Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC)
Building solid partnerships in building…
Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC)
FUNDING: £7.5 million initial investment
WHO: Scottish Funding Council, Construction Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands & Islands Enterprise and 13 universities in Scotland
Building solid partnerships in building
The construction sector in Scotland employs over 170,000 people (about 7% of the country's total workforce) and contributes over £10 billion to the national economy (about 10% of the total). In recent years, the industry has been in recession, but there are positive signs of recovery – and the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) is leading the way by encouraging collaboration and innovative responses to industry needs...
The Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) has its sights set on a spacious, vacant building across the street from its new offices in Glasgow. And if everything goes according to plan, the construction industry in Scotland will soon have an impressive new facility that could transform the way it goes about its business in future.
“We're setting up a home for industry to explore new technology that either doesn't exist in the construction space or hasn’t been mainstreamed yet,” says Stephen Good, the Chief Executive of CSIC.
Inside the new facility, due to open later this year, will be new high-tech devices which will seem like science fiction to some of the people who come in to use them – advanced modelling and simulation tools, automated manufacturing and robotics, augmented and Virtual Reality equipment, 3D printers and sophisticated sensor technology. Drone technology will also be part of the mix, with aerial cameras increasingly used for difficult (and sometimes dangerous) jobs such as surveying and facilities management; for example, Historic Environment Scotland uses drones to inspect its buildings for damage, rather than using scaffolding or other more costly methods.
One of the buzzwords on everyone’s lips will be BIM – building information modelling – systems, and the idea is that everyone who trains at the centre will eventually speak the same digital language, embracing new technologies which promise huge advantages to industry.
Some of the technologies will come from unexpected directions. One of the CSIC’s new academic partners, Abertay University in Dundee, is better known for its focus on video games, but it will also have a serious role to play in the new facility, as more and more organisations join forces to improve the whole approach to construction; for example, in design and simulation. CSIC is also working closely with the other Innovation Centres in Scotland, including The Data Lab and CENSIS and, “given the underpinning nature of the construction industry across the breadth of Scotland’s economy,” has a big contribution to make in other sectors such as healthcare, oil and gas, industrial biotechnology and aquaculture, where innovative construction solutions can also be key to unlocking value through innovation.
“The key to driving innovation in any industry is collaboration,” says Good, and the new Centre will provide an opportunity for everyone involved in the sector to meet, including universities and companies not even involved yet in construction. To illustrate this, Good cites the example of the Forestry Commission Scotland, which has launched its own timber development programme as part of a drive to encourage more sustainable use of home-grown timber materials in construction, as well as innovation in design, engineering and processing.
Industry training will be another big part of the Centre's activities. For example, using sensors which analyse motion (climbing ladders or lifting weights), people can be taught health and safety procedures. Other sensors could be embedded in building materials to check for structural damage or monitor air quality. Rapid prototyping will also be possible, using 3D printers and other digital CNC equipment – speeding up design and saving money. Companies will also be able to “explore the latest methods of construction” such as offsite-manufactured and modular homes, and “try before they buy” as new equipment comes on stream. Good also wants to create an environment in which industry feels more at home, takes ownership of the innovation process and has open access to the cutting-edge equipment and expertise in a familiar industry setting.
For Good, it is essential for the industry to drive what goes on at the Centre. “More than 500 businesses in Scotland have already told us their needs,” he says, but there are thousands of other firms, ranging in size from a few individuals to large corporations, who could benefit from being more involved, and that is a challenge which Good and his team are determined to meet.
So far so Good
Good believes one of the biggest achievements so far has been building the team of in-house industry experts, with seven people in position already, growing to ten later this year. All of them are specialists in different areas, with complementary experience in construction innovation, economic development and start-up ventures, and they recognise the opportunities created by the CSIC. “They all buy into the vision,” says Good, “and love exploring what the construction industry has the potential to do. My greatest personal reward is to see how passionate they are in their new jobs.”
Another aspect of the work which gives Good satisfaction is that industry also buys in to the project. “Industry drove the creation of CSIC, so has demonstrated an appetite to see change happen,” he says. “It wants to see that change deliver a more innovative, forward looking industry and our job is help de-risk the journey.”
Project management is critical to future success, and the team takes a hands-on approach to the “different cultures” that exist in academia and industry. “Economic impact is also critical,” he adds, “as well as international reach.”
The main “surprise” for Good so far is “how readily industry has embraced innovation and the spirit of collaboration,” and come together as partners. “We have some of the best emerging talent working with captains of industry,” Good explains. A pool of 60–70 people is also involved in assessment of projects, through CSIC’s technical advisory group. “The volunteers are happy to invest their time,” says Good, “because they recognise the long-term, mutual benefits for everyone. They want to make a difference.”
Getting more women involved in a traditionally male-dominated industry is another major challenge, but Good is optimistic new processes and technologies (including digital) will level the playing field as time goes by, and change outmoded perspectives: “The move from brawn to brain will literally change the face of the industry.”
