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Future perfect

NCE has brought together some of the best innovations on the market today. Alan Powderham considers what drives engineers to innovate such products.

When you understand civil engineering you see the world differently," says the ICE. And seeing things differently, particularly from the perspective of others, is one of the keys to innovation.

Another key factor is safety. If something is safer to build it is also likely to be easier and quicker to do so and achieve better quality. Improved safety brings more certainty.

In creating the infrastructure that underpins our civilisation, civil engineering is truly global and offers special opportunities for innovation.

Projects are central to our industry with a strong focus on initiation, winning and delivery. Delivery is important, but is the balance right? Is enough attention given to learning through projects and innovation?

It is easy to invoke constraints to innovation. They include tradition, lack of awareness or expertise, risk aversion, the desire for certainty, and of course the pressure on delivery. It is not uncommon to hear promises that projects will use "tried and tested" methods – ie an implicit avoidance of innovation. Perhaps too much is made of the uniqueness of our projects, but they are bespoke and require interpretation and judgement. This arises not only from location and ground conditions but also from the crucial relationship of design to construction.

So how can we achieve more innovation? First and foremost, innovation must add value and the keys lie in directly addressing the constraints. So innovations that can save time, reduce materials and costs while also increasing certainty will be highly attractive. This may seem ambitious but in my experience, for example in foundation engineering, it can be achieved very effectively through the observational method. This is inherently innovative and focuses on safety, adding value through enhancing the connection between design and construction, based on measurements, feedback and communication.

Opportunities for innovation are also influenced by the attitude and motivation of the project team. Civil engineering is very much about people and how they work together. The benefits of innovation must be obvious, or made so, to all parties to the project. Teamwork is vital.

But creative ideas are likely to float around as just ideas unless there is strong advocacy – innovation needs to be anchored by a champion.

Another driver for innovation is success – one innovation achieved stimulates enthusiasm for more – particularly within a team.

- Alan Powderham is Mott Macdonald's director, transportation.

Plastic pipes made from recycled bottles

With surface water and sustainability two of the biggest headline-grabbers this year, it is little wonder that a new product addressing both these issues has caused a stir. Made entirely from recycled plastic bottles, the twin-walled JFC Plastics' CorriPipe is designed to be used in land and road drainage projects.

Plastic bottles are converted into High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) pellets. The product is made using a twin extrusion process with one pipe simultaneously extruded inside the other, and then the two welded together.

The outer pipe is corrugated for high strength, while the inner wall is smooth, ensuring steady water flow. The pipes themselves can also be recycled once they have reached the end of their useful life.

Coating which could save lives

A new road surface coating could reduce the number of road accidents which occur on icy roads. "SafeLane" is a patented combination of epoxy compounds and aggregates. It acts like a rigid sponge storing chemicals which help prevent frost or ice from forming on the road.

The anti-icing chemicals have to be applied when ice and snow are forecast. The coating remains effective when bad weather returns.

"Safelane" also provides better traction, while protecting road surfaces from wearing too quickly. The coating has been trialled on the southbound lanes of the A46 as it approaches the A428 near Coventry. Here and at other test sites around the country, weather-related crashes have fallen. Optima IM managed the installation of SafeLane near Coventry – the first test site in the UK.

TioChem cement
A cement which minimises pollution

TioCem is a cement that decomposes air pollutants. It contains titanium dioxide, which decomposes oxides of nitrogen by photocatalysis.

The technique is effective when applied to footpaths, roads, parking areas and hard standings.

The active surface layer will oxidise nitrogen compounds into harmless nitrates. These in turn react with the calcium hydroxide of the concrete surface and drain off with the next rainfall. This makes it suitable for a range of building materials, including paving slabs, roof tiles, facade elements, block paving, tunnel linings and noise barriers.

Environmental monitoring in a central street in Bergamo, Italy, showed a successful reduction of oxides of nitrogen using the product.

TioCem corresponds to EN197-1, the recognised European standard for common cements. It is available in the UK from Castle Cement under licence from Heidelbert Cement and Italcementi.

Pipe leak detection
Camera sensor system

Wouldn't it be great if water main leaks could be detected without having to dig the ground? Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions, Yorkshire Water and OpTIC Technium have developed a camera and sensor system do this. It will also be able to assess the structural integrity of a live water main and accurately locate leaks.

This will eliminate unnecessary excavation and minimise traffic disruption. The equipment will also help to reduce water wastage and unnecessary maintenance. The team aims to develop a camera system with a wider array of sensors to provide even more detailed information from inside live water mains. The first live pipe inspection camera developed in 2006 can already access the water network without the need for an excavation and the project scope aims to improve the camera's vision while adding sensoring arrays.

