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TIES Living Lab: Culture change in the UK construction industry – Part 1

How does an already stretched construction sector meet the demands of major public infrastructure investment, while improving productivity and driving innovation? In the first of this two-part series, we outline the UK TIES Living Lab programme work on modern methods of construction.

Deborah Nash, TransportPR
26 July 2022

The Transport Infrastructure Efficiency Strategy (TIES) Living Lab programme is part of a suite of government initiatives that aim to deliver better outcomes for the UK. The programme seeks to deliver public works better, faster and greener, and to support the construction industry to be safer, invest in skills and reduce carbon emissions.

Culture Change

How does an already stretched sector meet the demands of major public infrastructure investment - with a projected worth of £60 billion a year and contributing more than 7% of GDP - while improving productivity and driving innovation?

With funding from the British Government and Innovate UK, a consortium of academics, suppliers, and client groups, including Network Rail and National Highways, have spent two years working on the answers.

They recognise that completing large transport infrastructure projects on-time, and on-budget, while securing the benefits expected, is immensely challenging.

New innovations in construction and infrastructure could cut costs, drive productivity and efficiency, and deliver much wider social benefits in our built environment. TIES Living Lab is tackling the systemic issues that still obstruct the use, integration, and adoption of these innovations.

The ten projects under the TIES Living Lab umbrella work in tandem with the government’s Construction Playbook and National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS). The Playbook outlines commercial best practice and reform, to reset the government’s relationship with the construction industry. The NIS sets out plans to transform UK infrastructure, support levelling up the country, and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The programme has three clusters of projects: Modern Methods of Construction, Data, and Digitalisation.

‘TIES Living Lab is tackling the systemic issues that still obstruct the use, integration and adoption of these innovations.’

Modern methods of construction projects

The first four TIES Living Lab projects are ‘physical’ and grouped under the term Modern Methods of Construction (MMC). MMC encompasses data-led pre-manufacture of primary structural systems and components, off-site pre-assembly, and reducing on-site labour with large format pre-configurations and easy joining features. The first four TIES Living Lab projects are:

  • a footbridge designed to fit any station or road, anywhere,
  • the creation of a new generic standard for equipment rooms,
  • automating cable route management system designs, and
  • cooling panels which tackle the heating issues in the London Underground network.

The first of these, a footbridge project, is being developed by Expedition Engineering (design), X-Treme Systems (manufacturing) and Walker Construction (assembly), with Network Rail as the primary client. It has been branded as the “AVA bridge” and aims to revolutionise the way we approach footbridge design in both manufacture and installation. It has focused on these key points;

  • a pre-approved system for shorter pre-construction time,
  • faster assembly for reduced costs,
  • minimised negative climate impact,
  • a revolutionary dry, prefabricated foundation and
  • high-quality durable materials.

The second project is the Signal Equipment room, managed by Transport for London (TfL) and working with Mavin Powercube.  This project intends to promote a new generic template for modular equipment rooms which are built off-site, reducing future infrastructure investment time, cost, and risk. It also demonstrates the potential to reduce disruptions and noise impacts created by traditional construction works.

The third project, also managed by TfL, is the Cable Route Management System (CRMS). Bryden Wood Technology as the key supplier. They are delivering a digital tool to show how automation can assist with cable route management feasibility analysis and design. This project shows the potential to reduce time, financial cost, and risk (especially delivery team safety risk) by using automated CRMS design software as part of the design process.

Bryden Wood technology have won ‘Transport Infrastructure Champion’ at the New Civil Engineer TechFest awards 2021 for this project, already proving the significance of the TIES Living Lab projects to the transport industry.

TfL and Strategic Rail Consultants (SRC) are trialling the last of the physical projects - innovative cooling panels, in a disused tunnel in Holborn. The panels are composed of a curved ‘radiator’ with internal cooling pipework and forced air distribution. The objective is to find out if they can deliver the same cooling outputs as the Underground’s Platform Air Handling Units (PAHU) yet be significantly easier to maintain. With the upgrade of the Piccadilly line trains from 2025, replacing the fifty-year old 1970’s fleet, TfL want to ensure the new walk-through air-conditioned trains will be faster and more reliable. Increasing cooling capacity means they can run more trains per hour and make a dramatically better passenger experience. The cooling panels are an integral part of this plan and once testing is finished the panels will initially be installed in Knightsbridge station.

There will be a series of TIES Living Lab technical papers published on the TIES Living Lab website and TIES LinkedIn.

Find out more at www.tieslivinglab.co.uk

Lorraine Butler, Chair of the MMC Working group within the TIES Living Lab programme, discusses the importance of the innovations coming out of Living Lab at a recent conference.