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Software invention could save construction industry a fortune

Researchers on Teesside are spearheading a revolution which could save the construction industry millions of pounds.

They are doing this by developing their own software tools which harnesses the power of computer games technology to give planners and builders the ability to rehearse different phases of a major construction projects over and over again on a PC screen before building work begins. This can range from putting in the foundations to installing pipework and electrical equipment.

The team behind the project at the University of Teesside in Middlesbrough has already rehearsed the build process on several major construction projects. These include a new bridge over a London Underground line at White City and at the new gas receiving facility at Hull.

Professor Nashwan Dawood, Director of the University’s Centre for Construction Innovation and Research (CCIR), said: “The software tool can help everyone involved in a major project to go into minute detail of construction activities and look for the most efficient way of tackling a contract. This is particularly important when lots of different trades are working on a multi-million pound project in a tight location and where delays can cost big money.”

The Teesside Professor worked closely with the international project management and construction consultancy, F+G, formerly Faithful and Gould, on the Hull gas receiving project and estimates that about 5-7% could be saved off the £100m-plus project by rehearsing the project using the University’s 4D planning tool (3D + real time).

Now he is perfecting the computerised Virtual Construction (VIRCON) site instrument with the help of academic colleagues and F+G’s Stockton-based national planning manger, Ian Mackenzie.

They are looking at the possibility of offering it to help in the decommissioning of nuclear power stations.

Professor Dawood is also using the Virtual Reality technology to assist HBG, the company building the University of Teesside’s new £12m Institute of Digital Innovation (IDI) on Woodlands Road, Middlesbrough.

“We learnt a lot from the London Underground project and we are now perfecting the software using one of our new landmark buildings which will help put the University-led DigitalCity project on the map,” said Professor Dawood.

HBG’s project co-ordinator Robert Cranmer said: “The IDI is a good site to choose because the building is being constructed in a very tight defined space. We’ve used this software tool from the early stages to rehearse the project and make changes to our plans to overcome any foreseen problems with the construction sequences.”

Professor Dawood adds: “In the past if there was a delay or problem the industry just threw people at it. It is far better to re-configure your plans and see if there is a better way of doing things. Our tool allows them to do on a computer screen in 3D with a real time element built in.”

The next step is to see if the technology can be used to help cash-flow forecasts and to make the software more interactive and user-friendly.

To help do this, the Department of Trade & Industry has just awarded Professor Dawood’s team £100,000 to set-up a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with F+G which will help pay for the recruitment of a research associate and a PhD student to work on the projects and to see what other heavy capital projects the VIRCON tool could be applied.

Ian MacKenzie, at F+G which employs over 2,000 worldwide, said: “We like to be at the leading edge of new developments helping the construction industry to become more efficient. This is a very important tool to help our clients improve on project delivery and save costs.

“Our headquarters are on Teesside and we’re keen to work with our local university to develop its standing in this important area of applied research. The tool worked very well on the North Sea gas project in Hull and now we’re very keen to develop the potential of this software further.”

Professor Dawood says: “This is a great example of a University developing its knowledge to the benefit of industry. We couldn’t have done it without F+G. You really need the support of an influential company to do something like this.”

Nic Mitchell | alfa
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