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TechFest | Raising the bar with technology

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There was a clear optimism and ambition vibe at New Civil Engineer’s inaugural Festival of Innovation and Technology – TechFest – in September.

Over the course of one, very long  day 400 people engaged in a packed programme that offered inspiration through TED-style talks, provoked thought through round table discussions, and delivered invaluable insight through live presentations and judging for the TechFest Awards.

TechFest is New Civil Engineer’s contribution to getting civil engineers and civil engineering companies interested in innovation. Civil engineering companies spend, on average, just 4% of their revenue on research and development (R&D), according to figures supplied by the 100 companies in the NCE100 Companies of the Year (New Civil Engineer, July).

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The Mini Hack in full swing

Clearly not all civil engineers are happy with that, and Techfest was a forum for those that see innovation as crucial to the future of the industry – whether that be technological innovation, technical innovation or cultural innovation.

The day began at 7am, when the doors were flung open to 24 early career engineers from six projects and teams to take on the Mini Hack – a pressure-cooker competition, where, after being given just two hours of hands on software training, the teams were asked to develop comprehensive concept designs for a major new transport interchange and connecting light rail scheme.

Set in a real location, using real data, the teams used Bentley software to conceive, develop and then present their ideas to four expert judges – after six hours’ non-stop work.

The prize was an expenses-paid trip to Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure event in Singapore, and that served as ample motivation as the teams blew away the judges with the quality of their work. The winning team from Mott MacDonald had the perfect presentation with just the right balance of engineering, environmental sensitivity and technology, said head judge and head of information systems at Crossrail, Malcolm Taylor.

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Daytime delegates getting inspired

But Taylor also had praise for all contenders: “Without exception, all the teams were remarkable in so many ways – their professionalism, passion, work-rate, commitment and enthusiasm was fantastic,” he said.

“The teams did more work in five hours than I’ve seen some design teams produce in five weeks,” he added. “They all understood how to use smart modelling technology to convey their design concepts, and that as well as having good solutions, part of their challenge was to sell their ideas in a presentation – just like in real life.

“If I could, I’d have all of them in my team at Crossrail anytime,” he enthused.

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The awards evening recognised those breaking new ground

That was the first prize awarded at the event, at the end of the daytime programme.

That swiftly gave way to the evening, where 54 teams were competing across 15 categories for the TechFest Awards.

The first category was a rather special one. It was for Start-up of the Year, sponsored by Costain, and was open to any start-up company involved in the development of apps, technologies or technology-led products related to civil infrastructure.

Earlier in the day delegates watched five companies pitch their wares before voting for their favourite. Delegates’ votes were then combined with those of the judges and the winner, Sensat was named (see box).

Digitising the world

Sensat digitises the world, recreating places and objects in incredible detail, rendering them into a virtual environment. Its Mapp app helps businesses move decision making from manual and physical to automated and digital. Sensat has supported over £800M in infrastructure builds in the civil and nuclear industries. 

The big winner on the night was Carillion Morgan Sindall joint venture (CMS JV) for its trailblazing automation of plant on the A1 Leeming to Barton scheme (New Civil Engineer August 2016). It won the Judges Supreme Award and the Advance in Automation, Robotics & Industrialisation Award.

The judges said CMS JV had a partnership that adopted and adapted a number of innovative products across the supply chain. They added that there has been a clear strategy to increase automation to realise efficiency and improve health and safety and the scheme has provided valuable case studies and flagged areas for further development.

This category had a number of strong entrants and it was no surprise that there was also a high commendation for Colas for its potentially life-saving Autonomous Impact Protection Vehicle (New Civil Engineer, May 2016).

Other big winners included JBA Consulting which won Designer of the Year and the live judged Best Use of Technology for Driving Efficiency Award.

The judges said JBA really impressed with its commitment to research and development, and the clear evidence of innovative tools that have been designed to improve the entire asset lifecycle from design through to operation.

Sea forecasting

Of its ForeCoast Marine sea conditions forecasting app, the judges were hugely impressed by the scale and scope of it. It has global impact, they said.

ForeCoast Marine is now the most comprehensive meteorological and oceaneanographic risk management system available.

It enables weather downtime strategies to be optimised throughout the lifetime of an engineering project; from optimising the design of construction strategies to managing day to day operations.

Put simply, ForeCoast Marine is a game changer that has raised the bar in terms of risk management. This assertion is validated by the fact that after just three years from concept, ForeCoast Marine is now being used to manage risks and increase efficiencies on some of the largest and most complex marine engineering projects in the world. This includes the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power station and three European offshore wind farms.

Another double winner on the night was Free Running Buildings which claimed Research Team of the Year as well as the live judged Best Use of Technology for Carbon Reduction Award.

