through each station it becomes unique to the customer’s requirements, allowing complete flexibility in the final product.
This concept allows us to produce customised buildings that meet individual customers' needs cost-effectively, allowing us to make a "lot size of one" while still using the efficiencies discovered by Henry Ford and Toyota. To solve the flexibility issue at ZURU we are using Mass Production Coupled with Mass Customisation.
In reality, this problem is much harder, it creates product design and production issues that traditional manufacturers don’t have. Fortunately, buildings are made of simple elements with few materials, making it an ideal industry to implement Mass Customisation. Not only is it the industry that needs Mass Customisation the most but it’s also the easiest industry in which to achieve it.
The question of 3D printing: People often ask about 3D printing and whether it can solve the flexibility issue. Certainly, 3D printing has its place in many applications, but we believe it’s not the correct path for mass production of buildings. Among the many reasons are the integration of other elements such as structure, building services, floors, surface finishes, windows, etc. Further, it’s too slow and expensive to set up, only the cheapest part of the structure is being produced, it’s inaccurate, it has a poor quality finish and creates a thermal bridge. We believe 3D printing will not be a meaningful way to mass produce buildings in the next 100 years.
We believe the only way to achieve our goal is through mass production coupled with mass customisation, and then optimising the factory for speed and density followed by massive scale.
One of the difficult problems with mass customisation, which is further compounded by the product being assembled on the building site far away from the factory, is Quality Control.
We are aiming to solve this by replacing manual inspection processes with AI-powered vision systems to reduce manufacturing errors and accurately control the quality of each unique component. By applying machine learning algorithms we can detect errors immediately, rather than at later stages in production or on-site where repair work is much more expensive. This AI quality control approach is unavoidable with mass customisation, shown in our ZURU test factory where the floor operators are not aware of what part or process is being produced at each station, making any type of manual quality control unworkable.
We strongly believe and have proven in our test factory that we have a manufacturing path to make customised buildings successfully. There is still the issue of designing the building, sending the parts to the factory and making sure those parts can be formed into the building on site. To do this we are integrating software throughout the process.
Steve Jobs is well known for his product-focused strategy and push for simplicity, closely integrating software and hardware, so they “just work.”
At the same time while other companies like Microsoft were taking a more open approach he was taking end to end responsibility for the user experience making for far more compelling products.
The building industry is fragmented. It’s one of the least integrated industries in the world and because of this it is also one of the most frustrating and costly for customers. We’re striving for a similar software and hardware integration and user experience Apple brought to their customers with the iMac, iPod and iPhone.
Our guiding principle is Simplicity - not merely making something simple for simplicity’s sake, but really understanding the essence of the entire product, the complexities of its engineering and its manufacturing process and deciphering how to de-clutter the complexity to come up with elegant solutions.
To follow in Steve Jobs’ footsteps and create an end-to-end solution we are developing software we call Dreamcatcher. It is a total collaboration between the designers, the product developers, the engineers and the manufacturing team to tie the hardware into a user experience that is simple and seamless for our customers.
Dreamcatcher is free-to-use software allowing anyone to design buildings anywhere in the world, and then send their unique design to the factory, where our manufacturing operations software creates a digital twin of each component. It then schedules and advances the component through the factory. Dreamcatcher eliminates communication and customer interactions to reduce mistakes and allow product customisation. Everything can be designed uniquely to fit the building site, the local Building Codes and local geotechnical conditions.
This software has the Building Codes for each region in the world embedded so that the software can provide guidance on local compliance, and then automatically create data sheets for building approvals.
Dreamcatcher has an inbuilt structural module allowing Finite Element Modelling for Earthquakes, live loads and dead loads. A local structural engineer can work directly with the architect and customer within the Dreamcatcher software to structurally approve the building.
Dreamcatcher allows professionals and customers to collaborate with each other in a real time community. They can plan the building and schedule final assembly with other professionals in one application, allowing for complete integration of the entire building process.
Dreamcatcher has a built in store where architects and designers can sell their building designs and ideas. External companies can plug in their products to sell within Dreamcatcher.
Dreamcatcher has a carbon rating letting you understand the total carbon footprint of the building in production and during its entire life cycle. Reducing the carbon footprint is critical for us and making it transparent for our customers is a key priority.
The Dreamcatcher software has real time pricing so that you can see the cost as you design: Change a surface finish and the cost changes. Add a door and the cost changes. This feature allows for full pricing transparency. A simple checkout process allows you to choose a delivery schedule and payment plan.
Once the checkout is finalised Dreamcatcher combines the components in the best shipping layout for freight efficiency and ease of on-site assembly. It then queues the components for production so they move through the factory in the correct pack out and assembly order.
When your building components arrive at the site Dreamcatcher runs an assembly and planning application for easy on-site assembly. The building contractor can follow step-by-step instructions using QR codes to make sure the parts are assembled correctly, then run quality control software on the electrical and building services.
