Infrastructure is the best gift that we can give to society

On 19 June 2014, CIRIA hosted an event at the Barbican entitled Innovators of tomorrow’s infrastructure that brought together many of the themes already discussed in 2014. The event showcased new and emerging innovation and provided a valuable networking opportunity for CIRIA’s wider membership. Chaired by Prof John Connaugton, University of Reading (Chair of CIRIA Executive Board), and with presentations from Costain, London Underground, CH2M HILL and @OneAlliance, the event showcased innovation in emerging areas of intelligent asset management, immersive visualisation technology and off site construction.

A challenging keynote address from Terry Hill CBE, Arup, emphasised that “game changing innovation” and substantial R&D investment is required to provide resilient and “condition-aware” infrastructure for future generations, as we continue to rely on an aging infrastructure stock, much of it dating from the Victorian era.

“We share a common ambition for innovation as an enabler to better infrastructure to improve society”
Terry Hill CBE, Arup

In 2010 Terry Hill was asked to chair a UK Government committee to investigate the unique characteristic of construction in comparison to other sectors – that whilst the UK has Europe’s safest construction industry, it shows little or no trend in increasing efficiency or cost reduction. Several steps to reducing construction costs in infrastructure by 15% were identified. Developing a clear pipeline to inspire confidence in investment, smarter procurement by highly experienced client managers, smarter risk allocation to incentivise innovation, smarter stable supply chains and discipline towards design including objective challenges, appropriate standards, and performance criteria.

Achieving these targets requires investment in research, training and innovation alongside a change in attitude towards construction research. Unlike sectors such as aviation and pharmaceuticals, Terry argued that construction has not had its technological revolution and while this continues the industry and society suffers through infrastructure congestion, lost opportunities and economic constraints. Although there have been some advancements in the area of BIM and offsite construction, a lack of investment in construction research these are incremental changes and change to smarter, greener and low cost infrastructure remains slow.

“Infrastructure drives transformational change in the shaping our built environment.  However, infrastructure, in particular it’s construction, is costly, requiring billions in investment. For this reason it is seen as an unpopular and high risk investment for public and private sector alike. In order to change the perception of infrastructure society needs to question whether this is a fundamental truth or consider how this can be challenged.
Without innovation and research investment, our only option is to build infrastructure the mid‐20th Century way – high carbon, low innovation and high, very high cost – all very wasteful and inefficient. Big construction is risky and generally, well, big. Innovation in construction is constrained by the risk aversion of investors, lenders and Governments that want tried and tested techniques using established technology.”
Terry Hill CBE, Arup

Following the keynote speech a number of presentations from client & supply chain representatives showcased innovative approaches in asset management, collaborative working and infrastructure delivery.

Introducing @OneAlliance, a collaborative organisation formed to deliver a large part of the Anglian Water AMP4 and AMP5 investment programmes, Dale Evans discussed reorganising the design process from vertical projects to horizontal work streams to support product based delivery and develop the delivery of projects through off site construction.

Embedding innovation throughout the supply chain by adopting a non-traditional procurement method, engaging with suppliers and addressing a cultural change has allowed the successful delivery of these programmes.

Simon Newton, London Underground and Sam El-Jouzi, CH2MHILL then discussed standardisation and off site construction concepts and benefits are being realised through 4D and 5D BIM development. Their presentations showcased how immersive visualisation technologies are being used for public stakeholder engagement and design reviews.

Concluding the evening’s presentations Ross Agnew, Costain, focused on the move towards intelligent asset management and the importance of linking to design, operation and the value created by an infrastructure asset or system to create value beyond an initial economic value and looking towards a long term. Technological advancements and increased data have allowed the evolution of asset value and maturity. However data alone is useless unless it can be translated to useful information and by incorporating this data, complete or incomplete, into existing asset management systems will link asset performance with the value they create.

Summarising the event, Prof John Connaughton, highlighted the political and economic challenges faced by the infrastructure industry going forward, the need to create a post-transformative vision of the infrastructure sector in 2025, and reiterating Terry Hill’s message that “Infrastructure is the best gift that we can give to society”.

For more information on various resources, initiatives, plans and organisations surrounding infrastructure and construction research, CIRIA has launched an industry signposting resource, or you can visit www.civilinfrastructure.org.

A webinar recording with presentations from Ben Kidd, CIRIA, and Terry Hill, Arup, to showcase construction research and innovation opportunities in the transport sector via existing and forthcoming Horizon 2020 funding calls is also available on CIRIA’s website: Accessing EU funding for civil engineering innovation and construction R&D in the transport sector.