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Transforming Construction for a sustainable future

The Manufacturing Technology Centre, a lead partner at the Construction Innovation Hub, houses some of the most advanced manufacturing equipment in the world. Alongside cross-sector market-leading expertise, this creates a high-quality environment for the development and demonstration of innovative new technologies which are helping to transform the construction sector.

UK CONSTRUCTION WEEK

During UK Construction Week, the MTC is offering guests never-seen-before access to it's facilities, with a chance to view 10 technology demonstrators which are enhancing the UK construction sector. 

Find out more about these exhibits on display below. 

Workshop"

COMPONENT MANUFACTURING

Laser

Laser Cut Rebar Replacement 

Improving repeatability and quality of reinforcing bar and transforming the process to be quicker, safer and more ergonomic, this collaboration with MetLase offers a great example practical implementation of modern methods of construction (MMC) mind-set that gains momentum this industry.   

In Hall 1 of the workshop, a number of demonstrators and equipment pieces support the delivery Platform Design Programme, showcasing MTC involvement in Construction Innovation Hub. Located in front of the Laser cell, The Advanced Rebar Demonstrator, showcases our cooperation with MetLase on how internal concrete reinforcing structure could be fundamentally reimagined with modern manufacturing capabilities.

Heavy reliance on manual assembly makes setting up the traditional rebar both labour intensive and dangerous work, with 61% of construction accidents related to exposed rebar. Currently this process is manual and performed mostly on-site, often in difficult conditions and by workers whose skills are diminishing with ageing workforce and lack of training opportunities. Durability of concrete structures is directly dependent on rebar structures being assembled and positioned correctly due to danger of matrix corrosion. With increasing costs of carbon emissions, designing, building and maintaining durable concrete structures will soon become a major challenge in climate emergency.

By utilising laser cut capabilities and design for assembly workflow, a ribbed structure was developed with MetLase. Based in rapid, lightweight aerospace fixturing system, advanced rebar concept allows for superior rigidity and dimensional accuracy. Thanks to a twist-lock method of joining sheet metal sections, time of assembly is also improved, compared to traditional rebar, even when conducted by inexperienced workers.

Since the structure becomes self-supporting during the assembly process, less manual handling, lifting and therefore potential for injury is expected compared to traditional rebar. A traditional rebar cage is situated next to the demonstrator, to better demonstrate the improvements proposed.

Laser Cut Rebar Replacement

INDOOR SANDPIT AND AUTOMATED ASSEMBLY

JCB

MOBIE Cube Fanuc Demonstrator

The Fanuc M2000iA/2300 robot is the largest commercially available industrial robot and has been used to demonstrate the accurate positioning of large volumetric components.

The demonstrator shows 3m x 3m cubes being picked up by a carbon fibre end effector and accurately stacked on top of each other, with the assistance of a vision system.

Both the cubes and end effector were designed for the application, testing the robots capability and demonstrating what is feasible with off the shelf equipment.

JCB Hydradig

The work displayed here was created as a proof of principle demonstrator that allows robotic assistance to be retrofitted to existing construction equipment, in this case a JCB Hydradig.

A machine vision camera uses targets attached to the excavator arm to provide closed loop control of the part to predefined positions that are determined through kinematic model. 

The JCB project was designed to show a low TRL example of how existing plant could be retrofitted to allow on-site modular construction without the use of cranes.

The demonstrator has 3 methods of use

  1. A remote control manual mode which allows control when out of the cab so that positioning of large structures can be undertaken when they obscure the drivers view.
  2. An open loop control that allows for small repetitive actions to be recorded and played back, this could be useful for removing parts or short repeated complex actions required for assembly.
  3. Closed loop control using machine vision. This allows complex actions to be tested using a kinematic model and then the path required is programmed into the system for the robot to undertake in real life.

The system used was specifically designed so that it can be easily retrofitted with minimal changes to the JCB. This was done by emulating driver controls in the cab and simply plugs in by removing 2 pieces of trim and 4 plugs.

Omnimove Titan

The Kuka Omnimove and Titan has been used as a demonstration of large, high payload industrial robotics made mobile to greatly increase their useful operating area. The concept of bringing the automation to the workpiece rather than vice versa allows for new applications of robotics in the construction sector.

