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£18m funding to transform construction industry through digital technology


Construction Industry to be transformed through digital technology thanks to £18 million UKRI funding
  • Projects will range from using 3D printing of concrete, to on-site and off-site robotic assistance with manufacture and assembly and digital design to improve sustainability
  • Augmented Reality and Conversational Artificial-Intelligence will allow on-site workers to work more efficiently with Building Information Modelling (BIM)
  • Over £13 million invested in collaborative R&D projects using AI, off-site construction, modular building and the internet of things

New £5 million Research Leaders programme will develop innovative solutions to transform construction industry and deliver, better performing homes, better jobs and better value for taxpayers as part of the Industrial Strategy.

The construction industry could be transformed using 3D printed concrete, teams of robots to manufacture and assemble buildings, and off-site manufacturing thanks to £18 million in new Government funding from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF).

Four new research projects that aim to speed up assembly, save money, and improve the quality of UK building projects will be announced today, Thursday 31 January 2019, by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The projects, which will share £5 million, range in their scope from, exploring the use of digitally-designed 3D-printed concrete components that are created off-site, to developing ways to organise teams of robots - either on or off-site.

Another project will research how voice-activated Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality can be integrated with the assembly of components to speed up construction and increase productivity, without compromising health and safety. The Research Leaders awards will support challenging research programmes offering successful research leaders the opportunity to build and develop a group of talented individuals around them to pursue their research vision within the context of the Transforming Construction Challenge.

In addition, UKRI announced £13.3 million, to fund 24 collaborative research and development projects, delivered by Innovate UK, in the construction sector that address the three core aims of the Transforming Construction challenge programme:

  • Designing and managing buildings through digitally-enabled simulation
  • Constructing quality buildings through offsite manufacturing approaches
  • Powering buildings with active generation and storage

Construction Minister, Richard Harrington, said: “The use of Artificial Intelligence, digital techniques and off-site 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.”

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, 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.”

Winners include:

AI-Optimised Pathways for Schedule Execution – A project that uses artificial intelligence and algorithms to predict and plan optimum scheduling of construction projects – potentially reducing construction time

AIMCH – consortium includes UK’s biggest housebuilder, Barratt, which aims to bring down the cost of off-site manufacture for housebuilding

HIPER Pile – Led by Keltbray Group, project will develop new piling solutions to integrate energy and rainwater re-use when laying foundations

Delivery of the funding is led by UKRI through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Innovate UK, under the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s Transforming Construction Challenge.

Sam Stacey, Director of the Transforming Construction Challenge, said: “These Research Leaders and Collaborative Research and Development grants are funded by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and play a key role in advancing the transformation across the sector. They will help the construction industry work directly with talented researchers to explore new ways of working in construction that will speed up assembly, save money, and improve the quality of building projects.”

Project summaries are below:

Research Leaders

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 Ltd; Cundall Johnston & Partners

Applied Off-site and On-site 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 Limited; Arup (Ove Arup and Partners Ltd); Buro Happold Ltd; Constructing Excellence; Manufacturing Technology Centre; Cementation Foundations Skanska Ltd

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 Limited (UK); AKT II; OPS Structural Engineering; Byrne Bros; Tonkin Liu; McKinsey and Company UK; Foster and Partners; Arup (Ove Arup and Partners Ltd); Building Research Establishment Ltd; Buro Happold Limited; Laing O'Rourke plc

Integrating Conversational AI and Augmented Reality with BIM for faster and collaborative on-site 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 Ltd; Mobibiz Limited; TerOpta Ltd; Costain Ltd

Collaborative R&D

The list of winners can be found here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/762901/Increase_Productivity__Performance_and_Quality_in_UK_Construction_-_Competition_Results.pdf

For further information please contact the EPSRC Press Office on 01793 444 404 or email pressoffice@epsrc.ac.uk

For Innovate funded projects call PJ Taylor, Media and Stakeholder Communications Partner m: +44 (0)7950 225 001 email PJ.Taylor@innovateuk.ukri.org

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