The nation’s future social well-being and economic growth depends on making the right investments in our infrastructure. Professor Lord Mair of Cambridge’s Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC), says our infrastructure needs to get smarter.
The UK will need to spend some £400bn on new and refurbished infrastructure by 2020 to address historic underinvestment.
And with Britain’s road network set to receive a long overdue boost in investment, the time is right to embrace smart technology to boost the efficiency of assets maximise the value for every pound spent, according to Professor Lord Mair.
"There hasn’t been enough research into how best to use smarter information to maximise quality and whole-life asset performance," Professor Lord Mair
“The quality of infrastructure affects everyone deeply both in terms of its economic effects and how it supports or interferes with daily life,’ he said, speaking ahead of a keynote delivery to the Highways UK conference this week.
“But there hasn’t been enough research into how best to use smarter information to maximise quality and whole-life asset performance,” he added. “The emergence of new technologies, such as fibre optics, wireless sensor networks and data management, has enabled performance of our infrastructure assets to be constantly monitored, driving substantial efficiency gains during new construction and in long-term asset management.”
Mair is a world authority on infrastructure resilience and sensor technologies. In his key note address to Highways UK he will explain how his team at Cambridge University have been quietly revolutionising the way that infrastructure is planned and built.
The Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC) is actively deploying cutting-edge technologies on many of the country’s largest and most challenging engineering projects including Crossrail, National Grid, London Bridge Station and the Network Rail Staffordshire Alliance with impressive results, maximising cost efficiencies while minimising carbon footprint.
“Innovation has to be at the heart of the planning if it is to be truly transformative, so we must talk to each other earlier to make things happen,” Professor Lord Mair
This includes smart technology that enables the infrastructure to ‘talk back’ about its condition. A tunnel or bridge fitted with cutting-edge fibre optic strain sensors, for example, can inform a maintenance team when a potentially alarming strain concentration or crack has appeared without the need for routine but uninformed inspections, reducing the costs and making maintenance planning better informed and responsive.
The Cambridge team has taken these technologies to new levels and successfully employed them in landmark projects such as London’s Crossrail. The potential for highways is obvious.
But the technology is only part of the story. Just as important, according to Mair, has been the deliberate disrupting of traditional planning and research processes –to break down the barriers between academia and industry - white coats and hard hats - in ways that unleash creative energy.
“Innovation has to be at the heart of the planning if it is to be truly transformative, so we must talk to each other earlier to make things happen,” Mair explained. “With over 40 industry partners and around 80 site demonstrations of the latest innovative technologies CSIC has shown how that can happen and what the benefits can be; it requires a real collaboration between industry, government and academia and it works. This approach inspires the practical people to think more creatively and the creative people to think more practically and the results are profound.”
Professor Lord Mair will be speaking at the Highways UK conference running at the ExCel London on the 25-26 November. Highways UK is a major new event bringing together those responsible for planning, developing, managing and maintaining the UK's road network. For details of the event – including the free to attend exhibition and industry briefings – please visit www.highways-uk.com.