When used in conjunction with advanced vision and inspection technologies the mobile Titan can be used to assemble large modular construction elements.

Indoor Sandpit

The Indoor Sandpit test structure offers space for development and de-risking of products supplied by CIH partners, at a scale of the entire building, and with respect to interdependencies between various products and sub-assemblies.

Active Roof Cassette for Healthcare Sandpit

A special area within Hall 1 of the MTC workshop is designated for a building site for the purposes of prefabricating a set of modules or ‘cassettes’ for the future panelised roof of the Healthcare Sandpit. This structure, and its companion, the Educational Sandpit, are being built on the site across the road from the Sopwith building, to act as demonstrators, exemplifying state of the art in modern methods of construction and MTC’s own growing capabilities in design innovation in that sector.

The new roof cassettes are based on the successful, earlier design, featured in Sandpit 2: Research and Development Structure. With a total roof area of 95 sq. meters, compared to 56 square meters of the Sandpit 2, the new roof system presented MTC’s technical team with unique new engineering challenges in its design.

All new modules span 5.6 meters, compared to the previous generation span of 3.9 meters, some with twice as much surface area per unit. To minimise complexity of assembly, time to manufacture and reduce weight of the individual cassette, slim-line TATA corrugated steel profiles were selected for the combined decking and supporting structure, replacing Howick-made light-gauge steel frame and heavy plywood of the previous design.

The new system uses a vapour control layer membrane by Icopal and a thinner stack of dual density insulation from Rockwool. A tailored underlay and bitumen finish allows the structure to achieve the durability and ease of repair expected of a roof system designed for a public utility building.

Lifting of the new cassettes from Hall 1, their transportation across MTC campus and ultimately installation on the Healthcare Sandpit, was completed with a modular lifting frame and slings provided by Lift Gear UK.

The benefits of using off-site manufacturing were apparent by the speed of the lifting operation. Even with a single lorry shuttling between the Hall 1 and Sandpits site, the modular roof was in place within a few hours, despite adverse weather limiting crane operations. Modular design allowed for the weatherproofing membrane to act as a ‘wrapping’ protecting the insulation material from the rain, which would not be possible when using traditional methods of construction.

The roof system rests on a separate, supporting structure allowing for a gentle slope for rainwater drainage. This removed the need of using customised, tapered insulation, like one used on the original roof cassette design.

The final interfacing between the six cassettes was facilitated by a weatherproofing operation completed on site by a small team of roofing professionals the following day. With fewer people needed on site, superior control over quality and repeatability of assembly, off-site manufacturing offers the way forward for better working conditions for builders, safe work practices and helps in achieving performance specified in the original design.

Design and build of the second generation of the panelised roof system already produced numerous lessons learned for the technical design team at the MTC. Subsequent iterations of the system are expected to contain improvements relating to:

  • Stitching methods used for corrugated steel deck, with potential for using advanced sealing systems and welding for superior performance at the vapour control layer
  • Interfacing and gap management tailored for easier on-site weatherproofing work
  • Increasing the effective roof area that can be transported using conventional methods
  • Reducing the reliance of specialised lifting systems

For further information, please contact robert.yates@the-mtc.orgjordan.angell@the-mtc.orgsteve.murphy@the-mtc.org or dorian.lachowicz@the-mtc.org 

Howick Frama 7600

The Howick Frama 7600 machine is a multi-purpose, cold rolling system for fabrication of light-gauge steel frames, such as: roof trusses, wall panels, floor joists using C-section profiles. Associated software allows for quick design, review and incorporation of a number of joint styles which are then punched, swaged and cut at a peak rolling speed of 800 meters per hour. Howick machine in configuration available at the MTC features two sets of tooling allowing for range of steel gauges (1-1.6 mm thickness) and two profile dimensions:  100 & 150 mm.

The ‘printed’ beams can then be manually assembled and finished to form complex lattices for many other engineering purposes, beside construction sector. The Howick Frama can be used for fabrication of rigid, light-weight volumetric structures – such as parts of fixtures, supporting structures for equipment, etc. at the MTC, as part of the Construction Innovation Hub, we use this machine for fabrication of roof cassette frames, developed as a modular roof solution for Sandpit 1 structure in Hall 1.

