Liam Winder, Innovation Lead: Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Transforming Construction, at Innovate UK, who also holds the Innovate UK place on the Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC) Steering Group, makes the case for taking a whole-life approach to infrastructure
We are now over halfway through our four-year Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Transforming Construction Challenge. The challenge set out to transform the construction industry, specifically delivering buildings 50% faster, reducing costs by 33%, slashing emissions by half and raising productivity by 15% – as well as closing the UK trade gap. UKRI has invested £172 Million in the creation of the Construction Innovation Hub, the Active Building Centre and a series of collaborative research and development projects to accelerate change in the industry and address societal challenges, such as the shift to clean growth. While the task is sizeable, there are examples of great innovation across the country, as demonstrated by the range of our funded projects which can be found in the Transforming Construction Story Catalogue.
The approaches of all the projects we have invested in follow the three central challenge areas:
- Digitising – Delivering better, more certain outcomes using digital technologies
- Manufacturing – Improving productivity, quality and safety by increasing the use of manufacturing
- Performance – Optimising whole-life performance through the development of energy efficient, smart assets
What becomes evident when looking at the portfolio of the Transforming Construction challenge is the clear move towards whole-life value in projects, no matter their innovation area. We now know we can build cheaper and faster, but we must go further across the industry to ensure our UK built environment offers a comfortable, safe, sustainable and green place to live, work and play.
Any new major infrastructure programme must balance cost with the overall outcomes they want to achieve over a 30-to-50-year lifespan or even greater in terms of economic transformation, carbon reduction and wider social and environmental benefits. That’s why it’s paramount we take a whole-life approach to UK infrastructure, considering the entire economic and societal value of the asset from the design stage – not only the initial capital outlay of the project – but also the transition into daily operation, on-going maintenance, potentially required upgrades and eventual decommissioning of the asset. Rather than starting at the handover phase of a project, the design stage should identify our objectives and how they will be achieved at every stage of an asset’s lifetime.
Looking at infrastructure through a whole-life performance lens allows us to make better decisions on our infrastructure investments and most importantly change the way we choose to deliver it. Significantly, it changes how we approach procurement; smart contracting combined with performance-assurance systems ensures we are gaining the most value during the build stage. Focusing on how an asset will be operated throughout its lifetime, including maintenance and upgrades, will ensure we have the right technologies deployed to provide better data collection and sharing processes during the handover stage.
By taking a longer whole-life view, organisations are more likely to embrace digital design technologies, move to modern methods of construction – such as off-site manufacturing, augmented and virtual reality tools, and artificial intelligence in the design, manufacture, build and maintenance phases of infrastructure deployment. Taking the long view encourages organisations to deploy cleaner more efficient energy systems, replace outdated methods and take up a collaborative innovative approach to delivering infrastructure which becomes a service to its end user and continues to provide value throughout its lifetime. Such benefits are surely worth making the change for?
Through the University of Cambridge, CSIC is an active member of the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC) and is hosted in the UKCRIC-funded National Research Facility for Infrastructure Sensing (NRFIS).