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West Midlands engineers discuss 'hard wiring innovation' into contracts

ICE President Andrew Wyllie finds out how the region's civil engineering industry is enabling the digital revolution.

ICE President Andrew Wyllie.
ICE President Andrew Wyllie.
How the West Midlands is using new technologies to improve lives and communities was presented to ICE President Andrew Wyllie on his recent visit to the region. 

“The fourth industrial revolution is providing exciting opportunities in the West Midlands to meet infrastructure needs, and it has been exciting to hear how the West Midlands is employing emerging technologies to deliver long-term value for money, and benefits to society,” he said.  

The two-day visit featured a debate on how industry in the West Midlands is facilitating and enabling innovations in the procurement and delivery of infrastructure and civil engineering projects. 

In a speech, Wyllie talked about how emerging technology breakthroughs in robotics, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology are transforming the planning and delivery of infrastructure.  

Digital technology will enable engineers to use existing assets smarter, by being able to monitor and improve asset performance, schedule maintenance and make investment decisions based on consistent and reliable asset data. 

Malcolm Corlett, ICE West Midlands Chair, chaired a panel with Wyllie, and speakers from HS2, Kier Services and Lendlease Group, on how industry in the West Midlands can innovate and use digital technology to improve efficiency.  

One example discussed was hard-wiring innovations into contracts and creating innovation performance attributes and evaluations.  
 

A collaborative relationship is needed 

In addition, the panel spoke about how supply chains should be actively encouraged to submit ideas and actively work with contractors and clients under a collaborative arrangement.  

Referencing ICE’s Project 13, a new infrastructure delivery model that supports a sustainable, innovative and highly skilled industry, the panel agreed that a collaborative relationship is key to mitigate risk and encourage innovation in the supply chain. 
 

The growing importance of digital skills 

Underpinning the success of the fourth industrial revolution is the need for supply chains to be proficient in digital skills. 

The panel outlined the rapid developments in artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and data used to inform investment and decision making, which requires an increase in digital skills, for example in data analysts and coding. 

Malcolm Corlett said: “Too often, projects are procured based on price and lowest cost, rather than the environmental impact and security of the planet’s resources.  

“Today’s event will help inform a report due in the autumn about how the West Midlands is leading by example in embedding innovative and sustainable solutions to complex engineering challenges.” 
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