Hiper Pile: driving a revolution in construction techniques
Building work continues much as it always has despite the digital technologies and new materials and processes that have brought radical change to other industries.
Construction is a conservative, risk-averse industry and one subject to strict codes. It is hard to try new techniques and even harder to get businesses to adopt new ways of working.
Yet the industry is facing increasing pressure to change. It must meet challenging targets to build national infrastructure, construct at a lower cost and reduce its carbon emissions.
Stuart Norman, managing director of construction engineering specialists Keltbray, said:
"There is a growing realisation that we must change. Productivity is flatlining, if not decreasing. We recognise that we are doing things the same way our fathers and grandfathers were doing them when they were in the industry."
New cement-free concrete will cut carbon emissions
Keltbray, based in Esher, Surrey, is one of the UK’s leading suppliers of specialist services to the UK construction industry. It has won £209,000 from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) to lead a £900,000 project to develop ‘HIPER pile’, an improved technique for creating foundations that could also provide a range of new benefits for buildings.
Piling – the creation of building supports in the foundations – is a dirty and noisy activity. The process typically requires the need to complete a pile within a day, and inevitable material delivery delays often mean working at anti-social hours in order to do so.
Keltbray is looking to improve productivity by streamlining and improving the drilling and concreting process by having the concrete piles pre-made off site. The trial combines a range of innovative technologies and materials.
The piles will be made with a new cement-free concrete to reduce carbon emissions and will have a hollow core that will allow dual use and that will contain sensors to feedback to designers on performance of the structure.
Hollow pile could generate or store energy
Stuart added: "On top of the benefits of the cement-free concrete, you can say this is an intelligent foundation because we have embedded some technology. If someone comes along in 50 years and wants to recycle the pile, they will be aware of its condition.
We’re looking with our clients at how we might turn the pile into an asset for the building. The space in the pile could be used for generating and storing geothermal energy, for batteries to store electricity, or for storing water.
It’s starting to move a foundation away from a simple, dumb foundation to something that can be used through the life of the building and where the placing of a load on it may not be its primary function.
Partners working together to transform construction
Keltbray is working with partners that have also received support from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
Converge, experts in sensors in concrete and in wireless and cloud-based technologies, has received £88,000 to support development of the technology that will make the foundations intelligent.
DB Group has developed Cemfree, an ultra-low-carbon cement-free alternative to concrete that can save up to 88% of the carbon emissions involved in its manufacture, transport and use in construction. The trial will assess how Cemfree performs, and DB Group has won £90,000 to support this work.
Keltbray’s academic partner, the civil engineering department of City University of London, which holds the patent for the hollow pile concept, has received £227,000 to support the project.
The funding has come from the £170 million Transforming Construction Challenge, which is supporting the adoption of technologies that help buildings to be constructed 50% faster, 33% cheaper and with half the lifetime carbon emissions.
The challenge is at the heart of a construction sector deal agreed between the government and the industry.
Reduction in carbon emissions could be game-changing
Keltbray was founded in 1976 and employs 1,800 people at sites and offices across the UK. It has been involved in many high-profile projects including HS2 and redevelopment of Battersea Power Station.
Stuart added: "If you combine all the elements of the Hiper Pile project you get to about a 90% saving in embodied carbon emissions. It’s a game-changing amount.
We are trying to demonstrate what you can do with excellent collaboration across the industry, from clients to engineers, contractors, suppliers and universities.
If we can do this successfully it will mean growth for us across the UK. There will be export opportunities for us, and it will help us to grow in the likes of Canada and North America. More importantly, it will establish our name as one of the main innovators in the construction sector."