Revolutionising construction: digital transformation with the support of public funding

UK 6 August 2018.- With public capital investment of over £100 billion for UK infrastructure committed by the government back in 2016, the plan was to have this money invested by 2020-21 as part of a wider £483 billion project pipeline to develop over 600 projects into the mid-2020’s. The government commitment is obviously slightly more challenging now with the additional Brexit considerations to take into account, however major projects are being granted permission to proceed such as Hinkley Point, HS2 and Heathrow and the Government are also laying the foundations for improved “soft” improvements as well. One example of this was the call for industry and researchers to assist in developing the latest in digital manufacturing techniques. On this occasion, we highlight a programme which is currently underway with bids submitted to develop the future needs of construction companies with digital innovation projects. All the information that follows is the one that has been provided by the British Government publicly.

Innovate UK, as part of UK government Research and Innovation department, will invest up to £72 million to establish a Core Innovation Hub (CIH) to transform the UK construction sector. The CIH will support collaboration across the digital, manufacturing and construction sectors to develop and commercialise digital and manufacturing technologies for the sector. The hub consortium will enable these sectors to collaborate to the following:

  • develop a digitally driven, manufacturing approach to built assets;
  • improve construction sector productivity;
  • optimise the whole-life performance of those assets.

The CIH will lead a programme to develop standards, tools, designs and regulation methods. These will help to support a sustainable marketplace for digitally driven manufacturing in construction. Whilst activities in the hub will be undertaken in existing facilities, it is expected that it will actively develop links with other centres, business and academia to support innovation in construction across the UK.

With the collaboration between industry and academics, the expectation is that partners will work together on an approach for digital and manufacturing technology that is truly performance based. The focus areas include developing programmes which help create better performing built assets and increase industry wide adoption of emerging digital and manufacturing technologies.

With the objective of designing new processes to improve productivity in the construction sector, the innovation hub should provide access to technical equipment, knowledge and development programmes to enable:

  • the development of digital infrastructure and product specifications, building on existing level 2 and 3 building information modelling (BIM) standards;
  • the development of end-to-end system processes from design, through build and commissioning, to maintenance at full scale for a manufacturing approach to buildings;
  • large scale testing of manufactured infrastructure component systems during development;
  • independent validation of the functional performance of products and processes, and assurance to a digital certification process.

Specifically, the way that this Core Innovation Hub will help to transform the construction industry is to help consolidate a core of existing facilities and cross-sector network partners. By co-ordinating and supporting innovation across many sectors including manufacturing, digital and energy, it may be possible to improve the whole-life performance of built assets through design collaboration.

Working closely with the ISCF Transforming Construction, the group funded the Active Building Centre to enable developed products to be fully integrated. The CIH is also working with partners including Catapults research centres, Centres for Doctoral Training, and businesses throughout construction supply chains, particularly SMEs and start-ups to encourage investment in the UK.

When bids were called for during the first half of 2018, it was indicated that priorities for bids would be given to proposals which can an establish the hub in time and also demonstrate an integrated consortium of facilities (which can also be expanded upon) to co-ordinate programme activities. The projects also needed to demonstrate strong industry commitment to the project after completion and be in a position to recoup the costs to match the funding requested.

Funding for the construction sector is important to enable the delivery of these ambitious infrastructure plans, and in particular, funding to help the industry meet the required productivity improvements over the near future are a highly pertinent subject matter in current market conditions. This innovation-led programme should help support government policy around modern methods of construction, investment programmes and procurement needs and help construction projects stay on schedule, keep costs in control and deliver safer working conditions.