Good clearly loves innovation, whether it is prototyping new technology or construction and production techniques, including low-carbon solutions, or applying disruptive business models to traditional sectors. Trained as an architect, he spent just under ten years at Anderson Bell & Christie, working on a variety of housing, education and healthcare projects. Good was always interested in the details, in particular the use of novel building techniques, and joined CCG (Scotland) Ltd in 2007 to develop new methods of timber off-site manufacturing solutions. CCG had used a lot of timber frame solutions in projects but had never manufactured them before; although it did have significant experience in producing its own door and window components, so had a good understanding of manufacturing processes. After visiting various European facilities to investigate how other countries produced offsite timber frames, and investing over £12 million, CCG (which employs over 600 people) set up the new off-site manufacturing (OSM) division to produce the frames in-house, as sustainably as possible, “with trees going in at one end and houses coming out the other,” according to Good. One of the major projects where the frames proved a winner was the athletes' village built for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. “CCG wanted to do things differently,” says Good, “and develop its own expertise – learning from its work with university researchers.”
As well as gaining this experience with academic culture, Good also learned a lot about machinery, and new manufacturing methods, including the use of robotics. Another key advance was end-to-end integration – for example, working with the company's roofing and rendering division and setting up a new venture called the Building Futures Lab, CCG’s low-energy sustainability consultancy, as well as partnering with housing associations and architects. And this was an excellent way for Good to prepare for his job at the CSIC.
During this period, Good was asked to join Construction Scotland's Industry Leadership Group as industry lead for the innovation working group that “dealt with all the innovation stuff” and ultimately coordinated an industry steering group that was successful in securing the funding for CSIC.
The challenges ahead
“We have to pick our challenges,” says Good, and this means new initiatives in key areas including off-site manufacturing, advanced construction, infrastructure, energy and ICT, environment, design and performance. These “project themes” have emerged from industry-led exploratory workshops, involving everyone throughout the supply chain, as well as researchers and policy makers. Some larger companies, such as the Robertson Group, have their own research and development teams, and they join in along with smaller businesses to share ideas and experiences. “We encourage industry to be much more proactive,” says Good. “We want them to identify what’s needed, take advantage of emerging opportunities and work out detailed objectives, which we then support through the engagement of academic, public sector or other industry partners.”
Good also wants to establish an industry “brand,” with Scotland known at home and overseas for quality and world-class expertise in different sectors of construction. “We want to develop a toolbox,” says Good, “that will help us break into new markets. We also want to educate the market – sometimes, it is a leap of faith to move from traditional on-site techniques to factory-manufactured solutions, for example. And that is why the Innovation Centre is needed.”
Culture change is one of the most difficult challenges faced by the CSIC. “Many Scottish companies innovate every day, although often don’t recognise it, and only a minority are used to working internationally,” says Good. “Collaboration is also common, but they tend to work project to project; so we want to capture that collaborative spirit and scale it for the benefit of the industry as a whole. In design and construction, one solution rarely fits all, but commercial pressures often mean you can't reinvent the wheel every time a new project begins; so for example, mass customisation techniques can be useful in the most bespoke of projects – combining the efficiency benefits of mass production, whilst maintaining the individuality of a customisable solution.”
Another challenge is for everyone in the construction supply chain to embrace innovative processes such as BIM, where every aspect of a project is embedded in a system in real time, so that when you change one thing, the knock-on effects are efficiently managed everywhere else. “It needs a huge amount of trust and collaboration,” says Good, “but the benefits can be dramatic.”
Good also mentions other transformational approaches industry is exploring, such as “post-occupancy evaluation” to improve the designed versus constructed performance of buildings, and flat-pack bricks which could save lives in areas struck by disaster by speeding up erection of shelters – innovative solutions that could soon become standard as the industry continues to evolve.
“Our need is not just to improve the skills of yesterday, but to develop the skills of tomorrow,” says Good.
Among the projects launched so far is one involving Stewart Milne Group to develop “the UK’s first patented prefabricated timber frame party wall system,” in partnership with Glasgow Caledonian University and Edinburgh Napier University. In the past, construction of the wall between adjoining properties involved three separate stages, but the new solution cuts this to a single operation, thanks to off-site construction. The CSIC contributed £100,000 to the project and helped to win additional funding of £230,000 from Innovate UK, topped up by Stewart Milne to a total of £800,000. The new system is expected to improve construction by enhancing thermal, fire and acoustic performance. It should also be easier and faster to install, and more cost-effective. And as well as having export potential, the project is expected to create 24 new jobs at Stewart Milne Group.
Working with Transport Scotland, another project aims to build new acoustic barriers for motorways, using shredded rubber tyres inside the barrier. Initial tests have proved the solution will work and the next stage will be to construct a new housing for the recycled tyres.
The Scottish Scenic Routes initiative was a challenge to develop solutions for sites in the Cairngorms National Park (the Devil’s Elbow in Glenshee and Tomintoul), “to encourage more people to experience and enjoy the breathtaking landscapes.” The winners will receive a prize of £5,000 and a mentoring package from a Cairngorms National Park Authority design team and the CSIC. Winning projects were scheduled for construction by the end of March, 2016. The challenge was not just about aesthetics, but also about how to use innovative materials and building processes in such remote sites.
Business innovation support
The CSIC helps businesses to collaborate with academia, public sector and other industry partners to seek support and training to allow them to evolve an innovative culture. It also helps businesses adopt or create innovative business models and/or processes that will capture or create new opportunities.
Product innovation support
Helping businesses to develop new construction products, components and solutions which deliver innovation to the supply chain, including prototyping or testing/certification.
Process innovation support
Assisting businesses in developing new manufacturing or assembly systems.
Service innovation support
Helping businesses to access new market opportunities locally, nationally and internationally, by developing innovative marketing models, new ways of engaging with customers or monitoring impact.
Visit the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre: www.cs-ic.org