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TechFest | Innovation in Action

The work of Britain’s most innovative teams and civil engineering companies has been recognised with coveted TechFest Awards at New Civil Engineer’s Festival of Innovation & Technology.

Held in the heart of London, the event aimed to provide a forum for civil engineers to debate the industry’s biggest tech challenges and stimulate opportunities for further innovation. It also gave a series of awards for great innovations that are shaping the industry.

These included a Centre for Digital Built Britain-sponsored Judges Supreme Award: Digitisation for Digital Built Britain.

Headline award

This, the headline award on the night, went to Gaist Solutions for its innovation and its role at the forefront of built environment digitisation.

Sixteen more awards were handed out with winners ranging from the biggest engineering giants such as RoyalHaskoningDHV for its Nereda wastewater treatment technology, to small start ups such as 3D Repo.

Five of these awards were judged live on the day, with pitches made in front of an audience in the judging pods.

These were the Best Use of Technology categories, for companies, projects or teams that are developing innovative products, systems or technologies that are driving best practice in infrastructure delivery and operation. Each category focused on a specific industry change initiative.

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The Graduates Challenge in full swing

Winner of the Best Use of Technology with a focus on Health, Safety & Wellbeing award was Galliford Try and 360safeVR for their Virtual reality safety training which the judges said was a brilliant combination of technology with knowledge of behavioural safety.

The Best Use of Technology in Carbon Reduction award went to Royal HaskoningDHV for its full-scale Low Carbon Nereda plant for Anglian Water. The judges were impressed with its substantial and substantiated carbon benefits across the full lifecycle.

The Best Use of Technology in Driving Efficiency through Design went to Ramboll for its Dynamic Masterplanning toolkit, which provides an easy to use interface for clients when optioneering designs. “Usefully boring,” the presenter said; “usefully innovative” the judges said.

The Best Use of Technology for Productivity in Delivery award went to DataScope System for its DataTouch app that digitises construction management processes; DataScope also claimed the Technology Provider of the Year award for firms that are driving innovation in technology in the civil engineering industry.

The Best Use of Technology this time with focus on Enabling Smart Infrastructure award went to Valerann for “Making roads smart”, its solar-powered cats’ eyes. The judges said it was an innovative step in addressing a known issue.

Two awards were specifically focused on SMEs and start ups. One was for the winner of the inaugural NCE Accelerator powered by Costain (see box), a programme aimed at getting SMEs with bright ideas in front of the clients who can most benefit from using them.

Start-up award

The second, the Start-up of the Year award, was open to any start-up company involved in the development of apps, technologies or technology-led products related to civil infrastructure. Finalists pitched on the main stage and audience votes were combined with those of the judges to pick the winner: 3D Repo.

The Environmental Impact Award, for projects or teams that are driving development and adoption of innovation and technology that addresses the growing challenge presented by emissions and noise impacts of civil engineering went to Arup for Nature-Smart Cities.

Transport for London Engineering in partnership with Transmission Dynamics claimed the award for teams driving whole life performance for the Escalator SmartSteps on the Bank Station Capacity Upgrade project.

There were three categories for innovation in specific areas. The first, for teams that are innovating in transport systems in the aviation, rail and roads sectors, went to Mattest Southern for its MATtest Automated Quality Assurance, a sensor-led innovation that automates collection of data for pavement laying.

Water and wastewater

The second, for teams innovating in water and wastewater systems, went to Wessex Water for its new supply grid and optimiser technology, a system which actively manages Wessex’s water supply system in an intelligent and connected manner.

 This innovation gives customers a more secure water supply and offers further benefits including a significant reduction in energy costs.

Finally, the award for teams innovating in energy systems went to Taylor Woodrow Vinci Construction UK for its efforts at Old Oak Common Depot.

There were two awards for excellence in research. The first was for researchers and research teams that are in the process of developing potentially game-changing innovations, technologies or apps. It went to Imperial College London for The MX3D Bridge – the world’s first 3D printed metal bridge.

The second  was for researchers and research teams that have developed potentially game-changing innovations, technologies or apps that are now being applied on live projects. It went to the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction, University of Cambridge, Geocisa, Dragados and Transport for London for the health monitoring of heritage buildings with fibre optic sensors during the Bank Station Capacity Upgrade.

Special award

A special award went to the inaugural winner of the NCE Accelerator, powered by Costain.

The Accelerator is New Civil Engineer’s platform to get the SMEs with the brightest ideas in front

of the clients with the biggest problems to solve – as it  is often in these SMEs where the best ideas germinate.

Five SMEs pitched in front of an audience of more than 200 including a panel of expert clients primed and ready to act as mentors to the winner.

This winner was CO-YOU, a three-man start up that believes it has a carbon-absorbing packaging material that could dramatically reduce construction’s carbon footprint by using the

tens of thousands of tonnes of packaging transported to sites every year to absorb carbon dioxide and store it as the product biodegrades.

It is a potentially planet-saving initiative and it wowed the clients.

But the clients were also impressed with all five finalists who pitched on the day of the Festival and three more SMEs who fell at shortlist stage.

They will all now be mentored first by Costain experts the client mentors take over with a view to securing them all a live project on which to demonstrate their innovations.


Sharing innovation

Tideway asset management director Roger Bailey called for more clients and top tier consultants and contractors to join knowledge sharing platform i3P, to overcome the “lack of productivity” in construction.

The i3P network was launched two years ago and is hosted by the government backed Knowledge Transfer Network.

The i3P network acts as an online innovation portal which facilitates the sharing of innovation and aims to drive increased value across the infrastructure industry.

It currently has 10 client organisations and 15 Tier 1 contractor/consultant members including Heathrow, HS2 Ltd and Network Rail, with consultants Mott MacDonald, Skanska, Arup, Bentley and Costain.

But Bailey said more members are needed to join and share their data to allow the supply chain and other clients access to more information and validate innovations more easily.

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Bailey: “By sharing between clients, collectively you can come to a better solution”

“The problem with new technology is that it’s new, and clients that might be risk adverse think: ‘do I really want to use this or would I really rather use something which is tried and tested?’,” Bailey told the 250-plus audience at New Civil Engineer’s TechFest.

“Well, a previous client can use it on something small and a non-critical part of their project. Then it gets validated and the next client can use it on theirs. That’s a clear thing to make sure clients aren’t reinventing the wheel.

“By sharing between clients, collectively you can come to a better solution. You can have more money, more interest, more solutions to solve a problem.”

An example of where Tideway is sharing its data is where one of its shafts which has been built to serve the tunnels in the western section of the project.

Contractor BMB, a joint venture between Bam Nuttall, Morgan Sindall and Balfour Beatty, carried out analysis of the deflection and settlement of the area around the shaft with a view to re-evaluating how many people would be affected and who would have to be consulted when building this type of shaft.

He said the data for this is being sent to i3P to allow other clients to benefit from their experience.

“The partnership with i3P is really important because that information is then disseminated and adopted by other infrastructure clients building shafts in London providing a laboratory to move projects forward.

“We probably won’t benefit that much but we’re not actually putting much investment into it. All we’re doing is providing a shaft for people to monitor.”

Bailey was speaking at TechFest after an opening keynote address from Rolls Royce director of global manufacturing Hamid Mughal. Mughal urged the construction industry to follow the manufacturing model of creating environments where innovations can be trialled at scale but where there is no blame attached to failure.

He explained how most innovations fail when trying to make the leap directly from the lab to a real, live project and that places have to be created for them to be trialled at full-scale. Accelerators and incubators such as i3P are essential, he said.



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