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Best for Innovative Projects

Innovative projects are the lifeblood of the UK construction sector, and our winner offers them in abundance.

WINNER: MOTT MACDONALD

For many engineers, the overriding consideration when choosing an employer or looking to change jobs is the projects they will be working on. Will they be exciting, innovative and challenging, or is there the danger of getting stuck doing the same thing week after week with your technical abilities going to waste?

If technical matters are what really excite you, the three companies shortlisted in the Best for Innovative Projects category certainly offer a chance to work on exciting, challenging schemes. But the stand-out winner is Mott MacDonald, which, the judges said, is "at the cutting edge of every sector".

The consultant’s portfolio boasts "a host of truly world-class, innovative projects", they added, ranging from the combined stormwater management and road tunnel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to the environmentally outstanding Manchester Civil Justice Centre and the world’s first barge-mounted desalination plant. As the breadth of these projects suggests, while other firms may claim world-leading abilities in specific sectors, Mott MacDonald’s extraordinary level of technical innovation runs right through the business.

The company’s size (it has 14,000 employees) means it can invest in the expertise it needs to take on large and complex projects, but Mott MacDonald has also developed internal systems that promote innovation. These include professional and technical forums, and the use of industry experts, or "gurus" to act as practice leaders in their chosen fields.

"Practice leadership has stemmed from our centres of excellence," says the company. "As experience around the world grows and knowledge is transferred to new people, new pockets of excellence are emerging." That worldwide experience includes the US and China.

Mott MacDonald was responsible for design and management of the "big dig" jacked tunnel in Boston, and value engineering for the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

In China, the company designed and delivered an incineration plant that destroys one of the world’s most potent gases, HFC-23, produced by chemical factories. It has also designed a system to capture natural gas from oilfields in Nigeria. In the UK, recent projects include introducing a new process that makes sewage treatment plants self-sufficient in energy, refurbishing Newcastle’s High Level Bridge and design and management of foundations and tunnels at Heathrow’s T5.

RUNNER UP: PARSONS BRINCKERHOFF
Pushing the boundaries,pioneering new materials.

Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) impressed the judges for its commitment to research and development, which has led to it "pushing the boundaries" – particularly in rail engineering – and pioneering new materials. This is exemplified by its 2007 project to build a new footbridge over the Paddington-Penzance railway line at St Austell in Cornwall. PB’s solution was to design a bridge built entirely from fibre reinforced polymer (FRP), the first of its type on the UK rail network and the longest-span FRP bridge in the world. The innovative structure was simpler and quicker to install than a conventional steel alternative, and is expected to be virtually maintenance and corrosion-free.

Other recent innovative projects include a sustainable groundwater treatment system for
a former gasworks site in Exeter, where contaminants included cyanide, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and petroleum hydrocarbons.

PB expanded the capability of existing reactive barrier technology to enable it to be combined with other treatment methods and used for a wider range of contamination problems. PB also applies its innovation-led approach to building design, and has developed an energy efficient, low-carbon design for a new training facility for the RAF in Anglesey.

RUNNER UP: WSP
Technical innovation being used to tackle climate change

Innovation is a core value for WSP, and the judges were impressed by the way the company has taken this to mean not just technical innovation, but also incorporated it in its approach to the climate change challenge.

The company has developed a carbon footprint toolkit for its engineers to use when designing buildings, so they can deliver concept design advice to clients and architects on the potential impact of using different low- or zero-carbon technologies. The toolkit arose out of a desire
for a common approach to integrating renewable technologies into the concept design stage and to predict how much CO2 would be saved by each of the different options. The solution is an apparently simple spreadsheet-based system that incorporates a hidden set of renewable technology system parameters, enabling the engineer to see all the different options for
a proposed building.

Elsewhere, WSP has helped the Highways Agency save money on the massive M1 J25-28 widening project by proposing a reduced cross section width on the 24km-long route. The resulting design has saved 10,000m3 of earthworks and 36,000m2 of bituminous materials, and resulted in only five underbridges needing widening, rather than 13. This has reduced the overall budget by £12M.

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