Skanska, O’Rourke and Costain win share of £18m to develop digital tech

Skanska, Laing O’Rourke, Costain and Winvic are among contractors that will share a pot of government funding that aims to transform the construction industry through digital technology.

The firms are all part of four different projects to win funding under the £5m Research Leaders programme announced by UK Research & Innovation. The 24 winners of another £13.3m from UKRI to fund collaborative research and development projects has also been announced this week.

Among those firms involved in the £5m Research Leaders programme:

  • Cementation Foundations Skanska is a partner on a project led by University College London to develop an innovative scheme to develop robots to communicate and build structures together.
  • Laing O’Rourke and Aecom are part of a team led by the University of Bath’s Automating Concrete Construction (ACORN) project looking at how to automate concrete construction.
  • And Costain and Winvic are supporting a project run by the University of West England that aims to integrate conversational artificial intelligence (AR) and augmented reality (AR) with BIM for faster onsite assembly.
  • A fourth scheme under Loughborough University’s leadership is investigating the construction of building components using 3D concrete printing technology.

Meanwhile, Bouygues, Costain, Severfield and BAM Nuttall are among the 24 projects to share the £13.3m fund for collaborative research and development:

  • Bouygues is involved in Globalhom, a project aimed at increasing productivity and quality in mass housebuilding using connected, modular homes made from an interchangeable kit of parts.
  • Costain is supporting Gearbuddy, a programme designed to increase the productivity on site by 15% or more by using BIM, IoT and data analytics to increase plant and equipment utilisation.
  • Severfield has teamed up with the British Constructional Steelwork Association (BCSA), the Steel Construction Institute, Trimble and WSP to increase productivity through the use of integrated offsite steel modules.
  • And BAM Nuttall is working with Cranfield University and Iotic Labs on “The Learning Camera” project, which allows users to train a standard web camera attached to a ruggedised computer to recognise a scenario on site and send an alert if the content of that view changes, which it hopes can be applied to various different use cases on sites.

All of the funding provided within the two pots is part of the total £170m Transforming Construction Challenge, which aims to identify innovative new construction processes and techniques.

Announcing the awards as he visited offsite manufacturer Vision Modular, construction minister, Richard Harrington, said: “The use of artificial intelligence, digital techniques and offsite manufacturing, help us harness new methods of working. This delivers on the government’s Construction Sector Deal which pledges to build better performing buildings, using less energy and providing better value for taxpayers.

“These new methods to help the construction industry are a testament to the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy’s aims of building a better tomorrow for us all through scientific and technological advances.”

Professor Sir Mark Walport, UKRI chief executive, said: “Technologies being developed in the UK provide a significant opportunity to transform the way we build, such as the use of augmented reality to improve design or robotics to aid complex building assembly.

“Through projects such as these, the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund allows us to catalyse innovation across the UK’s vital construction industry improving productivity, sustainability and safety.”

A full list of the 24 collaborative R&D projects can be found here.

Projects in the £5m Research Leaders programme: 

1) Manufacturing integrated building components using digital hybrid Concrete Printing (HCP) technology

Principal Investigator: Dr Richard Buswell, Loughborough University

Cooperating investigators: Dr Peter Kinnell, Loughborough University; Professor John Provis, University of Sheffield

This project will develop the next generation, Hybrid Concrete Printing (or HCP), technology that uses 3D Concrete Printing to create a near-net-shape (an object slightly larger than the desired object) and then use subtractive processes (cutting, milling and drilling) to remove a small amount of material to create the net-shape – the desired object to sub-millimetre precision. HCP technology will enable the intelligent integration of building performance and energy production and storage technologies, freed from traditional constraints on form and finish.

Project Partners: Autodesk; Concrenetics BVBA; Urbastyle; Foster and Partners; Synthomer; Cundall Johnston & Partners

2) Applied Offsite and Onsite Collective Multi-Robot Autonomous Building Manufacturing

Principal Investigator: Mr Robert Stuart-Smith, UCL

Cooperating investigators:  Dr Mirko Kovac, Imperial College London; Professor Jacqueline Glass, UCL

This project will develop an innovative multi-agent control framework that enables a team of robots to operate in a similar way to how social insects, such as termites, work – collectively designing and build structures of substantial scale and complexity; by quickly and efficiently organising themselves while also providing flexible, scalable coordination of many parallel tasks. 

Project Partners: KUKA Robotics UK; Arup; Buro Happold; Constructing Excellence; Manufacturing Technology Centre; Cementation Foundations Skanska

3) Automating Concrete Construction (ACORN)

Principal Investigator: Dr Paul Shepherd, University of Bath

Cooperating investigators: Dr John Orr, University of Cambridge; Professor Tim Ibell, University of Bath; Dr Ajith Kumar Narayanan Parlikad, University of Cambridge; Dr Saverio Spadea, University of Dundee 

This project’s vision is to dramatically improve whole life construction sector sustainability and productivity by creating a culture that takes a fresh, holistic approach to the manufacture, assembly, reuse, and deconstruction of concrete buildings, leading to a healthier, safer, built environment. 

ACORN will build on the well-established computational design expertise of its team, who have developed innovative digital tools and techniques to optimise the shape, layout, structure and façade of buildings during the design phase.  It will extend this approach downstream in the building process, to encompass fabrication.

Project Partners: Aecom; AKT II; OPS Structural Engineering; Byrne Bros; Tonkin Liu; McKinsey & Company UK; Foster & Partners; Arup; Building Research Establishment; Buro Happold; Laing O’Rourke

4) Integrating Conversational AI and Augmented Reality with BIM for faster and collaborative onsite Construction Assemblage (Conversational-BIM)

Principal Investigator: Professor Lukumon Oyedele, University of the West of England

Building Information Modelling has transformed the way buildings are designed and enhanced the implementation of building manufacturing technologies such as Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DFMA).

However, the adoption of BIM by on-site frontline workers for assembly of manufactured building components is non-existent. This results in loss of the productivity gained from using BIM for design and manufacturing phases of the process. On-site frontline workers spend more time interfacing with BIM tools than they spend on completing the actual assembly tasks.

This project aims to utilise Augmented Reality (AR) for providing visual support to access BIM systems and installation guides without obstructing or distracting the view of onsite workers.

This project will therefore exploit advanced AI, computer visions, and AR technologies to develop an end-to-end BIM solution to support onsite assembly operations. In addition to boosting the productivity of frontline assembly workers, this project seeks to eliminate the tedious process of coordinating onsite activities which often involve multiple workers and machinery. The AR-assisted Conversational-BIM system will ensure a coordinated approach for remote experts to guide frontline workers and monitor project progress and productivity.

Project Partners: Geo Green Power; Winvic Construction; Mobibiz; TerOpta; Costain 

Image: Pop Nukoonrat/

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