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Civils 4.0 | Five to Watch at TechFest

Photo 7 hwe crop

Five visionary ideas are improving civils delivery now and in the future were set to be among those on show at TechFest in London.

Innovation ranges from the disruptive game-changer to the incremental advances deployed on projects day in day out. All innovations have a key role to play as the industry drive to improve productivity and value for the end-user continues to intensify.

The following schemes and ideas were set to be demonstrated at New Civil Engineer’s TechFest event in London, and are a sample of the visionary ideas aiming to make civil engineering work safer, more cost effective, and more robust.

Concrene, University of Exeter

There is a constant drive to develop ultra-high performance construction materials with modern engineering technologies. These materials have to exhibit enhanced durability and mechanical performance, and have to incorporate properties that satisfy multiple uses to be suitable for future emerging structural applications.

Concrene pic 2

Concrene pic 2

Ultra-high performance concrete

This novel product is one of the first aiming to use wonder-substance graphene to fundamentally change construction products fit for the future.

Cement and concrete manufacturing account for a disproportionately high amount of global carbon emissions, and this has been the primary driver for the development of the substance Concrene. Applying the latest advances in nanotechnology and nanoscience to concrete mixes to enhance their performance means concrete can be used in lower volumes.

Concrete is the most commonly used man made construction material globally. Made of coarse and fine aggregates bound together by the chemical reaction between cement and water, it is then reinforced with steel bars to withstand bending and compression stresses in the structural framework of any building.

Engineering concrete at the nanoscale means its chemical and physiomechanical properties can be altered and enhanced.

Concrene’s developer says its innovative nanoengineered concrete demonstrates an unprecedented range of enhanced properties when compared to standard concrete. These include an increase of up to 146% in compressive strength and 79.5% in flexural strength, while also enhancing electrical and thermal performance.


The UK Connected and Intelligent Transport Environment (UK CITE) is creating a real-world laboratory for testing how connected and autonomous vehicles can interact with communications infrastructure.

The scheme is being developed as part of a consortium of 11 partners led by Jaguar Land Rover and Visteon, including Highways England. It is focused on bringing together multiple technologies for the purpose of testing the technical and commercial viability of a 40km road network or “Connected Corridor” running 40km along the M42/M40/A45/A46 and through Coventry City.

Photo 7 hwe crop

Photo 7 hwe crop

Autonomous vehicle test bed

Using Highways England and Coventry City infrastructure, roadside cabinets will be installed, along with antennas, that will be connected to a back office system linked to Highways England and Coventry traffic management systems. These will communicate with vehicles fitted with communications technology that will allow the testing of several “Day 1 Use” cases.

The project is part funded by Innovate UK and there are three technology aspects to the project.

  • Testing vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure communications and interoperability between vehicle manufacturers and technology providers
  • Trialling the use of an intelligent transport system connected app for virtual roadside and driver messaging
  • Testing street level wifi to understand if it is a viable technology to provide convenience and or automotive related services.

This collaboration has helped the project partners learn about how Highways England manages the strategic road network.

 It has also enabled Highways England to increase its understanding of and capabilities in the field of vehicle and cellular communications, and the impact this will have on how it manages traffic.

Land Rov er R2R SIV, Aspin Group

In 2015, Network Rail introduced a restriction on manually propelled rolling platforms – commonly known as link trolleys – carrying over 1t.

The restriction means that heavy geotechnical survey kit such as track window sample rigs have to be transported to site using three trolleys, adding cost and time to track works.

Land Rover and Aspin Group have developed an innovation which involves mounting a load bearing mast on the rear of the new Land Rover road-rail vehicle, avoiding the need for using manually propelled trolleys.



Avoids the need for hand pulled trolleys

This significantly reduces the time and labour needed to collect essential ground investigation data and reduces fatigue and risks for operators. Track access time is reduced by as much as 80% and productivity can be more than double.

It has Network Rail approval and was first used on the Huntingdon to Woodwalton Four Track Project in March last year. It has gone on to deliver on many other works for Network Rail across the UK.

The drilling rig was designed so that it can be removed from the Land Rover to increase the flexibility of the unit and enable exploratory holes to be formed in the cess.  

Access to the rail network is also easier as the vehicle can access most step-free points or use approved foam track access platforms as well as crossing off road agricultural terrain.   Other safety measures include a manual jack so sample tubes and casings can be rescued in the event of a breakdown and a retractable barrier that protects operatives during adjacent line open work. Having the rig on the vehicle also eliminates the risk of the rig toppling or parting the trolleys when ramping the rig on and off the trolleys.   

Virtual reality safety training, Galliford Try

Contractor Galliford Try has partnered with external consultant 360safeVR to roll out pioneering virtual reality safety training to sites across the UK.  Phase one of the initiative is underway and feedback shows that this has been effective and impactful with trainees citing specific examples of behavioural changes attributed to the training.

Galliford try vr stanton cross 3

Galliford try vr stanton cross 3

Virtual reality safety training

The teams have developed bespoke storyboards to address key training objectives then produced 360video films of real on-site situations, carefully constructed to be as authentic as possible. The result is a powerfully immersive experience for the viewer, who watches the film on a VR headset, and can experience “dangerous” situations in total safety.

This contrasts with  the traditional approach of providing a site induction for every new member of staff, operative or visitor. The people delivering these briefings and inductions tend to rely on traditional communication methods: PowerPoint slides, perhaps a short video or some multiple choice questions.

BridgeCat, Gaist Solutions

BridgeCat is a revolutionary mobile bridge inspection system funded and developed by the Department for Transport (DfT) in collaboration with Cumbria County Council and Gaist.  

During Winter 2015/16 Cumbria experienced its worst flooding in recent years. As a result, many bridges were damaged or destroyed, causing widespread travel disruption and triggering a major inspection and repair project incurring heavy financial costs to the taxpayer.

D1130 dsc5103

D1130 dsc5103

Mobile bridge inspection

Accordingly, a request was received from Cumbria, working with DfT, to design, build and prove the concept for a mobile bridge inspection system capable of safely and rapidly assessing bridge scour.

The BridgeCat system is currently active in Cumbria in a trial phase and is ready for deployment in any situation where it might be required.

Current indications suggest the system has the capabilities to herald a new phase in bridge inspection making bridge inspections quicker, and more reliable.

The Gaist-designed system comprises a Unimog vehicle with rear mounted crane onto which a pan and tilt unit and sensing equipment is mounted. A cable reeler with integral slip ring and a series of plug and play cables allow continuous power and data transfer to the sensing equipment which includes a sonar, underwater camera and altimeter.



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