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Driving change in construction: Bringing disciplines together to collaborate and innovate

3 March 2020

The Transforming Construction Network Plus is funding nine new research projects to stimulate innovation in the construction industry.

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Changing the way that we design, build and operate building is one of the UK’s most important challenges. If we are to have a chance of tackling it, we need to go beyond our own limitations, to shift our thinking, and to explore new avenues for innovation in construction.

To meet the major industrial and societal challenges of our time, the construction industry needs input from many backgrounds and disciplines. To achieve this, UKRI is supporting the Transforming Construction Network Plus (N+), a two-year programme which aims to create a new body of knowledge to contribute to the Transforming Construction Challenge and inform future construction policy and practice.

Bringing together a wide range of academic experts to tackle the most pressing problems across the digital, energy, construction and manufacturing space, the N+ is all about changing the tone of the debate.

Bringing together theory and knowledge 

Giving the opportunity to put forward novel, radical and provocative ideas, the N+ has organised two funding calls. Funding was available for projects looking to address research questions to respond to industry needs in the Transforming Construction Challenge’s core themes of:

  • designing and managing buildings through digitally-enabled performance management
  • constructing quality buildings through an offsite manufacturing approach
  • reducing energy demand by improving quality of build and powering buildings through embedded active technologies

Eager to explore solutions to address the biggest issues holding back the sector, the community responded enthusiastically to the two funding calls. With more than 100 applications and more than £750,000 of in-kind support from industry partners, the N+ has been able to fund thirteen new research projects. Announced in August 2019, the first phase supported four projects on interoperability, user experience, space tech for hospitals and performance improvement.

Contributing to new academic thinking 

Drawing on these first small projects, the N+ is providing over £500,000 to support nine new research projects to stimulate innovation in the construction industry. Spanning digital, energy, construction and manufacturing, the research projects bring together ten universities, eight industry partners, one charity and two government organisations. 

Seizing the opportunity to change the way we build in the UK; the projects explore various aspects of the built environment and address several stages across the life of a construction project, from inception through operation and end of life. 

These nine new collaborative projects will contribute to an exciting and emergent strand of academic thinking about how we design, build and operate buildings – they are set to make significant strides forward in transforming the industry, and that is a much-needed transformation for today and the future.

Professor Jacqueline Glass, N+ Principal Investigator said: 

''We are delighted from the response of the academic community and their partners from industry. There was an excellent field of applications for our second funding round, and we are very pleased to fund these exciting and innovative projects. The scope of the research entailed here spans all stages of the construction project life cycle, and is set to make significant strides forward in transforming the industry. These projects have great potential to contribute to academic thinking about how we design, build and operate buildings and we are very much looking forward to supporting these excellent ideas.''

A Toolkit for Collaborative Construction: A Values-Centred Approach to AR and MMC for Housing

Led by Mollie Claypool at UCL in collaboration with the Knowle West Media Centre, the project will develop a ‘Toolkit for Collaborative Construction’. It will take a values-centred approach to the use of Augmented Reality (AR) and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) systems for community-led housing projects. 

Design Optimisation and Prototyping for Affordable Rural Housing

Professor Gökay Deveci from Robert Gordon University is leading this project, in collaboration with the Glasgow School of Art, Sylvan Stuart Ltd, PASQUILL Ltd and the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, this project will explore design optimisation and prototyping for digitally integrated production and robotic, versus artisan assembly of low-energy and low-carbon affordable rural housing made from whole and milled timber combinations.

Developing a Tool Kit for Knowledge Integration: Envisioning Buildings as Energy Service

Oxford Brookes University have secured this project, in collaboration with the University of Southampton, the Active Building Centre, SMARTKLUS Ltd, and Energy System Catapult. Led by Dr Maurizio Sibilla, the team aims to develop a Tool Kit for knowledge integration to envisage buildings as components of future Distributed Renewable and Interactive Energy Systems (DRIs) and contribute towards net zero carbon in buildings.

DigiConCo-Op: Transforming Micro-Project Delivery through Digital Co-Operative Construction

Led by Dr Fred Sherratt at Anglia Ruskin University, in collaboration Keamore Ltd, DigiConCo-Op takes the first steps in creating a fully co-operative procurement and management framework, able to support micro-project delivery through the digital collaboration of local SMEs, resulting in a fair profit-share from the project for those who actually carry out the work.

Digital-Twins in Construction: Towards an Ontological Model Development and Integration Framework

Professor Sergio De Cesare heads up this project based at the University of Westminster. It will explore the adoption of a foundational ontology-driven framework to support the development and integration of digital twin models in the construction industry across the project lifecycle and across different organisations.

Digitisation: Opportunity or Threat for Occupational Health and Safety and Wellbeing in Construction Industry

Based at UCL, this project led by Professor Hedley Smyth and Dr Meri Duryan aims to understand the impact of technological innovation on Occupational Health and Safety and Wellbeing (OHSW) practices, across the complex construction supply chain.

Transitioning to an Automated Construction Supply Chain: Future Business Model Innovation for SMEs

Professor Chris Harty and Dr Ruth Dowsett are leading this project at the University of Reading. In collaboration with SWMAS Ltd and Exelin, the project will explore potential value propositions for SMEs (tier 2 and 3 contractors and suppliers) who are adopting and implementing robotics in a construction industry with more automated supply chains.

TransPark

Based at the University of Sussex, Dr Ralitsa Hiteva is leading this project in collaboration with the British Parking Association and Stripe Consulting. TransPark aims to unlock opportunities for new business models around parking by facilitating innovation in the way car parks are designed, built and operated to enable the integration of energy, digital and transport services in the UK.  

Utilising Innovative Methods of Data Capture for Regulatory Compliance Checking

Led by Dr Thomas Beach at Cardiff University, this project aims to determine how “off-the shelf” data collection technologies can be utilised to perform compliance checking of built assets against digitised regulations.


Find out more about the small projects

 

The Transforming Construction Network Plus is funded by UK Research and Innovation, an investment supported by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The N+ brings together experts from a range of disciplines to tackle the most pressing problems across the digital, energy, construction and manufacturing space. The N+ is a joint project between The Bartlett, UCL’s Faculty of the Built Environment, Imperial College London and WMG, University of Warwick.