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Interview: Michael Pelken, Keltbray

Taking innovation to a new level

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Michael Pelken, director of innovation at demolition specialist Keltbray, explains why the new role was created, plans to cultivate and commercialise new ideas, and bringing technological advancement into sync with the needs of users.

Why was the role of director of innovation at Keltbray established?

Keltbray wants to formalise its innovation work and articulate strategies for current and future developments. It is an opportunity for the business to explore new collaboration models with design, industry and academic partners to leverage government grant funding incentives and HMRC tax rebates provided as a stimulus in support of R&D.

Roles like mine are nested in a wider industry drive to foster construction to become more productive, sustainable and economically competitive, both nationally and internationally. The UK government’s Construction Strategy 2025 challenges the industry to achieve a 50% reduction in emissions, a 50% reduction in time for delivery, and to lower construction and whole-life cycle cost by 33%. It’s a huge task. 

What areas of innovation will you be focusing on?

There will be a focus on a more holistic and integrated approach to project delivery, product development and process optimisation. The plan is to establish shared principles between different business units and at group level.

We will identify and articulate innovation needs and create an R&D technology roadmap for individual units with detailed and tangible short-, mid- and long-term objectives.

I want to create greater synergies between design consultancy, systems design (engineering) entities and the supply chain. Another aim is to close acknowledged gaps between industry and academically-led R&D. We are now exploring new collaboration models with several universities, and improved technology and knowledge transfer will ensure greater mutual benefits in both academic and industry settings.

Sustainability is another key driver and motivation for us, we want to build on our latest achievements, such as cutting kWh usage by 14% in 2016, and saving 17,000 lorry journeys, equivalent to 64% of overall CO2 output, by moving construction material on barges.

We are also currently discussing how to protect, license and commercialise our ideas. Design and engineering projects always have moments of creative invention and problem solving, and some of these ideas have potential to create truly novel solutions.

For clever tool or process developments, we want to be able to capture that knowledge and turn it into methodologies that can be reapplied or adapted for other projects. This is about being part of an innovation culture that recognises and cultivates good ideas to create competitive advantages and therefore eventually drive industry change.

How advanced is Keltbray’s use of BIM?

The average project use is at BIM Level 2, and there are cases where we are taking BIM beyond the typical construction scope, using it for quantity surveying, site operation, quality assurance and planning construction sequences using 3D animations.

Keltbray also works with our engineering design consultancy, Wentworth House Partnership, to manage accurate point cloud surveys that form the background for a lot of our BIM design work.

The longer term target is to fully use BIM data throughout all life cycle stages, for building asset management and decommissioning, depending on project scope and complexities.

Our BIM platform is supported by additional bespoke digital tools, such as the Keltbray Integrated Piling Software (KIPS), a fully integrated project management solution that is used all the way from bid stage to design and engineering, to procurement, to site management and quality assurance, and for capturing asset management data to feed back into BIM.

Have you mandated BIM across the businesss?

Not yet, simply because it is not required for all Keltbray offerings. Our view is that the market will drive this and that the client base is an integral part of the debate, developing BIM Protocols and information requirements that define their needs.

For us, it’s not just about pushing the “BIM buttons”, but developing a set of bespoke solutions in support of a more general BIM setup, while responding to individual client and project needs.

In what key way will the industry innovate over the next five to 10 years?

Advancing technologies will support better interdisciplinary working and a more holistic approach towards a fully integrated, coordinated and optimised project delivery throughout all stages.

Is Keltbray looking seriously at 3D printing concrete components or structures?

Organisations such as the Manufacturing Technology Centre or Loughborough University with architect Foster + Partners have done some interesting research in this area, but the structural specifications required by this business could not currently be delivered by 3D printing.

In the long run, additive manufacturing and Design for Manufacture and Assembly principles will offer new opportunities to Keltbray – for instance for the newly established Keltbray Structures business.

Will virtual reality or augmented reality systems, such as Microsoft HoloLens, live up to the hype?

When used simply to visualise designs or work sequences, the technology doesn’t really push the envelope. The ability to overlay digital information onto the physical environment is more exciting to us, and emerging possibilities to better comprehend conditions such as air movement, thermal performance and acoustics, energy simulations and asset information, including material properties and service integration.

What challenges does advancing technology present?

Technological advancement is not always in sync with the needs of the users it is designed to help. For example, working in BIM people often have to strip down the data to the point where it is usable, it’s a bit like going shopping with a racecar, sometimes the most advanced technology is not the best tool for the job.

In the future, more businesses will customise toolsets, or invent new ones, that are more in line with what they really need.

This is about being part of an innovation culture that recognises and cultivates good ideas to create competitive advantages and therefore eventually drive industry change.– Michael Pelken, Keltbray