Energy software

Free Running Buildings’ primary aim is to provide building occupants and owners with a thermally comfortable indoor environment using minimal energy consumption. It strips out complicated, expensive and energy intensive services and uses innovative techniques to maintain or improve performance.

On paper, the judges said this team gave clear evidence of a collaborative approach combining multiple academic partners.

They said highly innovative technology was being developed and they were impressed by the way learning was being shared with peers.

The judges said the winner’s live presentation had a super narrative, delivered by an inspirational and passionate presenter, who aptly described the massive potential for carbon efficiency using its Freecool app, a zero energy dehumidification and cooling system. This presentation demonstrated how different innovative applications might be developed in collaboration with the wider industry.

Third double winner was Gaist Solutions, which was named Technology Provider of the Year as well as winning the Best Use of Technology for Enabling Smart Infrastructure Award.

Its HighwayView app gives highways authorities stunning high definition imagery of their entire highway and footway networks which can be loaded onto any GIS system.

Transforming highway management

The app is, quite simply, transforming highways asset management. Public and private network operators can now access information that will improve their delivery of safety, maintenance and performance, as well as their investment planning.

Fusing mobile high-definition video technology and cloud-based information services, it can transform high definition video imagery captured in the field into a highly detailed map layer of footway and carriageway imagery.

HighwayView condition data can be used as a primary condition survey and safety inspection system. It can be imported into any GIS or asset management system. Users can pin-point any defect no matter how small anywhere on their network in seconds.  

Efficiencies in difficult environments

The judges were hugely impressed. They said that by working with local and national government Gaist has helped drive efficiencies in difficult environments and on challenging projects. Its HighwayView app is a genuinely innovative technology from a company that has recognised and risen to the challenges of meeting national infrastructure needs, the judges said. They also recognised the potential to expand Gaist’s solutions internationally and to incorporate machine learning to drive real value.

The final double winner of the evening could easily have won three or four awards, so impressed were the judges with the innovative spirit within the Environment Agency, CH2M and Balfour Beatty’s Thames Estuary Asset Management 2100 team. What they did win was Project Team of the Year and Innovation of the Year for Big Data.

As a team, the judges were awed by the way it had created a “Best for Project” ethos that demonstrates a totally collaborative and coordinated way of thinking for project delivery. The team has a clear and defined innovation strategy across the entire project and gave evidence of exploiting technology to enable enhanced productivity and cost savings.

On big data, it demonstrated real world integration of multiple data sources to maximise the benefit from the collected data.

It provides a solution which can be used by  several organisations leading to cost savings through sharing the data and enabling collaborative working. The Thames Estuary project has the potential to deliver real value across a massive asset estate.

Sensat’s start-up success

Surveying and mapping firm Sensat  won the Start-up of the Year award at Techfest.

Start-up companies at the event were given the opportunity to showcase their products at the event as they vyed for the award.

The Start-up of the Year Award, sponsored by Costain, acknowledged companies striving to bring new thinking to the industry.

Techfest sponsor and Costain group innovation and knowledge manager Tim Embley said it was important for start ups to be given the space to innovate.

Startup of the year

Startup of the year

Costain managing director, natural resources Alex Vaughan (left) presents award to Sensat founder and CEO James Dean (middle). New Civil Engineer editor Mark Hansford is on the right

“Wouldn’t we be a great industry if we could turn around in 20 years and say we cultivated these organisations?” he said.

The competition was open to any company involved in the development of apps, technologies or technology-led products related to civil infrastructure.

Presenters, from AEC Solutions, Converge, Igloo Vision, SenSat and Sirv, were given five minutes to pitch their products to the audience and judges.

Audience members voted via the New Civil Engineer TechFest app, created for the conference, and these scores were combined with the judges’ votes to choose the overall winner.

Sensat scooped the top prize for its drone-based aerial surveying and mapping app which enables engineers to digitally examine a site, measure surroundings, and make calculations.

Igloo Vision pitched its “immersive projection environments” which have wrap-around sound and vision booths and allow teams to interact with scenarios using projection cylinders that aim to “increase spatial understanding, peripheral awareness, and team interaction, and reduce information clutter”.

Sirv showcased its incident reporting software which aims to make reporting safety-related incidents in construction easy and efficient, and increase the number of reports, which they said is “super simple software to be used by everyone” and should help users “understand what hazards their workforce faces”.

AEC Solutions exhibited an app which can be used to centralise and simplify tender and bid information, and Converge Solutions pitched its wireless sensor network which could end manual monitoring on construction sites.

Huge congratulations to all winners, but also to all delegates. Whether they won or lost, they should be rightly proud of their achievements. 

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