For more information on this machine, please contact dorian.lachowicz@the-mtc.orgliam.hill@the-mtc.org or daniel.rawlinson@the-mtc.org

This Conceptual Ceiling Cassette is part of an automated assembly showcase, involving a number of design innovations. The purpose of this, original MTC project, was to present a vision for future modular ceiling/floor solution, aimed at residential spaces or offices. As part of the larger shift towards more sustainable construction, enabled by off-site prefabrication, modular design and construction quality management (CQM), the ceiling cassette demo showcase MTC capabilities in design for automated assembly, process optimisation and off-line programming using digital twin for construction sector.

Resting on a prod-tex platform with the ceiling surface pointed upwards, the cassette incorporates MEP features re-envisioned for the future. Among them are: cold rolled, open section steel ventilation system, sealed using a liquid silicone gasket, plumbing system facilitated with extruded aluminium pipework and fastener-less assembly utilising quick-attach clips. Cassette also includes a quickly reconfigurable, 24V LED lighting solution, provided by means of copper power bus, running along the length of the structure. Decorative ceiling fabric is spread between sheet metal tensioners at each end, providing ease of access and servicing of the MEP, as well as to create diffusion effect for the lights.

Automated assembly aspect of the demonstrator is realised with Gudel Robotic Gantry and includes two collaborating end-effectors deploying MEP components onto the deck of the cassette. Suction-cup end-effector is used for handling Howick-made, ventilation ducting and aluminium extruded plumbing pieces are handled by the second end-effector, which also accommodates a fixture for transporting rolled fabric cover for ceiling. Future work on this demonstrator will involve machine vision showcase and robotic handling LED light array.

For further information, contact Dorian.Lachowicz@the-mtc.org 

HEALTH AND SAFETY IN CONSTRUCTION

Health

With 9000 PPE related injuries reported in the UK each year, the highest rates of fatal, major, and over three-day injuries are found within the construction sector. As the focus of the construction sector moves in favour of offsite manufacturing, the MTC identified this as an opportunity to implement technology and best practices from the manufacturing sector to reduce the risk and frequency of construction related injuries.

The MTC ‘s approach to tackling this challenge was through the demonstrated integration of several existing tracking technologies alongside developing AI machine vision technology to dynamically enforce H&S guidelines related to PPE in a workshop/factory environment.

The first part of this demonstrator utilised low-cost, passive, RFID tags embedded in each PPE item, alongside wearable UWB tracking systems which enable tracking of an individual’s location. Once a user signs into their workplace system using a standard ID badge, these two tracking systems work in unison to identify the individual, their location, and their allocated PPE. Through creating virtual zones across the workshop, the MTC hence demonstrated how this can enable security systems to automatically check employees are wearing the PPE required for their current location and signal a warning alarm if not. Any events of an alarm may then be documented by the system, allowing companies to track any occurrences and seek to continuously improve health and safety practices on site.

To address the matter of guests and other visitors who would not be assigned tracking tags, the MTC proposed the use of distributed AI enabled machine vision systems.

This system works to monitor areas for the number of people present which is then fed back and checked against the number of registered tagged personnel. Through implementation of AI, the system also has the capability to recognise PPE including HI-Vis clothing and safety hats. This hence necessitates only monitoring areas where PPE is required, whilst excluding registered safe areas.

Through the utilisation of distributed AI this significantly reduces network traffic compared to a centralised AI taking video streams, allowing for existing infrastructure to be utilised without overloading it. Furthermore, it also allows easy integration through REST APIs which can periodically communicate with units to track how many people are in each zone and their PPE.

Through the application of both technologies, the MTC demonstrated the feasibility of integrating existing technology from other sectors alongside harnessing current innovations in AI to the efficient management of PPE and worker safety in construction. The capabilities of the automated system overcome the challenge of managing areas in which safety requirements are susceptible to frequent changes, whilst the reporting of event histories enables continuous improvement measures to be implemented.