The Dreamcatcher module also schedules in other trades allowing them to plan jobs while not holding up the building schedule.
Once the house is complete you can run Dreamcatcher’s Home Automation Software to control and manage the building.
Dreamcatcher is at the heart of everything we do, in ZURU we have more software engineers than all other engineers combined! With Dreamcatcher we are trying to change the way we view construction - making it a simple, transparent end to end experience and ultimately a much more affordable and compelling product.
Finally, to maximise the potential of the ZURU Factory and Dreamcatcher Software we need Good Product Design.
Elon Musk has been a huge inspiration for our goals and vision. The way his companies are reinventing business models by continuously focusing on the speed of innovation is incredible. This mindset has led to vertical integration, first principal thinking, a focus to cut waste, a team of problem solvers and hard work. If it speeds up the innovation cycle his team will implement the process and it has led to unstoppable product-focused companies like Tesla & SpaceX.
For us, we think about everything Elon does in our entire company, and that starts with Product Design. We want to ensure that the design and materials chosen are cost-effective, plentiful, have a path to zero-carbon, can be manufactured at scale, shipped without breakage, are easily assembled, meet building codes and meet the level of customisation we require.
There are three key Customisation Focuses in our Product Design Philosophy:
The first is Meeting the Different Building Codes from around the world. Our compliance team are continually databasing these. There are thousands of building codes in each country, and we’re ranking them (from strictest to least strict) by region, allowing our product design team to understand what product and customisation is required.
Second, we are making sure that the Different Components Integrate Together. It’s easy to design a single known building, but we need to find simple solutions where the building components can integrate seamlessly together while still having positional flexibility to design the custom-made and unique building required by the customer.
The third area is Aesthetics. Every building owner wants to tailor the look and feel of their building to their individual tastes. We are working on fully customisable surface finishes, fully flexible window designs and building services designs - all able to be physically recreated on the factory floor. If you can touch it or see it we’re making it customisable to your tastes and needs.
These three factors coupled with creating a product that is manufacturable at scale bring significant complications for our product design team. We are making great progress towards our goal of a fully customisable, environmentally friendly product - one where you’ll be able to design and produce any size or type of building you wish.
The Environment is also a huge and important driver for our product design teams. Currently, the construction sector creates 40% of the world’s carbon emissions - through raw material mining and processing, construction and during the operational life of the building. Having a path to zero carbon in all three areas is critical. We believe for the world to meet its carbon goals the building industry will be one of the most important sectors to be disrupted and changed positively. We plan to lead this charge towards reduction of carbon footprints and to promote environmental sustainability.
Critically the product design team also focus on quality and cost. We know these are extremely important factors in purchasing decisions. In everything we do Cost and Quality are at the forefront of all our decision making.
Key Principals - to pull every part of our company together, solve problems, fail faster and create a performance culture at ZURU we follow some key ideas.
These include Extreme vertical integration, Automation and our rules on the speed of innovation. These principles allow us to build teams that can reach their full potential.
To innovate faster and reduce costs we are vertically integrating. We are following in the footsteps of industrial titans of old like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford as well as the modern-day Elon Musk. This includes Extreme Vertical Integration of the Product Design, Software, Manufacture and Onsite Assembly. We are focusing on how each item of raw material moves from its source to the end consumer and how to make this process as efficient as possible. We design, build, code, assemble and test every part of the product and process in-house. Vertical integration allows us to innovate faster and integrate ideas without waste and with reduced cost. It allows us to make decisions at all levels of the company. If it's core to the business - we do it ourselves and we become the best in the world at doing it.
Automation is central to what we aim to achieve. We want to minimise the need for communication and human intervention in the production process, thereby reducing the communication steps required, as well as automating the physical factory and onsite assembly. It’s effectively thinking of the entire process as a production line from customer to final product and trying to eliminate all waste in between. How do you get labour to zero? Obviously that’s not possible but every day at ZURU that’s exactly what our teams try to do.
Coupled with Vertical Innovation and Automation are our internal ‘Speed of Innovation’ rules. Its our ability to innovate and the speed we do it at. The rules we follow are ‘Vision’, ‘Leadership’, ‘Talent Density’, ‘Experts Leading Experts’, ‘Waste Elimination’, ‘Vertical Integration’, ‘Simplicity’, ‘Specialists not Generalists’, ‘168 hours in a Week’, ‘First Principle Thinking’ and ‘Performance Culture’.
At ZURU we’re really excited to change the way we build forever. Our offices in Italy (Milan/Modena), China(Shenzhen, Dongguan and Huizhuo), India (Ahmedabad/Kolkata), America (Los Angeles) and New Zealand (Auckland) are working to do this every day. We have over 400 engineers and designers working in over 900,000 square feet of research and development space.
If you’re interested in joining our team we are looking for Engineers, Designers and Problem Solvers from all industries. We are looking for people who want to join a performance culture of hard work and teamwork. We need people to help us make the future better and change the way we build forever.