Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, together with the construction companies and academia in this northern country, have joined forces to promote new technologies and innovations for higher efficiency and productivity of Scottish construction. An example from which a lot can be learned!
Low investments in innovation, research, development, and technology; the inability to achieve more ambitious goals through the use of traditional construction processes, and also the slow introduction of new technologies in the construction sector, presented the motivation to find and promote better ways of operation in Scottish construction. Compared to other sectors in Scotland, the utilization of digital and advanced technologies in construction is at a much lower level. Therefore, this northern country has identified a great opportunity to improve its construction sector operation through the use of new and innovative technologies. The goal to redefine the approach to this industry came from the need to make this sector more efficient by reducing losses, both in terms of time and materials!
Departing from this information and having a clear vision to overcome the issues in the construction sector, the Scottish Government in 2014 established the first Construction Scotland Innovation Centre.The opening of the Innovation Centre within the Hamilton International Technology Park near Glasgow marked the beginning of the “innovation revolution” in Scottish construction!
What is Actually Happening in Construction Scotland?
Construction Scotland Innovation Centre is a place where industry, universities and the public sector come together, exchanging knowledge to find solutions to the industry problems. Innovators, students, university professors, entrepreneurs, managers can meet in this Centre. In an open and collaborative environment, an innovation-creating climate in construction is encouraged.
As a focal point for cooperation in the construction sector, which includes thousands of companies and self-employed persons within this ecosystem, the Centre provides mentoring, counseling, training, free seminars, funding, administrative support, meeting rooms and workshops, with the only goal to encourage innovation and innovative projects in the construction sector.
To New Innovation through an “Innovation Factory”!
In 2017, Construction Scotland set up a 3 million pound-worth Innovation Factory covering an area of around 3,000 m2. The Innovation Factory is a hub for innovation activities in the Scotland’s construction sector and avails of office space and workshops with the latest equipment and technology for prototype development and production.
The users of this “factory” have access to a 3D printer, robotic prototype design space and Augmented Reality for an interactive experience with identical construction site replicas. The Innovation Factory also uses digital Building Information Modeling (BIM) tools, a concept that is a trend in construction and involves generating and managing the digital representation of both physical and functional features of building.
The Innovation Factory is the first digital hub for cutting-edge manufacturing, prototyping and future skills. Access to it is provided through a commercial model, and it is used by industry and academia in a variety of ways. It is also open to foreign companies based on subcontracts for the delivery of projects funded privately or through other innovation-funding programs.
Alternative Building Methods for Less Pollution, Greater Safety and Productivity
Construction Scotland Innovation Centre is involved in a number of construction innovation projects. It is one of the partners in the project Embracing Modular Innovation in Construction – Getting Education Modernized, which is funded by the EU Erasmus+ Program. The aim of the project that ends in 2022, is modernized education and training on alternative construction methods such as a modular way of building and making construction project components or elements in a different location from the one where they should be permanently placed. If it is known that offsite and modular construction methods for certain building activities are safer, more productive and less polluting than the traditional methods of construction, then raising the awareness of the use of these construction methods among SMEs and micro-businesses is of great importance.
As regards modular construction, Construction Scotland is also part of a consortium working on a pilot project to increase the use of Scottish timber for laminated structural elements and for the production of Scotland’s first housing unit made of cross-laminated timber. Regarding the pilot project, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre’s Innovation Factory is used to manufacture the elements, and they are expected to be completed by the end of this year. The benefits of the project include: reducing the costs for the construction industry; reducing carbon dioxide emissions as a result of reduced transport needs; and opening up new markets for the timber industry located in the United Kingdom.
In order to accompany modern building methods with adequate skills and knowledge, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, together with a network of experts, has developed an online training program on innovative building methods named Offsite Ready. This training, which is free of charge, refers to making construction project components or elements in a different location from the one where they have to be permanently placed. The program offers continuous professional development through eight modules supported by virtual events.
Support for Innovation among Small and Medium-sized Construction Companies
Construction Scotland leads, or is part of a number of initiatives to introduce innovation and new technologies in the construction sector. One of them is the Make It Smart Hub initiative, an initiative of Construction Scotland in partnership with a Scottish university, which aims to support small and medium-sized construction and manufacturing companies to learn, apply and share new technologies, processes and skills that will improve their productivity and contribute to inclusive development. Make It Smart Hub includes several activities and provides a range of facilities for SMEs such as an internet portal for knowledge exchange, access to equipment and technological expertise, opportunities for cooperation in research and development, training for continuous professional development and virtual presentations.
Construction Scotland Innovation Centre also provides innovation support through its own fund for collaborative innovative projects. Through this fund, Construction Scotland funds up to 100 per cent of its academic contribution to innovative projects implemented by the Centre’s partner universities.
Innovative Initiatives in the Time of COVID-19
In order to support the construction sector during the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Construction Scotland has launched an initiative called i-Con. The initiative consists of three components: an Innovation Challenge Fund, a Knowledge Hub and an Online Learning Platform.
These components are designed such that they connect those facing current challenges with those in industry and academia who can offer solutions for a better future through innovation. Six innovative projects were already supported through the Innovation Challenge Fund in August 2020.
In addition, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre is part of the free Be Covid Smart training and awareness-raising online program related to safe civil engineering training and work during COVID-19. The aim of the program is, through online training, to educate those who work in construction sites, from home or in places where they study, then to support safe work and learning in the construction industry, as well as to encourage the construction workforce to report unsafe behavior.
Innovation Champions for the Present and Leaders for the Future
Construction Scotland has an expert group called Innovation Champions, made up of individual specialists in construction and other industries, as well as academia and the public sector, who select the best innovative ideas and direct the future funding and programming priorities of the Centre. Innovation Champions make sure that Construction Scotland funds projects with a maximum positive social and economic impact, as well as an environmental impact. The work of Innovation Champions is on a voluntary basis.
The Innovation Centre is currently in the process of establishing a Future Leaders’ Forum, i.e. a group of up to 12 professionals aged 16 to 30, either in their early career or studies. The purpose of the forum is to promote the development of new skills, competencies and opportunities in the construction sector in order to inspire the future construction industry workforce, thus providing benefit to the sector in the time to come. The group should share ideas and provide advanced expertise to facilitate Construction Scotland’s future strategies and skills programs, and take part in connecting the industry with new opportunities.
In addition to innovation champions and future innovation leaders, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre is also open to interns at an early stage of their career and whose passion is innovation.
Through its Built Environment Innovation MSc Fund, the Innovation Centre also funds graduate studies in civil engineering innovation for MSc candidates who can help solve climate change, create smarter and healthier living conditions and develop human resources and culture that will support a new future. MSc candidates have to be interested in civil engineering innovation and during their studies, cooperate with a partner in the sector to develop solutions to construction challenges. The scholarship also offers opportunities for population groups who are underrepresented in the construction sector, particularly women, people with disabilities, etc.
Below is a video on an internal project resulting from the Innovation Centre – a fully recycled building brick: