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Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction

Transforming infrastructure through smarter information

In an interview for the Civil Engineering Surveyor, the monthly journal of the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors (ICES), Dr Jennifer Schooling, Director of CSIC, sets out how CSIC is working to transform infrastructure and construction through smarter information.



Describing her role at CSIC, Dr Schooling says: “It’s about being a good integrator, I call it a tapestry weaver. I take these brilliant threads of excellence that the academics develop and help weave them into a bigger picture that industry can get interested in.”

The four-page feature highlights the collaborative nature of CSIC and the shared benefits when industry and academia work together. Dr Schooling describes a recent collaboration with CSIC partners Dragados, Geocisa and London Underground to monitor St Mary Abchurch and Mansion House during tunnelling works that form part of the Bank Station capacity upgrade: “In many ways, the best thing to do to a heritage asset is as little as possible. Initial calculations indicated that the movements shouldn’t be of concern, but the models were reasonably crude. We had standard monitoring systems, fibre optics, photogrammetry through the CSattAR system, laser scanning, and had a PhD student looking at the use of interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) satellite monitoring.

"A lot of the data, in particular the 3D scanning and fibre optics, was fed directly to the monitoring and tunnelling contractors so they could make ‘live’ decisions about what they were doing. It has proved really useful. The ability to avoid compensation grouting has saved around £1m and a lot of carbon.”

The feature also brings focus to building information modelling (BIM) as the ‘golden thread of information’, the need to curate the data we collect and the importance of recognising data about our infrastructure as an asset in itself. Considering the challenges industry faces in the smart infrastructure space, Dr Schooling acknowledges that while the potential is widely understood, the reality of how to make it happen in a cost effective way is work in progress:  “Industry struggles with the value versus cost conversation. Too often we ask how much it will cost, rather than what value it will bring. If it costs £50 but you only get £20 worth of benefit from it, it’s not worth doing. If it costs £50,000 but you’ll get £200,000 worth of benefit from it, then it is worth thinking about.” 

Asked about the future of smart infrastructure Dr Schooling says: “I’ve seen the conversations mature so much in the five years that I’ve been involved in CSIC. Through talking with industry, clients, across the board, people really do understand that this is an important thing to get our heads around. The challenge is being brave enough to act.”

Read the full interview in the September issue of Civil Engineering Surveyor here