Edinburgh Napier University

University partnership seeks to take construction into digital age

Professor Bill Buchanan of the Cyber Academy at Edinburgh Napier University

A new collaboration aims to develop blockchain solutions to the data recording problems which can jeopardise complex construction projects.

Edinburgh Napier University is teaming up with newly-formed Hypervine Ltd following a series of industry scandals which have highlighted the need for strong audit trails for undertaken work.

A blockchain is a growing list of records or blocks, secured using cryptography and resistant to modification; technology which can reduce the risk of problems like documents being lost or actions not followed up.

The new Blockpass Identity Lab at the university’s Merchiston campus uses cutting-edge blockchain research to drive innovation.

Technology company Hypervine, based in Glasgow, focuses on digitising construction to improve the reporting and recording of data, enabling companies to adapt to fast-changing economic, environmental and governmental policies.

The university’s collaboration with the company will investigate ways in which blockchain can incorporate security into complicated construction processes, create trust, build compliance and boost productivity.

Professor Bill Buchanan, director of the Blockpass Identity Lab, said: “The nature of the construction industry is that there are many stakeholders involved, and making sure that each part of the process is working as it should can be difficult.

“A blockchain solution will aim to integrate digital signing into the key parts of the process.”

Liam Bell, the lead blockchain researcher in the lab, said: “The application of blockchain into the construction industry – where strong levels of trust in the process are required – is a natural one.”

The collaboration comes after the sector was hit by negative headlines locally and nationally following events like the Edinburgh PFI schools crisis and the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London.

The annual spend due to construction errors is estimated to be around seven times the total annual profit of the UK industry.

Paul Duddy, CEO and founder of Hypervine, said: “Digitising infrastructure, construction and facility maintenance industries through blockchain technologies will yield significant improvements across the sector that will have wide ranging positive economic and social economic impacts for both private and public sectors.”

Hypervine and the university’s School of Computing were brought together by Interface – which works with businesses to translate their ideas into dynamic briefs for academics – and the collaboration is supported by the Scottish Funding Council’s Innovation Voucher scheme, which Interface administers.

Ruth Oliver, business engagement executive at Interface, said: “Edinburgh Napier’s School of Computing was a natural choice for Hypervine Ltd; Professor Bill Buchanan is one of the world’s leading lights in blockchain technology and, together with researcher Liam Bell, offers a wealth of experience in supporting businesses and organisations in the practical application of this technology.

“Hypervine is helping construction companies build faster, safer and more cost efficiently through digitising the industry. Exploring how to incorporate secure methods of recording data in complicated supply chains and transactions is a key element of this.”

She added: “Partnerships with academia can propel companies onto the next stage of their development, enabling them to enter new markets, win additional business and grow their business.”

The collaboration runs until the end of November.

Working group formed to ensure long-term future for housebuilding skills

Professor Sean Smith will chair the new working group

The Scottish Government is to work with key stakeholders to ensure the right skills are available for housing and construction developments.

A short life working group on housing construction skills will meet for the first time on Thursday, bringing together organisations with expertise in skills, housing and construction.

The group will be chaired by Professor Sean Smith, director of sustainable construction at Napier University. It will gather evidence about the skills requirements and challenges facing the industry and make recommendations towards the end of this year.

The group’s first meeting is set to discuss draft terms of reference with tasks expected to include:

  • consider home building skills provision, gaps, and workforce development needs
  • assess available data to objectively make recommendations on the actions needed to tackle immediate priorities
  • agree longer term approaches that enables industry and the Government to plan with clarity for future skills needs

Housing minister Kevin Stewart said: “We are committed to delivering at least 50,000 affordable homes over this Parliament, backed by £3 billion – the single biggest investment, and delivery of, affordable housing since devolution.

“That is expected to support up to 14,000 full-time equivalent jobs across housing and construction. Our short-life working group, delivered in partnership with industry, will help inform the actions needed to ensure we have the necessary workforce continue to increase the supply of affordable homes across Scotland.

