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Vital innovation never far from controversy

ICE news

A SCHOOLS competition aimed at encouraging the next generation of innovators proved a refreshing backdrop to the ICE Southern Innovative Construction conference, held at the Intech Centre in Winchester last month.

ICE president Mark Whitby took time out from the conference to judge the efforts of children from three local secondary schools in planning the route of a new railway. The challenge, set up by civil engineering graduates in the region to promote the profession, introduced the many environmental, social and technical problems faced by civil engineers.

Back at the conference, Whitby used next year's centenary of the Wright brothers' first self-propelled aeroplane to explain the importance of future innovators.

'I try to look for where the next innovations will come from. The early aeronautical engineers were civil engineers innovating and we must give the next generation the tools to get it right, ' he said.

'The modern engineer is conceptualising, using computers to drop ideas into models. In future it will be the virtual world that builds the ultimate product, and behind the scenes the next level of innovation is now coming.'

Whitby's address was followed by presentations on the award winning Gateshead Millennium Bridge, Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower, and the controversial Chineham waste to energy plant.

Recent Greenpeace activity at Chineham prompted Hampshire Waste Service project director John Collis to use a demonstration of the innovative developments at Chineham to justify the plant's existence.

At first sight, construction makes sense given that the facility is being built next to a water treatment works, replaces a predecessor closed due to unacceptable emissions and will generate electricity by incinerating 90,000t of waste each year.

Also, a team of French architects has improved the plant's appearance. Features include a partially grassed split level roof and semi transparent and light sensitive polycarbonate cladding to put part of the plant's interior on view and make less attractive areas blend in with their surroundings.

However, Collis closed on the defensive. 'It's worth noting that 75% of Hampshire residents questioned have said that they believe incineration should be part of our waste disposal strategy, but 100% said that they didn't want it near them. It has to go somewhere, ' he said.

Controversy is also dogging Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower, with contractor Mowlem demanding an extra £2.75M from Portsmouth City Council to complete the £16.5M structure (NCE 16 May).

Mowlem's claim relates to the need to replace the planned rack and pinion lift in the 165m high tourist attraction with a more expensive conventional lift.

Mowlem is understood to be claiming extra cash on the basis that the price of the design and build project had not been fixed, as a formal contract has not been signed. Work started on the basis of a letter of intent from Portsmouth City Council in February 2001 which City Council project manager Mike Broomfield said 'is not unusual in our business and without which many projects would be delayed'.

However, Whitby added fuel to the flames by commenting that it would be 'extraordinary for a local authority to go ahead with such an innovative project without having a full tender price agreed, and I am amazed that there should be any suggestion of it.'

While steering clear of the ongoing contractual dispute, Broomfield, Arup design manager Ian Brooks and Mowlem project manager Jon Neale said that complex engineering problems are demanding innovative solutions to make the tower's concept a reality.

The 165m tower will feature a 138m slipformed concrete Aframe with hexagonal legs and two curved steel members connected by horizontal aerosols to form the shape of a spinnaker sail.

According to Brooks, the construction load case dominates the design because the structural model changes continuously as the tower rises.

A critical component is at the connection between the curved 'bows' and the base of the Aframe. Arup has designed a massive steel box and bolted connection to accommodate peak stresses, which will be developed during the simple cantilever phase from bending moments approaching 200MNm.

Gifford project engineer Peter Curran closed proceedings with a presentation of engineering innovations during the design and construction of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, and by agreeing with Whitby's statement on future innovation.

'State of the art software has made innovative structures such as this possible, both for structural analysis and fabrication.

The key to future innovation is through computers and the virtual world to inspire young people, ' he said.

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