£72m boost to help virtual reality revolutionise construction

A £72m funding package will develop virtual reality (VR) and digital design for the construction industry.

The establishment of the Core Innovation Hub, as part of the Construction Sector Deal, is intended to make the UK a world leader in the latest construction techniques.

The Core Innovation Hub will transform the UK’s construction industry by supporting the development and use of technologies such as digital design, advanced manufacturing, robotics, drones and augmented and virtual reality.

Many of these techniques are used and proven in other sectors, such as automotive manufacturing, but it will be a first for construction. The increased use of technology will enable the sector to design and build faster, cheaper and more sustainably.

Smart sensors and digital systems will be incorporated into buildings and infrastructure, so they can manage and maintain themselves – and the data they gather will enable the government and industry to make our towns and cities better places to live, work and travel in.

During a visit to the Building Research Establishment (BRE), which is receiving funding, and is part of the Core Innovation Hub, business and industry minister Richard Harrington said: “We have the opportunity to revolutionise construction in the UK and the Core Innovation Hub will help us build smarter, greener and more efficient buildings much faster and cheaper than we do now.

“From the introduction of virtual reality to offsite manufacturing, our modern Industrial Strategy is helping the UK construction sector to develop new techniques and skills – modernising the sector and delivering the homes and buildings our nation needs.”

Exchequer secretary to the Treasury Robert Jenrick said: “Our manufacturing industry is vital to the UK, contributing billions to the economy every year.

“This new fund will see it partner with our construction and digital sectors to revolutionise the way we develop crucial infrastructure. It will enable us to build in more efficient and cost-effective ways, boost productivity and ensure we are fit for the future.”

Following a nationwide competition as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the government, through UK Research and Innovation, awarded the £72m funding to the Transforming Construction Alliance (TCA) to deliver the national hub. It is partnership between three centres of established excellence: Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC); BRE; Cambridge University’s Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB)

Keith Waller, programme director for the Transforming Construction Alliance, said: “I am delighted to be leading the Transforming Construction Alliance in its mission to deliver the Core Innovation Hub project, and boost productivity and performance in the construction sector.

“The UK construction industry is facing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change and modernise. Through the Industrial Strategy and the Core Innovation Hub the UK will be able to seize this opportunity – enabling us to master precision manufacturing resulting in the delivery of better performing schools, hospitals and homes – to the benefit of businesses, public services and people.”

Andy Mitchell, co-chair of the Construction Leadership Council, welcomed the appointment of the Transforming Construction Alliance to lead the Core Innovation Hub for construction: “The Core Innovation Hub has an essential role to play in delivering increased sector productivity by accelerating industry innovation.  

“It will enable construction businesses to develop and validate new products and manufacturing and assembly processes and will leverage investment into UK offsite manufacturing capability. The CIH will provide an opportunity for all organisations with an interest in construction innovation to participate in our industry transformation and I urge everyone to find out how they can benefit from this remarkable opportunity.”

Civil Engineering Contractors Association director of external affairs, Marie-Claude Hemming, said: “Our sector has historically been slower than others in maximising the opportunities arising from innovation.

“Understanding innovation’s value is vital in a fast moving business climate where markets and technologies are continually evolving.

“While we have built a highly successful and highly skilled industry to date, if we do not now focus on embedding innovation in our businesses and across the industry as a whole, there is a real risk that our reputation as civil engineering contractors will wane and we will remain fragmented and become uncompetitive.

“The Core Innovation Hub therefore plays a key role in helping industry meet these challenges and will help to successfully put innovation at the very heart of all that we do.”

Image: David Izquierdo/

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