“I am delighted that Professor Sean Smith has agreed to chair the group, bringing with him a wealth of expertise in skills mapping. Together with key stakeholders from across the construction and housing sectors, ensure the right skills are available for house building across Scotland.”

Professor Smith added: “I am delighted to chair the group for future housing and construction skills. Housing plays a crucial role for our communities and the delivery of economic and inclusive growth, with the sector is highly dependent on skilled workforce supply at all levels.

“As the sector moves forward to deliver the future homes this will require traditional and new types of skill sets. The group will have the opportunity to hear from industry organisations and companies on the key skills and training they require for the future.”

The full membership of the group

Name Organisation
Dr Sean Smith (Chair) Napier University
Calum Murray CCG
Stephen Good CSIC
Rohan Bush CSIC
John Keenan CITB
Vaughan Hart Scottish Building Federation
Gordon Nelson FMB Scotland
Audrey Cumberford West College Scotland
John Renwick Energy Skills Partnership
Susan Hudson Stewart Milne
Alan Cadenhead Miller Homes
Heather Henderson Springfield Properties
Diane Kemp Springfield Properties
Colin Culross Link Group
Karen Campbell Homes for Scotland
Michael Barton-Maynard Homes for Scotland
Stephen Sheridan Skills Development Scotland

Industry and academia unite to tackle skills threat to UK housing

Witney Factory 3Stewart Milne Timber Systems is to spearhead a new project between construction and academia which aims to address the ‘triple threat’ to the UK’s new homes ambitions – shortages of materials, skills and quality new housing.

The timber systems designer and manufacturer has joined forces with Napier and Heriot-Watt universities, and industry partners CCG, to develop an offsite construction centre of excellence at its Oxfordshire manufacturing facility.

This offsite construction ‘hub’ will develop industry-focused and interactive training with the ambition of creating a highly skilled offsite construction workforce.

The project is part of a wider national initiative, run by the UK Commission for Employment & Skills, which is looking at innovative ways to tackle the skills shortage in offsite construction.

Industry professionals from housebuilding, affordable housing providers, contractors, architects, technical and construction teams are encouraged to visit the centre and complete the Stewart Milne Timber Systems Competency Scheme, achieving different levels of certification depending on which aspect of training they complete.

Stewart Dalgarno, director of product development at Stewart Milne Group, said: “The UK’s shortage of housing is well-documented, but solving a challenging problem is made even harder by a persistent and chronic lack of skilled labour. Currently there are not enough people to build the UK’s shortfall of homes.

“Realigning the industry around offsite construction with timber systems means the UK will be less constrained and less dependent on current trades skills.

“The project is the beginning of an answer to this triple threat to the country’s housing ambitions, and having experts from industry and academia working together means we are in a strong position to deliver something meaningful for the good of the whole industry and the UK housing market.”

The project includes a timber systems offsite manufacturing technical training centre at Stewart Milne Timber Systems’ facility in Witney, Oxfordshire. The centre includes a product gallery, conference centre, and learning centre which gives visitors the chance to visualise the construction process end to end, view training videos, interact with the latest technology and take part in simulations. It also includes a “training rig” to allow hands-on experience of the real-life process of construction.

Dr Robert Hairstans, head of the centre for offsite construction and innovative structures at Napier University, said: “Offsite systems are more technically advanced due to the inherent quality assurance process of a factory environment and adoption of lean production principles.

“Bringing these advanced systems together on-site requires a new skill level. Stewart Milne Timber Systems’ investment in the process of upskilling is admirable, and the new centre of excellence being launched is a showcase of what can be achieved through collaboration.”

Trussed rafter industry sets out new initiatives to tackle skills shortages

(from left) John Collins, Andrew Mitchell & Richard Thick

(from left) John Collins, Andrew Mitchell & Richard Thick

A new generation of higher skilled trussed rafter designers and fabricators will increase homebuilding standards and protect the construction industry from poor quality products and installations, the Trussed Rafter Association (TRA) has said.

