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Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction

An Innovation and Knowledge Centre funded by EPSRC and Innovate UK

Studying at Cambridge


Improving infrastructure design/performance based design

Current 'Performance Based Design/ Improving Infrastructure Design' projects

1. Improving foundation design for wind turbines in developing countries (WindAfrica)

2. Advanced soil models to be incorporated into commercially available software

3. Priming Laboratory Experiments on infrastructure and Urban Systems (PLEXUS)

4. CSIC collaboration with Cornell University and UC Berkeley on smart, resilient underground infrastructure testing

The following projects also appear under the 'Transforming Construction' theme

5. Measuring axial shortening of a high-rise building using distributed fibre optic sensing

The following projects also appear under 'The Use and Development of Sensors' theme

6. Rail track-bed stability monitoring

7. Fibre optic temperature sensing in ground source heat pump boreholes

The following projects also appear under the 'Managing and Operating Infrastructure' theme

8. Sustainable design and management of industrial assets 


1. Improving foundation design for wind turbines in developing countries (WindAfrica)
WindAfrica is a collaborative three-year research programme that addresses challenges to the development of sustainable energy in Africa where more power generation is needed to meet existing and future demand. Wind Africa CSIC ProjectsThere is a lack of design guidance for turbine foundations on unsaturated expansive soils found throughout much of Africa. This has limited the growth of wind turbine power generation despite the wealth of renewable energy resources available. The project will analyse data on the mechanics of partially saturated soil to provide guidelines for the construction of turbines. Fieldwork is located in Sudan where the soil is representative of a large part of East Africa. Data analysis, physical modelling and numerical analysis will result in a semi-analytical model for foundation deformation and bearing capacity and provide guidelines for wind turbines on Africa. Knowledge transfer of the project enables UK industry to gain a competitive advantage in a new area of construction. This is a collaboration with Durham University and University of Pretoria in South Africa.  Project contact is Laing O’Rourke Lecturer in Construction Engineering and CSIC Investigator Dr Mohammed Elshafie


2. Advanced soil models to be incorporated into commercially available software

Most of the geotechnical numerical analysis conducted by geotechnical engineering firms around the world involves the use of commercially available software such as PLAXIS, LS-DYNA and Midas GTS, which provide a range of “advanced” soil models. Although academic and industry understanding of soil and soil-structure interaction continues to advance, the soil models implemented in the software tools are not updated and are often unable to capture important aspects of soil behaviour that are critical for the simulation of more complex problems, rendering the software of increasingly limited value. Further, it is also observed that for non-standard soils (e.g. those with creep or strain softening) use of more conventional soil models may deliver unsafe results. As the use of 3D finite element modelling increases in industry, it is also imperative to have advanced soil models in both 2D and 3D finite element software and to have redundancy in choice.

The aim of this research is to develop the skills and methodology to allow programming of advanced soil models into commercially available software such as Plaxis, LS-Dyna, ABAQUS and Midas GTS. For this purpose the implementation of a two soil models, one targeting sands, the other clays, selected to address particular industry needs, will be investigated in depth. Sample programming of these models will be carried across platforms to assess procedures and develop guidance for both geotechnical practitioners and academics, as well as software houses. Project contact is CSIC Investigator Dr Giovanna Biscontin.  


3. Priming Laboratory Experiments on infrastructure and Urban Systems (PLEXUS) 

The UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC) is, with a (matched) capital investment of £138m from BEIS, creating world-class city observatory, modelling and simulation and physical laboratory facilities. The UKCRIC Laboratories will form the state-of-the-art national research infrastructure that UK academic researchers and infrastructure providers need if they are to deliver world leading infrastructure provision and performance. UKCRIC's overall mission is to enable radical changes in infrastructure provision practice that are needed to tackle the huge scale of the UK and global infrastructure renewal challenge. 

This project from UKCRIC's Laboratories Strand aims to prepare for and use UKCRIC's laboratory facilities for the ultimate purpose of developing UKCRIC's research staff capacity and capability, and create a Common Vision, Strategic Research Agenda & Implementation Action Plan for the Laboratories Strand via three expansive yet interlinked critical technical challenges.  

Three important and urgent technical challenges will contextualise the research: 

(1) intense physical interdependency of urban infrastructure systems, each of which relies on ground support

(2) harvesting energy from buried infrastructure systems

(3) accelerated deterioration of infrastructure materials due to extreme loading.

The challenges are synergistic, having been identified by industry as high added-value problems offering quick-win outcomes. Exploration of these challenges will inform learning capture and be translated into the Vision, Research Agenda & Implementation Action Plan.

PLEXUS will enable academics and industry stakeholders to co-produce and test the essential collaborative frameworks that will underpin the success of the overall UKCRIC enterprise. This integrated view will help drive progress towards the more integrated and holistic sector mindset that must underpin transformative thinking and practice in infrastructure provision. Project contact is Laing O’Rourke Lecturer in Construction Engineering and CSIC Investigator Dr Mohammed Elshafie.


