“Collaborate is a very different word to co-operate.”
“One of the interesting things we found working on Crossrail is that getting people to try to collaborate is really hard because you don’t often get contractors sitting round a table willing to share their ideas,” he said.
Crossrail came up with an interesting solution to this problem – in effect, force its contractors to share ideas, and get them to pay for the privilege.
It set up an in-house innovation programme, dubbed Innovate18, and got contractors to contribute cash into a central pot, which Crossrail then matched. This pot of money was then available to provide seed funding for innovative new ideas.
Just before Christmas, I visited Crossrail’s Liverpool Street station site with main contractor Laing O’Rourke, which showed off some of the fruits of this idea and the impact it was having on site.
This included relatively simple (but very useful) items like portable projectors and high-speed wifi, allowing on-site briefings without the need to shuttle back and forth to a site office above ground, but also more exciting technology like drones to carry out visual surveys, and the use of augmented reality headsets like the Microsoft HoloLens or Daqri’s Smart Helmet to scan and inspect pre-cast components.
It was great to see proof of concept that these technologies could work on a live construction site – and, as Crossrail innovation programme manager William Reddaway put it, they wanted their contractors to “pinch with pride” when it came to using each other’s ideas.
The best part of it all, though, is that the programme isn’t going to die when Crossrail ends.
Instead, it’s been rolled into a new platform called i3P – the Infrastructure Innovation Platform – which has already received the backing of the Construction Leadership Council and major infrastructure clients like Tideway, Heathrow and EDF.
As last year’s Farmer Review showed, the industry truly collaborating on schemes like these to make the construction process more efficient and more technologically advanced is absolutely the right thing to do – and it’s heartening to see contractors beginning to put their money where their mouths are when it comes to shared innovation.
Read more about the results of Crossrail’s Innovate18 on www.constructionnews.co.uk this Thursday, with more to come on i3P.