Finding smarter solutions
CSIC is helping the Scottish construction sector find smarter solutions and driving positive change that could transform how we work in the future
‘Innovate or die’ was the clear message for the construction industry set out in 2016’s Farmer Review of the UK construction sector, being last but one in the ranking of sectors for modernisation and advancement.
Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) was set up to change this as one of seven publicly funded innovation centres tasked with using innovation to deliver economic benefit for Scotland.
Since its beginning in 2014, CSIC has worked on more than 350 projects, creating more than 3,000 jobs and more than £830 million of revenue for the Scottish construction industry.
CSIC defines innovation as “change that unlocks new value.” One of CSIC’s most valuable assets is its connected ecosystem of collaborators focused on driving positive change that would otherwise be impossible in silos. By linking together businesses, university experts, the public sector and the economic development networks, its industry-led team supports a culture of innovation that drives transformational change across the construction industry.
The centre’s work revolves around creating new products, business models and services, collaborating with industry to find solutions to key challenges, giving industry access to advanced equipment at its world-class Innovation Factory, and connecting and engaging networks through a rich events and educational programme.
Innovation is the new norm
COVID-19 has certainly been a driver of rapid change. Over the past few months we’ve formed new habits, altered how we interact and socialise, and adapted how we work and lead businesses. Many of us have had to embrace change at a pace measured in days and weeks, rather than the years and decades it normally takes to alter behaviours.
This pandemic has shown us that creativity and innovation are essential to build future resilience. Yet in a sector like construction, where business investment in R&D lags behind other countries and sectors, innovation has been taking place every day right under our noses (think offsite manufacturing, digital technologies, low carbon retrofit).
This is a chance to mainstream innovation, to buy into a new future and not simply go back to old ways.
What does innovation look like?
CSIC works across industry with businesses of all sizes and across the full supply chain. As we’ve seen in recent times, companies big and small have had to implement new technologies and new processes. As a sector that touches on all areas of life, there are compelling social and economic reasons for investing in change.
CSIC’s innovation support is focused on four main areas:
● Building sustainably
With construction in the UK accounting for approximately 60% of material use and generating almost 50% of carbon emissions, nearly 80% of which are from buildings in use, then transforming the built environment and how we design and deliver it must be a key focus.
Decarbonisation is a major challenge but also a major opportunity for the sector and its supply chain. By 2050, 80% of the UK’s housing stock will already exist so there is a major opportunity for the decarbonisation of the existing built environment as well as ensuring new homes are carbon neutral.
An example of CSIC’s work in this area is a current project with The Halo Regeneration Company to create the first town centre net zero carbon energy project in Kilmarnock, a ‘Community Urban Village’ setting the standard for low carbon energy sites and smart homes across the UK.
CSIC has also led on many other key sustainability projects such as the development of the K-Briq – the world’s first recycled brick made from 90% recycled materials – and supporting work on ‘Passivhaus’ standards that can be used to provide high quality sustainable housing at competitive cost levels.
● Accelerating industrialisation
The move to offsite and industrialised construction is improving efficiencies and quality across the industry. CSIC is a partner in a major UK Government-funded project alongside Barratt Group, Stewart Milne Group, Forster Group, L&Q and MTC, which is studying the whole housebuilding process and ways to build homes more efficiently, faster, to better quality and in a more sustainable way. The project itself will build 5,000 homes and have an impact on 35,000 more.
This project looks at prototyping new build methods on and offsite, creating standard product families, using new technology such as augmented reality, creating new business processes and systems. At the project’s end in 18 months, it will deliver to industry some key learnings for all involved in housebuilding which will have a major, positive, impact on the way homes are built.
● Digital transformation
The recent pandemic has seen businesses of all sizes adopting new technologies. The use of simple technologies such as proximity sensors, remote site inspection tools and digital workflow tracking is increasing every day.
However, the industry will benefit from the long-term approach to integrating and scaling up the very best tried and tested digital, manufacturing and enabling technologies that already exist, while continuing to innovate where there are gaps in knowledge and new solutions still required, to create a digital ecosystem fit for the future.
CSIC recently led a major Building Information Modelling (BIM) In Practice programme to increase awareness and adoption of BIM across the Scottish construction industry and its supply chain.
An area of that is the creation of digital twins – digital models of buildings that change the ways that sub-contractors such as electricians work on site. The use of augmented reality headsets helps to see through walls to better identify the location of equipment, transforming the way the work is carried out, compliance and quality. An example of this is available at CSIC’s Innovation Factory.
CSIC is also involved in digital awareness and future digital solutions research and is working with Scottish Enterprise to develop a digital diagnostic tool for the construction sector to help individual companies understand which digital tools and processes would most benefit their business.
Decarbonisation is a major challenge but also a major opportunity for the sector and its supply chain
● Culture change & skills
Products and processes don’t innovate themselves – it’s people who drive change. However new ways of doing things need new skillsets. Progress in offsite and modular construction will require electricians to modify their skills and knowledge to work in these environments.
The industry has the opportunity to work with Scotland’s world-class universities and colleges to develop the skills of our future workforce.
So from apprentices to university students to those working across industry at all levels, CSIC offers access to a range of skills and knowledge programmes to equip the sector with the required expertise.
The sector’s image problem also needs to be addressed if we are to attract the right talent. This is another area of focus for CSIC, promoting the opportunities we provide for all other sectors, the benefits we bring to society, the value we create, the communities we empower and the global challenges, like climate change, that we will solve.
Scotland’s Construction Innovation Factory
CSIC’s state-of-the-art Innovation Factory is home to a wide range of product development, manufacturing, robotics and visualisation equipment. It can be accessed by companies in the sector or used together in collaborative R&D projects led by the CSIC technical team.
Taking inspiration and learnings from other automated industries, equipment in the 35,000 sq ft facility includes the UK’s only vacuum press for the production of cross laminate timber, robotics, virtual and augmented reality equipment, an insulation line, an offsite manufacturing line and various other enabling equipment and digital tools.