At its annual general meeting this month, the TRA announced that its online training facility, developed in conjunction with Edinburgh Napier University, will be offered free to TRA members for candidates who complete their training within next three months, a saving of up to £300 per candidate.

The Essentials and Advanced course elements of the TRA’s course together provide about 40 hours of learning, or the Essentials course can be done as a standalone module for new recruits in the roofing industry.

The course has attracted more than 40 candidates over the last two years.

The joint TRA/Napier University certificate that comes from successful completion of the training is recognised as a Scottish NVQ. It is a vital addition to qualifications in the sector, as many colleges are no longer running the standard framework qualifications.

To help reinforce the opportunities arising from professional development, the year’s highest scoring learners in the course received a surprise award at the AGM – a trip to Vida Wood’s Borgstena sawmill in Sweden, presented by Richard Thick, MD of Vida Wood UK.

Andrew Mitchell is a design technician with 15 years’ experience in construction. John Collins is a senior designer with more than 20 years’ experience. Both were delighted by the prize and praised the TRA’s online training for the additional expertise it offers, even to professionals who have been in the engineered timber industry for many years.

John Collins said: “Many of us have lots of design experience and have received plenty of software systems training, but this online training from the TRA is uniquely designed to support our careers. It really consolidated my knowledge. It brought it everything together, made it more relevant.

“I’d recommend the training to all other designers and fabricators. My only tip to learners though is to get stuck in early into the technical background research on Eurocodes and British standards. This knowledge is essential to be a true professional in this industry today.”

The two prize winners work at Donaldson Timber Engineering.

Its managing director, Jonathan Fellingham, said: “John and Andrew have consistently shown their commitment to professional development, and we’re extremely proud to have them in our team. The TRA training is something we support wholeheartedly, as an essential way to increase the skills in our industry.”

The TRA represents over 65% of the trussed rafter and metal web joist industry in the UK and Ireland. Members include the principal manufacturers of trussed rafters, metal web joists, suppliers and professionals involved in roof and floor design and construction.

Napier University invests £3m in ‘green gold’ timber research hub

SevenHillsOffsiteA new research hub will use the “green gold” of Scotland’s forests to support the construction of sustainable housing in the UK.

Edinburgh Napier University will invest more than £3 million over the next decade in the facility, which will open in spring 2017.

Researchers will work with industry to accelerate the development of a range of timber technologies, including highly energy efficient walls, whole roofs constructed off-site and new coating techniques aimed at extending the life of timber.

Professor Sean Smith, director of sustainable construction at Edinburgh Napier, said the £1 billion forestry sector employing more than 16,000 people, and its growing role in construction, was the “green gold” of the Scottish economy.

He said: “Seventy-five per cent of new housing in Scotland is timber based and that is expected to grow to more than eighty-five per cent in the coming years.

“Timber construction across the rest of the UK is also forecast to increase significantly, and the new research facility will support the ambitions of Government, local authorities, housing associations and industry to develop new housing innovations.”

Building workshopThe investment builds on the award earlier this year of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for the University’s internationally acclaimed work in sustainable construction, timber engineering and wood science.

The presentation at Buckingham Palace recognised the global impact of the University’s research into construction innovations and reducing the carbon footprint, and its influence on industry and the environment.

News of the research hub also follows Chancellor Philip Hammond’s commitment to the multi-million pound future City Deal programme which will see thousands of new homes built in south east Scotland through publicly-funded construction projects. The capital’s population is forecast to grow by more than 28 per cent in the next two decades, making it the fifth fastest growing city in the UK.

Professor Smith said: “The new R&D facility also strongly aligns with the City of Edinburgh and south east Scotland’s future growth plans for low energy housing delivering low carbon solutions. This will significantly support future housing designs and reduce domestic energy bills.”

The new research facility, to be based at 7Hills Business Park in the capital’s Sighthill, will also link with the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre based at the Hamilton International Park in High Blantyre.

Professor Sean Smith

Professor Sean Smith

Professor Smith added: “Our facility will complement, rather than duplicate, the facilities at Hamilton, thus providing an integrated R&D platform for industry and researchers.

“We have a strong record of our students being involved with new industry innovations and the facility will also enhance their experiential learning.”

Professor Andrea Nolan, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Edinburgh Napier, said: “This new research facility demonstrates our commitment to the forestry and construction sectors and will build on our excellent industry linkages and international research partnerships.”

The works at the Sighthill site are being undertaken by Key Property Solutions and managed by Innes Associates. 7Hills Business Park, named after the seven hills that surround Edinburgh, is a joint venture between property development and asset management company Citivale and developer Peveril Securities.

James Appleton-Metcalfe, managing director of Leeds-based Citivale, said: “The decision by Edinburgh Napier University to locate its pioneering £3 million low carbon construction  research and development facility here is a resounding endorsement of 7Hills and confirms the demand in the Edinburgh city region for top quality business space.

“It also gives us the confidence to potentially develop further industrial units, which would be some of the first to be built in Edinburgh since the downturn.

“7Hills fits in perfectly with Citivale’s ethos of buying well-located assets and using our skills and knowledge to reposition them through comprehensive refurbishment and further development.”

Event: Bridging the building performance gap

hab-labAyrshire Housing and the Energy Agency are hosting a free CPD event next month to highlight some of the latest work in energy efficiency and air quality.

Building managers and designers, and policy makers are frequently disappointed by the gap between design intentions and experienced performance when it comes to energy efficiency and air quality.

Professor John Currie of Edinburgh Napier University will describe his before and after evaluations of air source heat pumps installed in 1950s’ rural housing. His study addresses the concerns of social landlords regarding the roll out of this technology.

Barbara Lantschner and Matt Bridgestock will speak about the Hab-Lab project – an innovative partnership between Glasgow School of Art’s MEARU, John Gilbert Architects and five social landlords. It aims to come up with practical ways of improving the quality of both retrofit projects and new build housing. Their case studies address the challenges of improving the performance of houses from the late nineteenth century onwards. The project recently won the Saltire Society’s award for innovation in housing.

The event is being held on Wednesday 31 August – 2pm to 4pm in the County Hall, County Buildings, Wellington Square, Ayr, KA7 1DR.

If you would like to attend contact Amy Fowler at a.fowler@ayrshirehousing.org.uk or 01292 880120.

For more information click here.

Scottish transport projects ‘cost seven times higher’ than European equivalents


Dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness is costing £3 billion

Major transport infrastructure projects in Scotland can cost up to seven times as much as similar schemes throughout Europe, researchers at Edinburgh Napier University have found.

Experts at the University’s Transport Research Institute (TRI) discovered that projects such as dualling the A9 and extending Edinburgh’s tram line were found to have been more expensive than those on the continent, but schemes here may also be built to last longer.

Factors which could impact the increased cost include fewer bids for Scottish projects and a larger numbers of subcontractors doing the work.

Researchers found that the £3 billion dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness, or about £25.4 million per kilometre, would be nearly eight times more than the £3.3m per km upgrading of the E22 road in southern Sweden.

The estimated cost of the planned tram extension to Newhaven of £30.9m per km would be three times the £10.6m per km for a line extension in Berlin.

A busway in the Swedish city of Malmo cost £7m to build, one fifth of that of the £40m Fastlink scheme, which is also shorter.

The researchers also found the 48km Borders line cost £294m to build compared to £26.4m for re-opening or refurbishing 31km of railway at Hessen in Germany.

TRI director Professor Tom Rye said the initial research had highlighted “striking” cost differences and cited greater bureaucracy in Scotland as another possible factor.

He told The Scotsman: “Many new transport projects are being built as we try to deal with congestion or regenerate local economies.

“However, a question that is rarely asked is whether we are paying more than our European counterparts to build such schemes.

“If we can learn lessons from Germany and Sweden on how to complete projects at lower cost, this will save money that can be used for more much-needed transport projects, or in housing, health and education.”

Rye and colleagues Christiane Bielefeldt and David Scotney chose German and Sweden for comparisons because of their similar design standards and labour costs to Scotland.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “The definition of costs can range from pure construction costs to those including design, land assembly and other preparation costs, like scheme promotion.”

“We must also recognise the variation in standards and legislation under which schemes are delivered,” he added.

Edinburgh Napier’s £2.5m rugby academy extension breaks new ground

BT Rugby AcademyWork has started on a new £2.5 million sports centre extension at Edinburgh Napier University’s Sighthill campus.

The two-storey development at the BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy will host a multi-use strength and conditioning gym, rehabilitation space and studio research facility.

As well as providing the academy players with a fully-equipped, state-of-the-art gym and rehab spaces – including a 30 metre running track on the ground floor – a second-level studio facility will provide an area where students and academic staff can undertake research projects.

Graeme Beveridge, BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy Manager, Edinburgh, said: “Edinburgh Napier University has been home to our academy for several months now and our players are enjoying the experience of being on campus.

“The new facilities will provide us with the additional equipment and space required to develop our ambitious young players into world-class athletes.”

BT Rugby Academy internalThe University already boasts one of the UK’s leading biomechanic labs, which includes an exercise physiology lab, and features an environment chamber that simulates altitude, humidity, and hot and cold conditions.

Designed by Smith Scott Mullan Associates, the Academy is one of a four BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academies, launched over the course of the past year, to nurture young rugby talent and develop future rugby stars.

The building works are due to be complete in late spring 2016.

Innovative BRE app could help social landlords tackle fuel poverty

(from left) Allan Callaghan of Cruden, John Swinney and Rufus Logan of BRE

(from left) Allan Callaghan of Cruden, John Swinney and Rufus Logan of BRE

An innovative new app has been launched which promises to help social landlords and housebuilders in providing more energy efficient homes, reducing fuel poverty and carbon emissions and improving the health of tenants.

Developed by Building Research Establishment (BRE) in partnership with Cruden, the app was officially launched yesterday by deputy first minister John Swinney MSP.

Mr Swinney visited the award winning BRE Innovation Park at Ravenscraig yesterday to hear how the new RetrofitLab App will allow housing associations, social landlords and housebuilders to easily calculate the benefits of refurbishing their existing properties, how much the work will cost, and how much can be saved in maintenance and running costs.

The data incorporated within the app is the most up to date on the marketplace and follows months of monitoring at the “Refurbished House” on the BRE Innovation Park in Ravenscraig.

BRE-DFM5Delivered by BRE Scotland, Edinburgh Napier University and Historic Scotland and constructed by Cruden Buildings and Renewals, the home represents a recreation of the “four in a block” model of which there are over 250,000 in Scotland and 3 million of a similar design in England. The app presents technical information in a user-friendly way, and importantly, helps the user make maximum benefits to properties with the minimum disruption to the resident.

Dr David Kelly, group director BRE Innovation Park Networks, said: “At BRE, we combine science and technology with innovation and entrepreneurship to develop and share solutions for existing and future buildings not only in Scotland but across the UK, Europe and around the world. This project is a prime example of BRE’s overriding objective to generate new knowledge through research and we are delighted that, following prolonged testing and monitoring at the Refurbished House, a range of innovative retrofit solutions for some of the country’s most energy inefficient homes have been identified.”

BRE Scotland director, Rufus Logan, added: “As a direct result of our research, we have been able to develop the BRE RetrofitLab App which is now available for free download. We believe this will be of particular interest to those operating within the housing sector as it allows energy efficiency options to be compared quickly and effectively, and just as importantly, it details the associated cost implications of each.”

Allan Callaghan, managing director of Cruden Building and Renewals, said: “The RetrofitLab App has wide-ranging social, health, environmental and energy saving benefits. Energy-inefficient housing and fuel poverty are big issues in Scotland and are linked to poor physical and mental health. The RetrofitLab App will help tackle this problem by making it easy for social landlords to see the benefits of refurbishing their poorly-performing housing within just a couple of minutes.

“Cruden has invested heavily in this project, and we are now working with a like-minded client with difficult to improve housing stock challenges who would work with us on a pilot project. We are in advanced discussions with a large housing association to take this forward.

“We expect the app to be a success because the solutions it offers are both practically and commercially realistic. We’re also looking at developing the app for use on different types of homes such as flats, terraced, semi-detached and detached properties.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney added: “I welcome the launch of the new RetrofitLab App which will help housing associations, social landlords and house builders to easily calculate the benefits of refurbishing their existing properties. Ultimately this should encourage the creation of more energy efficient homes and benefit tenants living in the properties, for example by reducing their fuel and energy costs, improving the quality of their home and having a positive effect on their health and wellbeing.

“The Scottish Government supports innovation across the construction sector, ensuring the best environment for businesses and academia to interact, taking forward innovative ambitious projects of excellence that have the potential to bring millions more to the economy.”

The BRE RetrofitLab App is now available for free download on Apple iPads.

First projects win funding from Construction Scotland Innovation Centre

construction landscapeA proposal for the UK’s first patented prefabricated timber frame party wall system is one of the first six innovation projects to be approved by Construction Scotland Innovation Centre’s (CSIC) Technical Advisory Group of industry and academic experts.

The new party wall system is the brainchild of Stewart Milne Group, which will receive almost £100,000 of investment by CSIC to help bring the product through the industrial research and development stage and onto the market. Glasgow Caledonian University and Edinburgh Napier University will contribute to product design and performance validation in a laboratory and site environment to analyse the product’s structural, acoustic, fire and thermal performance.

With a total value of over £800,000, the project has also levered £230,000 of government innovation funding from Innovate UK, bringing in additional industry collaborators and expertise.

When the product is fully developed, it should become the first patented prefabricated timber frame party wall system in the UK, with great potential for export. It is expected to contribute to improved whole life performance of buildings with enhanced thermal, acoustic and fire performance as well as ease and speed of installation and cost effectiveness as key benefits.

The project aims to create 24 new jobs at Stewart Milne Group’s Scottish and English production plants, thanks to the creation of two new production lines to manufacture the walls, which can be used in the construction of housing, hotels and student accommodation.

The Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, which was launched in October 2014, was set up to transform the Scottish construction industry by encouraging companies to focus on driving profitable growth through innovation. CSIC provides Scotland’s 31,000+ construction businesses with a ‘one-stop shop’ for accessing a team of academic experts and public support. The Centre is supported by Scottish Funding Council, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and 12 Scottish university partners.

CSIC’s initial pilot project, sponsored by construction infrastructure client Transport Scotland to evaluate the performance and suitability of a low cost noise barrier system made from recycled tyres, has just completed. Transport Scotland now have further funding in place to continue developing this product, with the eventual aim of running a pilot on the trunk road network in Scotland.

CSIC’s head of business development, Gillian Fleming, said: “We are delighted to support this Stewart Milne Group project, which has the potential to deliver significant economic impact and help put Scotland firmly on the map in leading edge offsite construction.

“Our industry led Technical Advisory Group, which consists of leading figures from the construction sector and experts from our partner universities, have recommended 4 further projects for Board approval that will commence soon. This, coupled with a healthy pipeline of over 40 diverse innovation project enquiries suggests the construction industry in Scotland is ready to innovate and we predict exciting times ahead for our industry.”

Alex Goodfellow, group managing director of Stewart Milne Timber Systems, said: “We’re delighted that CSIC has chosen to support our next innovation and we are looking forward to working to develop a new and exciting product to bring to market to add to our current portfolio of innovative and effective products. The market is growing and the increased interest in timber frame and offsite manufacture demonstrates the value that the industry increasingly places on new and cost effective ways to build.”

Simon Hart, built environment program leader at Innovate UK, said: “The project from Stewart Milne Group was one of the nine winners of our £4m Building Whole Life Performance competition and was scored highly by an independent assessment panel. It is great to see this level of collaborative innovation in construction and we look forward to following the progress.”