Professor Lord Mair, Head of CSIC, talks smart infrastructure with Antony Oliver, Editor of Infrastructure Intelligence at Highways UK
In conversation with Infrastructure Intelligence’s Antony Oliver, at the recent Highways UK event in London, Professor Lord Mair, Head of CSIC, said that demonstrating smart technologies is key to convincing industry to adopt innovation.
“CSIC is all about demonstrating new technologies on construction sites – trialing them, overcoming the problems, proving they work and then getting them adopted.”
CSIC’s proven ability to collaboratively foster innovation and implement smart solutions in infrastructure and construction is confirmed by the announcement of a further five years of core funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Innovate UK.
Highlighting the progress made in smart infrastructure, including the emerging technologies adopted by Crossrail, a CSIC Industry Partner and “huge success story”, Lord Mair explains the breakthroughs offered by innovating industry.
“We have used fibre optics a lot at Crossrail. You can actually use fibre optics to act as one incredibly efficient strain gauge so you can understand, for the first time, how that pile is performing from the point of construction and during its loading, and throughout the design life of that building, diaphragm wall or bridge structure. Structures can now have a health monitoring system.”
Lord Mair acknowledged barriers to achieving a fully integrated smarter infrastructure.
“There’s a cost – not a very big one - but it takes a change in mind set to realise it is well worth investing money in this kind of monitoring and instrumentation in order to better design and manage your asset.
“We tend to be quite a conservative industry but, if you build in the sort of sensors I am talking about, you can afford not to be so conservative and reduce the capital expenditure to build in a planned maintenance throughout the design life based on what you measure and what the asset is telling you.”
Discussing opportunities around the design and maintenance of infrastructure and the progress made in Asset Information Modelling, Lord Mair said: “We are only a small distance away from all of our infrastructure being designed digitally before anything is built on the ground. The sensors I have been talking about can be incorporated into the digital model so that the whole way in which structures are designed and built changes.”
Furthering the cause of smarter infrastructure requires a call-to-arms from industry and government for a sensing strategy to be built into infrastructure. “The main driver is the client. If they are not calling for innovation, it won’t happen.”