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Creating opportunities for change

Innovation and collaboration seemed to be the hot topics at May’s Ground Engineering Infrastructure Summit with barely a single talk passing by without mention of one or both of the terms.

The use of the words was mostly linked to the need to change how the geotechnics industry works in order to meet the efficiency and productivity demands being laid down by clients for future project delivery.

From the discussions, it is clear that the words are very easy to say but how to put them into action is not always so simple and often held back by regulations and standards, as well as – ironically – project programmes.

Arup’s Mike Devriendt discussed the “sweet spot” for adopting innovative ideas, while Thames Tideway’s Roger Bailey said that his project was within the “golden period” for innovation. Essentially, these ideas need to be proposed and given time for development at an early stage so that the critical path is not affected. Devriendt also suggested that opex costs should be given priority during consideration of the price tag for these ideas, rather than just the capex costs.

Greater use of optimised or early contractor involvement must surely aid these concepts being brought to the table within the “sweet spot” but there does still seem to be a reluctance by clients to involve specialist contractors at the start. Nonetheless, it is clear that collaboration and innovation go hand in hand and is something that the ground engineering industry must embrace and push for.

Collaboration came up time and again with reference to digital data and the wider use of BIM in geotechnics. Reluctance by the industry to share interpretative data, as well as lack of software compatibility, seems to be holding back the sector from fully immersing itself in this new way of working. Federation of Piling Specialists chairman Alasdair Henderson described the ground engineering industry as having “trust issues”. Until the sector overcomes those issues it can never be truly collaborative and without that can it ever achieve true innovation?

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