Maccaferri roadmesh
Reinforcement with a double twist

Many rural roads in the Scottish highlands are built on very weak, peaty ground. This poses no problem for cars but is unsuitable for heavy lorries.

To reinforce the roadways and bring them up to useable standard without having to import huge quantities of stone road-base materials, Highland Council worked with geotechnical specialists Maccaferri to come up with a bituminous overlay which includes mesh reinforcement.

Maccaferri Roadmesh is a double twist wire reinforcing mesh sandwiched between bituminous layers. It allows the road surface to work as a cohesive mass, absorbing the horizontal tensile stresses and spreading the imposed traffic loadings over a wider footprint, reducing its damaging effect.

Biometrics Information Management System
Checking site worker credentials

Human Recognition Systems has produced a Biometrics Information Management System (BIMS) for the construction industry. BIMS incorporates biometrics with management software so construction managers can check and monitor health and safety accreditation and produce reports. Access to construction sites is granted by verifying the credentials of an employee against their biometric templates using a person's iris, hand, vein, face or finger.

This is stored with information such as CSCS accreditation, employee induction, and health and safety details so the system administrator can check that the individual is permitted on the site. Workers can also enjoy the freedom of not having to carry countless cards demonstrating their credentials.

Wassara Water
Water powered drilling system

he Wassara water-powered drilling system can power the DTH ("down the hole") hammers using water instead of compressed air. Its advantages include, low energy consumption, no oil mist and reduction of airborn dust and low drill steel wear.

Apart from the hammer the Wassara drilling system consists of bits, check valves, drill tubes and high pressure pumps. In urban drilling environments, air drilling is often prohibited. This is because there is an inherent risk of explosions with compressed air. With the Wassara drilling system, this is not a problem since the water leaving the drill bit has a low velocity.

Since a high pressure water pump is much more efficient than an air compressor, the energy consumption is roughly 25% of a comparable air drilling system.

Pipeline Routing optimisation method
Pipeline planning using GIS

Pipeline Routing Optimisation Method (PROM) has been developed by Black & Veatch to help engineers locate pipelines.

The geographical information system (GIS) based method reduces costs during planning, and can help cut construction and operating costs. During route selection PROM yields savings of £25,000 to £50,000 by bringing together unlimited sets of data, for the site.

The datasets will cover geology, topology and land use and features such as roads, water courses, floodplains and railway lines.

The system is already being used by Anglian Water and is being developed for two other water companies. The datasets are then amalgamated to produce the location for the best route for a pipeline on a digital map.

Land referencing
Data collection using GIS for land use

Millar & Bryce has introduced a geographical information system to its Land Referencing business. It records property ownership and hyperlinks directly through a digital map to documented evidence. This can be delivered through a dedicated web page or by remote access. This allows clients and project stakeholders direct access to the published geo-spatial information. This drives improved productivity, clearer visualisation and better data analysis.

Another benefit is reduction of risk as anomalies are identified early. The system also allows for the integration of satellite and other imagery so the user can visualise the landscape and the project direct from the desktop. It is used to determine ownership information and produce property reports.

Ultra Fortis
High strength plastic pipes

Ultra Fortis from Uponor is a plastic pipe which can withstand 27.6MPa of water pressure, a requirement for sewer pipes in the UK. In 1995 Thames Water, Anglian Water and later, Southern Water suspended the use of plastic pipes amid concerns over its ability to withstand damage from high-pressure water jetting used for clearing blockages.

Uponor worked closely with its suppliers to develop a new material suited to this application, researching polymer properties and processing techniques.

Added benefits of the pipe include quick installation and better resistance to tree root ingress. The low internal friction surfaces reduce blockages. The new plastic composite sewer pipe, is now being used by all three water companies.

Hand-arm-vibration monitoring system

Based on the UK's leading methodologies on human vibration exposure, Edinburgh-based noise and vibration expert, Reactec, has developed a new method for monitoring hand arm vibration. The HAVmeter is the core of a new technology to manage employee exposure to Hand-Arm Vibration. The low cost system has been designed and developed using feedback from major global construction companies, public bodies and small, local industries which are trying to control and eliminate the risks of hand arm vibration exposure. The HAVmeter monitors and records individuals' exposure to hand arm vibration and will warn workers when they are approaching their legal vibration exposure limit.

Additional valuable information such as tool usage, and details of tools producing abnormal or excessive amounts of vibration, can also be recorded.

Innovation will be showcased at Civils this year at Earls Court 2, London between 18-20 November.

Now in its 10th year, the event will be a celebration for all the fantastic achievements and innovations in UK civil engineering and construction from the last 10 years and in the years ahead. We will also be inviting our exhibitors to enter the NCE Innovation Awards, judged prior to the exhibition and presented on site.

For more information visit

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