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Q&A | A week in the life of a digital innovator

Laing O’Rourke’s offsite construction division, Explore Manufacturing, is changing the way civil engineering projects are delivered. NCE spoke to Alex Bryson, a structural engineer working in the company’s Design for Manufacture and Assembly division

What do you most look forward to on a Monday morning?

The variety of what my day may entail. With my role I am working across a number of live and tender stage projects providing specifications for cast in lifting fixtures, full handling sequences for all stages of manufacturing and installation, structural design for handling at low concrete strengths and development of temporary works solutions. The number of jobs means priorities can change at any point and I need to react to that.

Alex Bryson

What specific skills have you learned through the job?

I have developed skills in the design of reinforced concrete structures but also experience of steel and timber design as often required for temporary works such as support frames and storage racks.

I had previously used 3D modelling software at university for various projects, however this role has allowed me to develop these skills further and I now have my own library of regular elements such as lifting accessories and temporary works items which allow me to construct the models more efficiently.

A key skill in this role is communication. My designs impact a wide range of stakeholders. For safe and successful implementation it is crucial that all involved understand the process.

What’s the most interesting project you’ve worked on?

The Custom House Crossrail Station presented some of the most bespoke and challenging elements I have worked on. One particular challenge was the 680mm thick Victoria Dock Road Wall which separates the station from the road running parallel to the railway and which was designed to withstand the impact of a derailing train. It was designed with heavy duty shoe connections at the base and has protruding columns at intervals along the wall to pick up the mezzanine level above.

The columns were to be cast as one element with the wall below creating a 22t element with most of this weight located in the lower wall section. This combined section was too heavy for lifting in the factory and yet the high quality finish achievable within the factory was required. I proposed the column section of the element be cast indoors with a second stage cast for the wall carried out in the yard, where the crane capacities are greater.

How do you explain what you do to your friends and family?

This has always been difficult because as soon as you mention precast concrete most people immediately imagine the post-war prefab houses. Many are amazed to hear that we are now manufacturing things such as wall units with stone cladding and windows and insulation already installed saving time and labour on site or brick effect parapets removing the need for bricklayers to work at height over live railways.

Did your role exist five years ago?

Laing O’Rourke opened Explore Manufacturing in 2009. Demand has significantly grown in that time, as has the size of the team and the complexity of the work undertaken.
My role has developed in the time I have been there from managing the handling sequences for individual components to now also include working more closely with our designers to promote opportunities to incorporate precast into tender proposals and shape jobs to suit the design for manufacture and assembly process. We are regularly developing new products which require challenging design solutions and therefore the skills and knowledge required are continually evolving.

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