For more information, please contact ian.thompson@the-mtc.org

OUTDOOR SANDPITs

Outdoor

The Education Sandpit forms one of two outdoor test bed facilities constructed to support the Construction Innovation Hub’s (CIH) Platform Programme and in collaboration with the Department for Education to deliver the classrooms of the future.

These sandpits provide a safe and accessible space for industry to test, learn and develop ahead of the build stage. Building on the expertise of the previously developed digital and indoor sandpits, these in turn will support the development of robust and reliable products, that can be delivered straight to market and provide a vehicle to be used by a multitude of suppliers in collaboration and for shared learning.

Building on the success of the GenZero program - which centred on the design of a zero-carbon school the Education Sandpit has emphasised the spirit of collaboration. Its delivery has been via a consortium of industry partners; driven by Balfour Beatty as main designer and contractor, in collaboration with Lyall, Bills and Young, Smith and Wallwork, McAvoy, Cundalls, SEISMIC platform,-  and Ecosystems, and guided by requirements provided by the Department of Education. This has resulted in the delivery of a fully integrated hall, corridor, and premanufactured toilet pod, all of which are structurally independent of each other.

Through these modules, the Education sandpit showcases multiple novel technologies and platform concepts, which includes:

  • Utilisation of Home-Grown Engineered Timber (HET) cladded panellised hall
  • A volumetric fitted toilet podule
  • CIH’s previously developed SEISMIC frame in the corridor
  • Connectivity of 3 different and structurally independent, manufactured systems Utilisation of recycled materials such as packaging for flooring material

All the above elements have been installed and integrated as both volumetric and panelised elements. 

You can also view a 3D model of the Education sandpit, including the key products showcased, using the QR code below. Simply download the app Vuforia View and scan the QR code.

 

For more information, please contact Abbie.Romano@the-mtc.org

More information on the Construction Hub’s Platform program can be found here: CIH Platform Programme

More information on the GenZero Programme can be found here: https://tc-catalogue.strongerstories.org/stories/genzero/

 

The Health Sandpit forms one of two outdoor test bed facilities constructed to support the Construction Innovation Hub’s (CIH) Platform Programme set to support delivery of hospitals for the future.  

These sandpits provide a safe and accessible space for industry to test, learn and develop ahead of the build stage. Building on the expertise of the previously developed digital and indoor  sandpits, these in turn will support the development of robust and reliable products, that can be delivered straight to market and provide a vehicle to be used by a multitude of suppliers in collaboration and for shared learning.

The Health Sandpit builds upon the success of the University of College London’s (UCL) Challenging Space Frontiers Programme, which centred on co-designing various modules of an operating theatre through collaborative planning and specialist supply chain engagement. This has been expanded to the consideration of a full cluster of interventional therapy suite of rooms, for which the physical, flexible testbed has been constructed at the MTC.  This has been achieved through collaboration with Balfour Beatty as main designer and contractor HLM, Curtins, UCL, Mott McDonald, Roger Bullivants, NG Bailey, PCE, Metlase, Curtis Moore, Balfour Beatty Kilpatrick, BMIand Platt & Reilly.

Through this collaboration, the health sandpit enables the testing and development of multiple innovative component and platform solutions for application in hospitals of the future. These include:

  • Utilisation of Laser Cut Reinforcement (LCR) within structural element such as pile cap, beam and column – in collaboration with Metlase, PCE and Roger Bullivants. More information for which can be found here (link to rebar case study)
  • Modularised roof cassettes in collaboration with BMI
  • Interoperable interior wall solutions in collaboration with Platt & Reilly
  • Innovative MEP delivery cassettes utilised in the corridor, through wall and in the main room. More information on the MTCs work in Ceiling Cassettes for MEP can be found here (link to casette case study)

You can also view a 3D model of the health sandpit, including the key products showcased, using the QR code below. Simply download the app Vuforia View and scan the code.

Health Sandpit

For more information, please contact Abbie.Romano@the-mtc.org

More information on the Construction Hub’s Platform program can be found here:  CIH Platform Programme

More information on the University of College London’s Challenging Space Frontiers Programme can be found here: Challenging Space Frontiers in Hospitals

 

 

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