4. CSIC collaboration with Cornell University and UC Berkeley on smart, resilient underground infrastructure testing

Monitoring and sensing systems for underground infrastructure, such as utility pipelines, are difficult to implement in the field, especially during rare and extreme events such as earthquakes. The Cornell Geotechnical Lifelines Large-Scale Testing Facility, in Ithaca, New York, is seeking to address this challenge by testing several advanced sensors developed by researchers at CSIC and the University of California, Berkeley.Cornell Pipeline - CSIC Projects

In addition to the scores of conventional instruments installed for the large-scale test, the sensors – which can collectively measure strain, temperature, movement and leakage – were deployed along a 12-metres section of a hazard-resilient pipeline being tested for earthquake fault-rupture performance. The new technologies employed included, distributed fibre optic strain sensing, Fibre Bragg Grating sensing, frequency-domain reflectometry wireless sensor network, and fibre optic displacement sensor for joint-opening detection.

The test gave an unprecedented insight into the pipe’s ability to elongate and bend while being subject to ground failure. The experimental test also demonstrated how sensors provide valuable feedback to companies that want to advance the engineering behind new products and improve system-wide performance. Project contact is CSIC Research Associate Dr Xiaomin Xu  


5. Measuring axial shortening of a high-rise building using distributed fibre optic sensing

This project involves a novel application of DFOS to continuously measure the progressive axial displacement of reinforced concrete columns and walls in a high-rise building during construction.  The approach is being trialled for the first time in the 50-storey Principal Tower, in London, with the monitoring ongoing throughout the building’s 17-month construction programme. Fibre optic (FO) installation is carried out by the contractor’s operatives, trained by CSIC, while CSIC analyses the data and provides the required information to the contractors and design engineers. The axial shortening data provided allows the contractor to adjust the column height presets in the reinforced concrete structure if necessary. No other monitoring technology is able to provide this information with such a spatial and temporal density. Principal Tower for projects

Temperature and strain sensing fibre optic cables are embedded in vertical load-bearing concrete elements, in four locations, as the building is constructed level by level.  Automated measurements of strain and temperature are taken twice every hour, which are then analysed by CSIC researchers to derive the axial shortening of the instrumented elements, along the whole height of the building, with sub-millimetre precision.  This process is planned to continue throughout the construction, following which the embedded system will become a permanent installation within the building structure, thus making it possible to assess the axial deformation of this tall building throughout its lifetime.

This is a demonstrator project that is intended to (a) help CSIC fine-tune the DFOS system design, installation and data processing techniques for monitoring tall buildings, and (b) give the construction industry confidence in using DFOS for similar applications. The trial at Principal Tower has enabled CSIC to develop this application of DFOS to a commercial readiness level, making it possible for tall building assets to be monitored both during their construction and throughout their lifetime. Project contact is CSIC Research Associate Dr Nicky de Battista.   


6. Rail track-bed stability monitoring

Rail track-bed construction techniques, such as slab-track (used for a range of constructions including tramlines and high speed rail), must support and maintain vertical and lateral rail position stability to ensure track operational safety and passenger comfort. 

CSIC is investigating developing long-length shape and displacement sensors of several metres in length that dynamically detect and measure deformation in the track-bed under load with a high degree of sensitivity. The sensors are typically deployed during the early stages of construction where they are laid in the track-bed before the slab-track is deployed, or attached to the slab-track structure after construction. The sensor system would deliver data to confirm rail stability and assists in the validation of such construction methods for use in rail projects. This system will benefit construction companies developing and demonstrating new proposals for rail-track construction. Project contact is CSIC Business Development Manager Phil Keenan


7. Fibre optic temperature sensing in ground source heat pump boreholes (GSHP) 

A distributed fibre optic temperature sensing system has been installed in GSHP boreholes as well as in the ground in dedicated boreholes at the new Papworth Hospital and the Cambridge University new Civil Engineering buildings both under construction in Cambridge. The distributed temperature data in the selected GSHP boreholes and in the soil will be used to assess the long-term performance of the ground source heat pump system and feedback into its efficient operation. It will also allow the detection of possible long-term heat imbalance and associated system efficiency loss as well as potential environmental issues.

The distributed data will be used to calibrate heat transfer models and estimate the thermal properties of individual geological strata. The data associated with the numerical simulations will be used to investigate the ground and closed loops thermal response as well as boreholes interaction.

This will help optimise future system design by, for example, optimising the number of loops per boreholes, the boreholes depth, spacing, and layout. Project contact is CSIC Senior Research Associate Dr Cedric Kechavarzi.


8. Sustainable design and management of industrial assets

This project aims to develop a framework that helps industries understand and manage the whole-life cost and value generated by their assets. Leading companies in the infrastructure and manufacturing sectors are developing an awareness of most of the costs incurred throughout an asset’s lifecycle. Some companies use Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) as a key metric to support procurement, operations and maintenance decisions. There is also increasing emphasis on extracting the maximum value from the assets, instead of thinking only about cost. The importance of value maximisation in physical asset management is currently accepted, in particular because of the ISO family of standards on asset management ISO 5500X. However, there is a distinct lack of clarity and understanding of what value means, how to identify and quantify value, and how to base decisions on it. 

The purpose of the project is to study the evolution of Total Value of Ownership (TVO) and TCO as used in industry and understood by academics, with the aim to develop a framework for understanding, quantifying, and using TVO/TCO for decision-making. The aim is to inform industry how the concept of TVO/TCO can bring a positive step-change to the effectiveness of asset management.  Project contacts are Dr Ajith Parlikad, Senior Lecturer in Industrial Systems at the Institute for Manufacturing and CSIC Investigator, and Prof Duncan McFarlane, Professor of Industrial Informational Engineering at the Institute for Manufacturing and CSIC Investigator.