Bright future for construction innovation

The Construction Scotland Innovation Centre recently secured a multi-million funding package for the next five years, became a delivery partner for the Construction Innovation Hub and launched a pilot project that could see homes built offsite by robots. Chief executive Stephen Good takes a look at what lies ahead for the CSIC

It has been an exciting start to the year here at CSIC, not least due to the fantastic news we received in February of almost £11m of core funding, which will allow us to support construction innovation and growth for another five years.

This significant investment from the Scottish Funding Council, Scottish Enterprise and HIE will support our Phase 2 mission to mainstream innovation in construction. We expect the funding to support the sector to deliver £998m of additional gross turnover, create 1,847 new jobs and retain 4,721 existing jobs.

We have big ambitions for the future. In Phase 2, we will focus on the cultural barriers across the industry and address issues like new innovative procurement models, diversity and inclusion, internationalisation, collaboration, productivity and investment in R&D and innovation. We will champion industrialisation and manufacturing opportunities, including offsite, robotics and design for manufacturing and assembly – these are the things that will drive productivity, quality and efficiency measures across the industry.
Despite our name, these ambitions extend outside Scotland. That’s why the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s Transforming Construction programme will be a key focus for us in Phase 2. Part of the UK government’s Sector Deal, the programme will see £170m of investment over three years to help the industry transform.

The programme consists of four key components – a £72m Construction Innovation Hub, the £36m Active Building Centre; the £2.5m Network Plus initiative and a £59m collaborative research and development call programme. Exploiting these opportunities is crucial.
In April, we were delighted to become a delivery partner of the Construction Innovation Hub, to help them deliver the Transforming Construction innovation programme right across the UK. Scottish businesses and universities have embraced CSIC’s innovation programme over the past five years, and the opportunity to widen our impact further through close collaboration with the Construction Innovation Hub is clear.

The hub brings together world-class expertise from the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), Building Research Establishment (BRE) and the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB). It aims to be a catalyst for change, driving collaboration to develop, commercialise and promote digital and manufacturing technologies for the construction sector.

We’ll be working in close partnership with the hub to deliver transformation in the UK construction sector, including embracing modern methods of construction, sustainability and new digitally enabled manufacturing and assembly technologies.

Meanwhile, closer to home, we’ve been collaborating with Robert Gordon University and timber engineering firm Glulam Solutions on an exciting project that could potentially result in a new method for the construction of homes using robots.

The project will focus on the design of a cross-laminated timber (CLT) joint that can be fabricated offsite by robots. Currently, manual assembly takes place on-site, which can lead to delays, inaccuracies, defects and material waste. This research project has the potential to significantly improve construction methods, helping to increase the quality and output while reducing costs and time.

The project will look at the process of designing a simple timber prototype house that can be made by robots from complex CLT panels which are manufactured offsite. It is hoped that a range of ideas and solutions could then be developed, from logistics to design, the real testing of CLT joints, and formation of insulated composite panels. This project has the potential to address pressing market needs within the UK.

During the project, Glulam Solutions has been using the robotics facilities available at our Innovation Factory, a 35,000 sq ft facility that offers a range of product development, manufacturing, robotics and visualisation equipment on an open-access basis. It is designed to encourage construction-related businesses to collaborate, innovate, learn and prototype.

We also have technical and supervisory support available to provide guidance and advice regarding projects and equipment use. This project is exactly what the Innovation Factory was built for.

I believe the construction industry is on the verge of a digital and manufacturing revolution. With the next phase of vital funding support in place, we can help scale-up and mainstream innovation within the sector, which in turn will unlock growth.

However, we’re relying on industry and its clients, both public and private, to really step up and drive that revolution forward. New innovative technologies and processes offer huge opportunities to develop better, faster, cheaper solutions. However, these are just tools, and will not change the face of the construction sector in isolation. We need the right people to use them.

The key is adopting the right mindset and ensuring the visionary leadership is in place to implement the change in culture that’s needed across the industry’s people – both on the client and delivery side. People are at the heart of innovation and we need bright, talented and committed people to come forward and support us.

Steven Good – CEO - www.cs-ic.org/innovationcentre/


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