finnCap Support Services quarterly sector note | Issue 8
Even infrastructure can be disrupted
The list of sectors disrupted by technology is long, transforming for example how we communicate, shop, travel and holiday. New services have been developed and existing services enhanced, with new players emerging rapidly and incumbents either innovating or being overrun.
The construction and operation of infrastructure is a highly traditional, slow-moving industry but is also at the beginning of a fundamental change.
There’s no more money but we need more
Driven by the need to extract more capacity from existing networks (critically while maintaining a daily, live service) and provide new capacity with limited funding, technology is at the core of a change in infrastructure. Infrastructure is becoming smarter.
What is Smart Infrastructure?
Combining physical with digital
The Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC) was founded in April 2011 to translate research into commercial applications to transform the future of infrastructure.
CSIC defines Smart Infrastructure as the result of combining physical infrastructure with digital infrastructure, providing improved information to enable better decision-making in a cheaper and faster way.
New infrastructure makes headlines but is small compared to existing
CSIC also makes the point that in most mature economies the value of infrastructure in use is substantially greater than the value of infrastructure in development. In the UK, the addition of new assets adds less than 0.5% each year to the value of the existing infrastructure.
The key concerns are therefore to maximise customer service and value by getting more from the operational asset base.
No lack of innovation or smart ideas
Having spoken to a range of companies, it is clear that there already exists a range of innovative solutions and ideas that could greatly benefit infrastructure. These innovations are largely being created by small, technology-focused companies who don’t have access to or a track record with infrastructure owners and developers.
Similarly, experts in the analysis and manipulation of data also see the potential in infrastructure and are getting involved. These are large, well-known organisations in the world of data but with little infrastructure experience.
Getting new solutions implemented on a live network is a major challenge and not something the owners of these innovations or experts in data analysis have any experience in. Shutting the network to enable improvements is not an option.
The rise of the integrator
Costain believes that the solution lies in the creation of an integrator role. Companies like itself (historically a traditional contractor) can complete the solution by providing the practical knowledge and expertise on live infrastructure networks that is needed to ensure any solutions are deliverable and potentially even considered (utilising their client contacts and track record).
Alliances and joint ventures are likely to be formed to provide the range of skills necessary to deliver Smart Infrastructure but Costain has taken a step further by fundamentally changing the skill base it has within the group.
Costain employs 4,000 people of which:
- 1,300 are in consultancy and technology (up 300% in three years)
- 400 are on formal education programmes (apprentices, graduates, MBAs)
- 15 are sponsored PhDs at leading universities
Costain also recently appointed Jacqueline de Rojas as non-executive director. Jacqueline has significant experience in the technology sector. She is currently a non-executive director at Rightmove plc, chair of the advisory board at the Digital Leaders Technology Group and is president of techUK. Previously she was a non-executive director of Home Retail Group and has held executive positions at global blue-chip software companies such as Citrix Systems, CA Technologies, McAfee and Novell.
Crossrail is using innovative sensors
An innovative sensor called the UtterBerry won the Crossrail Best Practice/Innovation Award for contractors Costain-Skanska who deployed the technology at a partially sealed adit complex at its Eleanor Street site in London. The shaft had to be closed to allow access for excavation but contractors needed to monitor the area during the work.
The system, developed and patented by Heba Bevan, a PhD student at CSIC at the University of Cambridge and formerly a CPU design engineer with ARM, consists of miniature, self-powered wireless UtterBerry sensors, able to perform on-board calculations to derive tunnel displacement in real-time without human intervention. No access is required to keep the system running in potentially unsafe sites.
Before UtterBerry, civil engineering monitoring devices were large, high-power consumption devices with minimal processing power, which limited their application of wireless sensor technology. Equipment to ensure structures were stable, safe and that construction was not causing disturbance to pre-existing structures nearby required substantial effort during set-up, calibration, operation and day-to-day maintenance. Data was collected and transmitted but could not be processed or interpreted by engineers easily.
The sensors were installed in the Eleanor Street tunnel construction site in 2014, enabling surveyors to remotely monitor the conditions and structural health of the tunnel from their offices in a safe and effective manner.
Heba Bevan is quoted as saying “The Eleanor Street shaft was a challenge to engineers. It is a sealed hole in the centre of London that required monitoring but there was no internet and no wireless signal to help get the data out. And there was a very limited time frame over a weekend for installation, making the situation quite complex.”
“The contractors had looked for other monitoring systems but there was nothing available that could be fitted quickly and offer real-time monitoring but the UtterBerry had the capability to do the job.”
Data was available immediately, including temperature and humidity readings that flagged up the presence of water in the shaft, helping to identify a broken pump. The sensors are still in place and providing data.
The Utterberry has been used on other projects, including CSIC’s work in the Royal Mail tunnel. The Utterberry’s inventor believes that it “will change the way technology is used in infrastructure and could be used on all kinds of projects. I am still improving it and working on introducing more artificial intelligence but the sky is the limit.”
Network Rail reducing the need for manual inspections
APC Technology Group were contacted in 2016 by Network Rail regarding a concrete pre-fabricated footbridge that crossed the track at the end of a station.
The bridge had developed a substantial gap, which had gradually widened over the years. Network Rail had tried a laser movement detector system but this proved expensive and instead the company resorted to periodic manual inspection in line with Network Rail guidelines for reporting and recording operational property structures.
The risk implications of manual inspection over a live rail line needed careful managing. In addition, the sporadic collection of data did not provide a full picture of the environmental impacts, particularly of rainfall and extreme temperatures, on the gap.
APC installed, in less than a day, movement sensors that offered real-time alerts, low-maintenance characteristics and 24/7 data flow, helping the client to determine risk factors and carry out preventative measures.
Fujitsu is analysing bridges
Fujitsu (a leading Japanese information and communication technology provider) has announced the development of sensor data analysis technology that can aggregate vibration data with sensors attached to the surface of a bridge, and then estimate the degree of the bridge's internal damage through the application of artificial intelligence.
As many of the bridges built in Japan's period of high economic growth continue to deteriorate, the work required to maintain and manage this type of infrastructure has increased rapidly, accompanied by rising maintenance costs and a shortage of engineers.
It is anticipated that these issues may now be resolved through the application of ICT to maintenance and management tasks for bridges and other infrastructure.
Making motorways smart
According to Highways England (a government-owned company with responsibility for the operation, maintenance and improvement of the motorways and trunk roads in England), congestion on the motorway and major road network in England costs an estimated £2 billion every year, with 25 per cent of this resulting from incidents.
Highways England’s business plan includes adding more than 4,000 miles of extra capacity through smart motorways.
Smart motorways relieve congestion by making the hard shoulder available for use by traffic. On some smart motorways, the hard shoulder is opened at busy times. On others, it is permanently converted into a traffic lane (known as All Lane Running). Regularly spaced refuge areas are used for emergencies.
Smart motorways use pioneering technology to:
- Monitor traffic levels
- Change the speed limit to smooth traffic flow, reduce frustrating stop-start driving and improve journey times
- Activate warning signs to alert you to traffic jams and hazards up ahead; and
- Close lanes – for example to allow emergency vehicles through
They increase road capacity faster, at less cost than traditional road-widening schemes, and remain within current motorway boundaries, minimising the environmental footprint of the scheme.
The first smart motorway scheme opened to traffic on the M42 motorway in 2006. Analysis of data gathered since opening has found that:
- Journey reliability has improved by 22 per cent
- Personal injury accidents reduced by more than half
- Where accidents did occur, the severity was much lower overall with zero fatalities and fewer seriously injured
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