Smart construction, smart motorways, smart journeys

Head of digital project delivery and BIM Adrian Malone looks at how the rise in offsite construction and digital technology could together revolutionise how we create smart motorways – with increased focus on the people using them

Sometimes, rethinking what we already know in the light of what’s coming holds valuable answers.

Construction is one of our least digitised and productive industries. This presents huge opportunities – not least in the transport infrastructure sector.

Offsite manufacture isn’t new, but has been cited as part of the answer to raising productivity. Unlocking its powerful benefits in the context of rapidly developing digital technology could bring a reconfiguration of the way we deliver smart motorways.

We’re already using offsite, but the journey’s just started

Today, offsite is mainly about manufacturing smart motorway components such as gantries and safety barriers in a factory, conveying them to site and slotting them into more traditional construction elements. It’s quicker and safer, minimising the risk and disruption of construction work on live highways.

However, if offsite manufacturing becomes more the rule than the exception, we will increasingly design it into our projects in line with our clients’ needs – from how we standardise components for greater efficiency and economy, to how we’ll deliver them to site. Digital tools such as Building Information Modelling(BIM) will enable us to create a modern design process.

To do this successfully will require early engagement with every part of the supply chain. But then, we prefer to collaborate from the start.

Rethinking offsite for the smart and connected transport

Smart motorways are created by adding digital and other equipment to the existing highway providing systems and equipment that enable active operation and management of the network. By developing re-usable platforms of integrated components which are designed for manufacture we can reduce the cost of design and construction. We can also create a better customer experience for road users by reducing roadworks and disruption during installation.

As offsite becomes an integral part of the construction process, the inevitable advances in digital technology will open up even more possibilities for improving safety and creating efficient construction and network operation.

As connected, and eventually autonomous, vehicles become more commonplace, the safe and efficient operation of road networks will become more and more reliant upon fast, reliable digital connectivity.  Offsite production of the various components that form a road network will enable vehicles and infrastructure to be integrated into a seamless system that is easier and safer to design, install, operate, maintain

Making extra time for the really important things

A more automated construction process could open doors for a more automated design process, where simple, repetitive aspects of engineering design are completed by machine – freeing our engineers to focus on other areas.

(After all, every vision of the future has robots).

And what would we do with all that free time? That’s easy.

Use our engineering expertise to focus on the needs of clients and their customers. We know the way customers use roads will change significantly over the coming years and we’re already working to help our clients connect people for the future. This includes finding ways to ensure that smart motorways mean better journeys – whether you’re delivering a truckload of timber, trying to make the 7.30 flight to Marrakech or dropping your little one off at nursery.

So, even if we do get the robots in, we won’t be putting our feet up just yet.

Interested in talking to us?