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CAD/CAM is the greatest

The results of our hunt to find the greatest advances in construction are revealed

Winner: Computer aided design (CAD)/Computer aided manufacture (CAM)

The public – and industry experts – have spoken. He age of the computer and software that has provided improved accuracy and integrated working between architects, engineers and builders has come out on top as the greatest advance in construction. The days of drawing and redrawing everything on drawing boards, sending paper copies around the design teams and manufacturers by courier or post are well in the past.

“The ability to have small computers in the design office to feed information to the shop floor has altered the way we work.”

Zaha Hadid Architects associate director Charles Walker

“CAD has revolutionised the way we work and what shapes we can build accurately.”

Make director Ken Shuttleworth

The runners-up

Steel – The fundamental construction material.

“Steel has given me the house I always wanted with the spans I always wanted – a 27m long living room up in the trees with massive windows. You could never do that with traditional materials. Steel is also good when it’s exposed and can be easily recycled, so it’s sustainable. I like tried and tested materials and that’s what you’ve got with steel.”

Hemingway design founder Wayne Hemingway

Prefabrication It frees up valuable on site space and ensures quality the first time round.

“The concept of getting it right first time, every time has always been a major challenge in the construction industry.

But prefabrication and off site construction is actually starting to turn this all around. We are now seeing previously unheard levels of quality and consistency in finished products and with it, huge gains in efficiency.”

NCE editor Antony Oliver

Cranes Ancient Egyptians were among the first to figure out how cranes would help them build higher.

“No single item has done more to improve timescales, health and safety by reducing labour and working at height, enable new construction methods and push the boundaries of offsite construction.”

Dorman Long technology director David Rolton

Structural analysisIt pushes the boundaries of engineering, it makes the impossible possible.

“In the last 10 years, the most significant advances are in engineering software. They have allowed us to simulate with greater frequency and accuracy the theoretical models which are the starting point of any construction project. The Beijing Olympics’ Birds Nest Stadium would simply not be possible without such advances in the digital tool.”

AKT director Hanif Kara

Reinforced concrete – helping to create the robust and flexible shapes that today’s desires demand.

“Concrete is a material which can morph into so many guises. Just a small twist in the mix can make it suitable for harsher environments or in its normal state is used in almost every piece of building and infrastructure imaginable. The ugly duckling of construction has now become the swan.”

Olympic Delivery Authority chairman John Armitt

The theodolite – Some might say it is a tricky tool, but it has taken the labour out of setting out.  

“The theodolite has to be the greatest advance. It changed our ability to construct and revolutionised our ability to build the railways, roads and canals. This created faster and easier access for transporting materials into towns where the theodolite played its part in building taller, buildings that made the towns into cities.”

Bovis Lend Lease UK South head Julian Daniel

Environmental awareness– Growing awareness of sustainability means that environmental awareness is vital to any project.

“Today a surprising amount of recycling is taking place on almost every site. Before, there was a lack of awareness in seeing the value in what was carted away for landfill. Thankfully now there has been a change in climate so that on site, soils are often retained, improved or cleaned and capped instead of being sent to the tip.”

Stadium designer and International Olympic Committee structures advisor Stephen Morley

SewersArguably the single most life changing investment any country can make for its population.

“Sewers have been fundamental to the expansion of cities. Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s pioneering London sewer saved millions of lives by taking foul water away for treatment elsewhere and keeping bacteria, odour and waste hidden underground, preventing contamination of drinking water.”

Buro Happold graduate structural engineer Emma Kent and NCE graduate of the year

Health and safety– Attitudes to site safety have come on leaps and bounds in the last 25 years.

“Nowadays it’s not just about putting safety signs up, it’s the positive encouragement and support to make sure that health and safety is taken seriously. The fact that it is understood throughout the whole management chain is very important.”

United Utilities managing director, capital programmes Ian McAulay

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