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£18 million funding for Virtual Reality and AI to revolutionise the #FutureOfEmployment in construction

£18 million Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund investment in research and innovation projects will transform how the UK delivers buildings and infrastructure.

The awarded projects will help to transform how the UK delivers buildings and infrastructure.

Using artificial intelligence to predict and plan construction projects and avoid possible delays is one of the ideas to win funding to transform how the UK delivers buildings and infrastructure.

Just over £18 million is being invested through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund in research, development and innovation projects to support a more efficient, highly-skilled and productive construction industry.

The funding from UK Research and Innovation is part of the transforming construction challenge – a £170 million government commitment, matched by £250 million from industry – to embed new approaches and techniques that enable the UK to become a world leader.

Business-led collaborations

A total of £13.3 million has been awarded to 24 projects, which will see industry collaborate with the research base to innovate.

Included in the awarded projects are:

  • a project by nPlanKier and the University of Cambridge, which will use AI and algorithms to better predict, plan and schedule construction projects. The aim is to optimise buildings and reduce time and cost
  • a consortium including housebuilder, Barratt Developments, and one of the largest social landlords, L&Q, which aims to make offsite manufacturing a viable alternative to traditional methods by exploring how it can bring down the costs, reduce defects and improve productivity
  • Keltbray Group-led project to develop a new piling technology that will enhance capacity and improve sustainability when laying foundations

For all projects, the ultimate aim is to:

  • develop digitally-enabled simulations that support the design and management of buildings
  • adopt offsite manufacturing approaches that improve the quality of buildings
  • create active power generation and storage within buildings

Construction Minister, Richard Harrington, said:

The use of artificial intelligence, digital techniques and off-site manufacturing help us harness new methods of working and delivers on the government’s Construction Sector Deal.

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.

Talented teams addressing complex challenges

A further £5 million is being invested to support successful research leaders to build talented teams and take on a complex research programme within the context of the transforming construction challenge.

There are 4 research projects that will share funding. These range from exploring the potential for digitally-designed, 3D-printed concrete components, to assessing the use of robots for both on and off-site construction.

Another project will look at integrating voice-activated AI and augmented reality in the assembly of components to speed up construction and increase productivity.

Industry working directly with researchers

Professor Sir Mark Walport, UKRI Chief Executive, 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 construction industry, improving productivity, sustainability and safety.

Sam Stacey, Director of the Transforming Construction Challenge, added:

These grants play a key role in advancing transformation across the sector.

They will help the construction industry work directly with talented researchers to explore new ways of working that will speed up assembly, save money, and improve the quality of building projects.

Virtual reality, digital design and offsite manufacturing technologies are the future of UK construction thanks to a new £72 million investment from the government, announced today (Friday 30 November) by the Business and Industry Minister Richard Harrington.

The new Core Innovation Hub will transform the UK’s construction industry by supporting the development and use of technologies such as digital design, advanced manufacturing, robotics, drones and augmented and virtual reality.

Many of these techniques are used and proven in other sectors, such as automotive manufacturing, but it will be a first for construction. The increased use of technology will enable the sector to design and build faster, cheaper and more sustainably. Smart sensors and digital systems will be incorporated into buildings and infrastructure, so they can manage and maintain themselves – and the data they gather will enable the government and industry to make our towns and cities better places to live, work and travel in.

During a visit to the Building Research Establishment (BRE), which is receiving funding, and is part of the Core Innovation Hub, Business and Industry Minister Richard Harrington said:

We have the opportunity to revolutionise construction in the UK and the Core Innovation Hub will help us build smarter, greener and more efficient buildings much faster and cheaper than we do now.

From the introduction of virtual reality to off-site manufacturing, our modern Industrial Strategy, is helping the UK construction sector to develop new techniques and skills – modernising the sector and delivering the homes and buildings our nation needs.

Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury Robert Jenrick said:

Our manufacturing industry is vital to the UK, contributing billions to the economy every year.

This new fund will see it partner with our construction and digital sectors to revolutionise the way we develop crucial infrastructure. It will enable us to build in more efficient and cost-effective ways, boost productivity and ensure we are fit for the future.

Following a nationwide competition as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the government, through UK Research and Innovation, awarded the £72 million to the Transforming Construction Alliance (TCA) to deliver the national hub. It is partnership between 3 centres of established excellence:

  • Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC)
  • BRE
  • Cambridge University’s Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB)

Keith Waller, Programme Director for the Transforming Construction Alliance said:

I am delighted to be leading the Transforming Construction Alliance in its mission to deliver the Core Innovation Hub project, and boost productivity and performance in the construction sector.

I look forward to working alongside government, industry and the talented teams at MTC, BRE and CDBB to realise the vision of a transformed sector.

The UK construction industry is facing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change and modernise. Through the Industrial Strategy and the Core Innovation Hub the UK will be able to seize this opportunity – enabling us to master precision manufacturing resulting in the delivery of better performing schools, hospitals and homes – to the benefit of businesses, public services and people.

Ensuring the UK’s construction industry is best equipped and fit for the future will increase safety on sites, with fewer workers put into dangerous environments. This in turn will make the sector attractive to a more diverse workforce.

Our modern Industrial Strategy published last year, set out how the whole of the UK can build on these strengths, extend them into the future, and capitalise on new opportunities. Investing in science and research to keep us at the forefront of new technologies and the benefits they bring. Nurturing the talent of tomorrow – through more outstanding schools, world-leading universities and the technical skills that will drive our economy. And transforming the places where people live and work – the places where ideas and inspiration are born – by backing businesses and building infrastructure in every part of our country.

About the TCA

The Transforming Construction Alliance (TCA) is a consortium of the MTC (Manufacturing Technology Centre), BRE (Building Research Establishment) and the CDBB (Centre for Digital Built Britain). The TCA has received broad support from the construction sector and will help deliver the safer, healthier and energy efficient buildings that the UK needs.

The TCA aims to be a catalyst for transforming the UK construction sector through manufacturing technologies and digital ways of working – boosting productivity, exports and asset performance to benefit society.

The alliance aims to deliver a national Core Innovation Hub (CIH) that will support collaboration across sectors to develop, commercialise and promote digital and manufacturing technologies for the construction sector, offering an opportunity for everyone with an interest in construction to become involved.

About the MTC

The MTC (Manufacturing Technology Centre) is established to provide innovative manufacturing processes and technologies in an agile environment in partnership with industry, academia and other institutions. The MTC houses some of the most advanced manufacturing equipment in the world, creating a high quality environment for the development and demonstration of new technologies on an industrial scale. This provides a unique opportunity for manufacturers to develop new and innovative processes and technologies.

About BRE

BRE (Building Research Establishment) is a world leading, multi-disciplinary, building science centre with a mission to improve buildings and infrastructure. BRE generates new knowledge through independent research and uses this to underpin the delivery of standards, testing, certification and qualifications that help to ensure buildings, homes and communities are safe, efficient, productive, sustainable and enjoyable places to be. BRE customers use the organisation’s expertise and services to deliver their social, environmental and economic goals.

About the CDBB

The CDBB (Centre for Digital Built Britain) is a partnership between the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the University of Cambridge. It seeks to understand how the construction and infrastructure sectors could use a digital approach to better design, build, operate, integrate the built environment.

A digital built Britain will:

  • understand what information is needed to enable better through life economic, social and environmental value from our built environment
  • champion human-centric design of infrastructure and the services they deliver
  • exploit new and emerging digital construction and manufacturing skills and technology to reduce costs and increase productivity
  • grow new career, business and export opportunities for the UK

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