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Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction

Transforming infrastructure through smarter information

The International Conference on Smart Infrastructure and Construction (ICSIC) 2016, organised and hosted by CSIC, brought together world-leading academics and practitioners from the fields of infrastructure planning, asset management and sensing.

Andrew Wolstenholme delivering a keynote at ICSIC 2016

Image: Andrew Wolstenholme, Crossrail, delivering his keynote on day one of the conference

The need to drive innovation in order to achieve transformation in construction and infrastructure was the common theme running throughout the keynote presentations and accompanying plenary sessions.

Topics for discussion included infrastructure resilience, design for infrastructure adaptability, creating value from infrastructure and delivering smarter infrastructure. The unique combination of specialist fields and disciplines at ICSIC 2016 brought focus to the power of smarter information with the aim of confronting persistent barriers and identifying and developing novel and proactive solutions.

The keynote speakers at the three-day event, which took place from 27 to 29 June 2016 at Robinson College at the University of Cambridge, were: Professor Tom O’Rourke, Professor of Civil Engineering, Cornell University, USA; Andrew Wolstenholme OBE, Chief Executive Officer, Crossrail, UK; Keith Clarke CBE, Vice President, Institution of Civil Engineers; David McKeown, CEO, Institute of Asset Management, UK; Professor Mike Batty CBE, The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Analysis,  University College London and Professor Esteban Rossi-Hansberg,  Princeton University, USA.

The international conference, which reached full capacity, attracted delegates from 23 different countries. Director of CSIC, Dr Jennifer Schooling, said: “The conference brought together industry leaders and academics who are world-leading experts in their fields. ICSIC delivered a significant platform for effective discussion to set the agenda for smart infrastructure and to further CSIC’s key aim to transform the future of infrastructure through smarter information. We are living and working in a digitally abundant age and this offers transformative benefits to construction and infrastructure. Knowledge transfer and true collaboration is central to success. If we work together, we all benefit.”

Key issues identified during discussions included: the need for a broad, multi-disciplinary research community to collaborate to improve results and provide a sound evidence base; the urgency for industry to  step up and implement models, tools and techniques in an efficient manner to avoid an innovation lag; the need for more initiatives like Crossrail’s Innovate18 programme that provides an exemplary template for industry; and a new breed of ‘digital native’ engineer to ensure smart techniques and technologies are effectively adopted at every level.

Professor Lord Mair, Head of CSIC, opened the conference with an overview of smart infrastructure and CSIC’s work in the field. He made the case that ‘smart’ is the new way for infrastructure, but in order for it to succeed it must be robust, innovative, driven by business and supported by government.

Andrew Wolstenholme described Crossrail’s innovation story, from creating an environment that incorporates research and invention, to putting steps in place to ensure its learning legacy. As the largest construction project in Europe, Crossrail is uniquely positioned to lead innovation in the construction industry. The Innovate18 initiative was established in collaboration with Crossrail’s supply chain to capture and explore pioneering ideas, including the use of off-site manufacturing, robotics, and apprenticeship programmes, and to pass on the benefits to industry, including the major projects Tideway and HS2.

Professor Tom O’Rourke offered insights into futureproofing, with lessons learned from studying how infrastructure behaves under extreme events. He stated that smart infrastructure requires smart leaders who accept the challenge of providing infrastructure resilience, noting that some infrastructure is too crucial to society to fail.  Amongst other examples he cited the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan in 2011, following the earthquake and tsunami, highlighting that planning for contingency and consequences is key in the face of natural events including climate change.

Keith Clarke stated that innovation will only truly flourish if industry moves from a risk-and-cost-based decision-making model to a knowledge-based model founded on reliable information. When making decisions on investment in infrastructure, industry and governments must consider the whole-life value of the asset and not just immediate capex savings. Aviation has made this transfer with Rolls Royce shifting the paradigm from selling engines to selling long-term maintenance. Only by changing to a knowledge-based model in construction and infrastructure can true innovation emerge.

David McKeown interrogated traditional ideas of asset management and industry’s established way of thinking about value. Value, he stated, is what matters to stakeholders and end users and must be considered alongside cost. Asset management is not simply the management of assets - it is extracting whole-life value from assets.

Professor Esteban Rossi-Hansberg gave a talk titled ‘Threats to urban life and the flexibility of urban infrastructure’. He used Detroit, USA, as an example of a city where infrastructure was unable to contract as its population fell from two million to 500 000, leading to significant financial inefficiencies. Professor Rossi-Hansberg suggested a framework to predict changes to trade, migration and economic activity over the next 50 to 100 years in order to provide government with the tools to make better infrastructure investment decisions and create flexible cities that can adapt to changes in industry and population and avoid future ‘rust belts’.

Professor Mike Batty addressed the role of planning in enhancing resilience and adaptability of the urban environment. He highlighted the issue of planning for land use and transport interaction, calling for fine-scale and multi-scale models to simulate the impact of changes in population and movement. New models are required to explore the impact of new urban infrastructure. Do the models we have allow us to accurately predict impact of new infrastructure? How do we mobilise models that track human behaviour?  Such models are needed by government and local authority planners to use as a resource for better decision-making.

The technologies, research and models presented at the conference made the case for the potential game-changing nature of smart infrastructure for the infrastructure, construction and city-planning industries. Work still needs to be done to demonstrate the value of these innovations to encourage further uptake by industry, and rapid prototyping is needed to bring these advances into the supply chain. In order to support the digital revolution underway in infrastructure, a cultural revolution is needed within the industry to put innovation at the heart of projects. This is happening in major infrastructure projects such as Crossrail and Tideway, but needs wider adoption to make significant change. As an Innovation Knowledge Centre, CSIC is committed to continuing the agenda covered by the international conference by collaborating with industry, government and academia to ensure that the UK remains the leader in innovative infrastructure and construction.

The conference proceedings are available to purchase through the Institution of Civil Engineers Bookshop here.