Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

The small projects that are transforming the UK’s engineering sector

Mon Sep 7, 2020
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This ambitious programme has big plans to challenge the norm and transform how the engineering sector is operating

They say small steps make big changes, and this ambitious programme that’s corralling groups of innovative small projects is no exception. From the creation of new housing to improving the wellbeing and safety of urban populations, these projects have big plans to transform how this age-old sector is operating and challenge the norm.

It all started back in March, when Lloyd’s Register Foundation – an independent global charity that supports research, innovation, and education to make the world a safer place – joined forces with the ODI and invited outside projects to come forward with their ideas, offering funding and support to advance them.

The winners were diverse – from an organisation looking to transform how brownfield sites are built on, to a ‘simulations’ company wanting to build a digital version of an entire city centre to assess and address local air pollution.

Slingshot Simulations – based in Leeds – is a software company that builds things called ‘digital twins’, which are digital versions of real things that help you make decisions and plan ‘what if’ scenarios. It has applied this tech to its home town,  creating an interactive digital twin of Leeds city centre by integrating a variety of open datasets into a real-time platform. This enables the city to simulate different scenarios which recreate citizen interactions with heavily polluted areas. These insights are set to inform and support Leeds City Council to meet its targets to reduce the effects of air pollution and improve planning for pedestrianisation.

There are over 1.1 million households in England on the social housing waiting list, even though there is enough brownfield land to build an estimated 1 million homes. Ground conditions on brownfield sites can have a big impact on health and safety, site development costs and design constraints. However, this data is often only available under commercial terms at cost, which can make it harder for smaller developers, who often have fewer resources, to access it. Engineering and design consultancy company Atkins has been identifying how well currently open datasets can support developing insights into the contamination of brownfield sites. This project highlights the opportunity for industry to collaborate to unlock the power of location data about brownfield land contaminants, to support delivery of the ambitions in the UK Geospatial Data Strategy. Through this project, Atkins has opened up conversations with clients about data reuse and licensing permissions, and initial discussions have begun with key stakeholders in this sector including AGS, Geospatial Commission and Bentley.

A third of construction practitioners (approximately 1 million people) say that they don’t have easy access to all the knowledge they need to do their job safely, and they’re not even aware of what knowledge is available. Barbal – a Bristol-based SME specialising in creating open standards for data – has identified a need for quick and straightforward access to knowledge on demand. It’s created a shared way of publishing construction knowledge so that it becomes discoverable, with the hope that this will greatly improve practitioners’ access to the knowledge they need to safely perform their role and implement a safer environment during construction.

These small projects might seem very different to one another, but as a collective, they work together to create a safer, fairer and more knowledgeable environment for those working in and benefitting from the engineering sector, and could be the catalysts for considerable change. This change is all part of our manifesto for the engineering sector, published back in 2019, encouraging organisations and companies to publish, use and share data. It identifies a set of principles and recommendations to help improve safety by increasing access to data and driving innovation.

This approach to innovation – funding individual projects around a challenge to help achieve a wider objective – is one that has proven to work for the ODI. The technical term for them is ‘stimulus funds’, and the ODI is currently running another one to address the challenge of using data to help people to lower their impact on the environment, improve public services and save lives.

As these projects continue on their exciting journeys, more projects will be joining this ambitious programme in the coming weeks. In the meantime, track the progress of our programme here or join others in endorsing our manifesto for the engineering sector.

If you want to transform your sector using a similar approach, please get in touch.  

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash