Edinburgh Napier University

BAM appoints first graduate apprentice

Alison Keillor and Bruce Dickson

BAM Construction has welcomed its first surveying apprentice following the launch of Skills Development Scotland’s Graduate Level Apprenticeship in Construction and the Build Environment.

Alison Keillor has joined the company and will combine studying at Edinburgh Napier University with working on major projects within the business.

Despite leaving Linlithgow Academy with excellent exam grades, Alison decided that a full time university course was not what she wanted, and, after considering her options, applied to BAM for a place on the first Graduate Level Apprentice (GLA) scheme.

Alison said: “I was struggling to decide what I wanted to do when I left school and while I had a place to study economics at Edinburgh University, the GLA programme suits me far more than full time study.  I’m really glad that I reached this choice and I’ve had a great welcome to the business and can’t wait to start on my first two week teaching block at Napier.”

Bruce Dickson, regional director for BAM Construction, was involved in shaping the new syllabus for the CBE framework as chair of the Technical Expert Group.

He said: “The new structure is designed to be more practical and fully aligned to the competencies required by a qualified surveyor. Previously it took six years to complete the degree and there was little interface between industry and academia. Now SDS and the RICS have brought the two together to create a training framework that works for everyone and they deserve huge credit for making this happen.

“Producing the framework was challenging but in my opinion, we got all of the right people in the room and have produced a really exciting new option for young people to join the industry’.

“Alison was very impressive at interview and is a perfect pathfinder for the scheme. We’re already looking to recruit a second apprentice and remain committed to encouraging people to consider construction as a career choice as it offers such a diverse range of different job roles. It’s a big step forward for the GLA in putting construction on the same footing as other industries who have established GLA programmes.”

Blog: Volumetric homes have the potential to be a smart and healthy housebuilding solution

Jon Stinson and Julio Bros Williamson, research fellows in the Institute for Sustainable Construction at Edinburgh Napier University, believe that smarter, better, faster – homes built in a factory benefit everyone.

The methods we use to build homes in the UK are constantly evolving.

We moved from rudimentary timber structures to masonry, and back to timber through more sophisticated insulated timber panel systems.

Then we had factory-based off-site manufacturing, with much of the assembly still taking place at the building site.

Now fully factory-assembled homes have emerged as the next step in the evolutionary process.

These homes, made up of service pods and modular systems, include fully finished floors, walls and ceilings which can be transported and craned into place; sometimes already fitted with windows, doors and services.

It is not without its criticisms or challenges, but essentially the future is bright. We have a system that saves time and has less impact on the environment than other processes.

The big challenge now is for all our buildings to meet current sustainable building standards in Scotland, potentially marrying lower energy demand and carbon emissions with higher levels of occupant wellbeing, better selection of materials and improved energy performance. It is a big ask, so the accuracy and efficiency associated with factory assembly is becoming increasingly attractive as we move into the era of the modular home.

Achieving low energy homes is intrinsically linked with losing less heat through uncontrolled ventilation. Many argue that the solution is simply to have a sealed envelope. However, this creates issues of poor indoor air quality, discomfort and health concerns.

Indoor air quality is a particular concern in homes where people are in intermediate care and recovering from illness after being discharged from hospital.  A home with poor air quality often suffers from low levels of thermal comfort that can prevent quick recovery and lead to hospital readmission.

Designing and building new homes that are dynamic enough to accommodate our needs as we grow old in them is therefore a priority, reducing the need for downsizing and retrofitting, and is something that the modular characteristics of volumetric homes can provide. They can give us more flexibility, as well as improving our quality of life.

Although the concept sounds attractive, there is a tendency for low carbon homes to be electrically heated, operating and regulating themselves differently from the current ways in which we control, heat and ventilate our homes. Perhaps this is where the ambitions of so-called smart home technology can help.

Retrofitting simple sensors into our homes provides a glimpse of how smart our homes can be. However, they are currently assisting relatively trivial elements of our modern routines and lifestyles.

We are far from having an actual smart home, at least one which makes a fundamental difference to our health and energy bills. The industry refers to the ‘performance gap’ – the gap between an aspired energy performance and the actual energy we pay for after we’ve moved in. New technology-heavy homes need to maintain this theoretical performance to assure low carbon levels.

For this to succeed in practice and not just in theory, the home needs to be truly smarter. This requires an interface that can tell us what we need to know and when we need to know it.

Such technology does not mean overwhelming users with data on small screens, but presenting us with actionable information like “Bedroom two is at risk of condensation”, or “You have spent 25% of your monthly energy budget” or “The air quality in the living room is overheating and reaching unhealthy levels”. That is actionable information we can use to improve our comfort and quality of life in real-time.

For a truly comfortable, low carbon smart home to exist, the sensor technology needs to be integrated seamlessly with the fabric of the home and within all of its individual parts – heating system, ventilation system, renewable energy system, windows, carbon detectors, smoke alarms etc. This is a level of integration that would be technically challenging – almost prohibitive – to retrofit, but is practically effortless in a factory. And we need it to be modular and adaptable to handle whatever life throws at us.

If you consider that a new home already comes with its boiler, lights, fuse board, energy meters and ventilation systems; then why shouldn’t it have a single embedded system to help us manage all of them more efficiently?

This is where the volumetric system has its advantages; having factory-made modules that are pre-fitted with smart sensors for indoor air quality, comfort and energy consumption whilst communicating actionable information to us through artificial intelligence. The next step includes automatic adjustment of our environments, such as conversational chatbots and embedded sensors communicating to health professionals or emergency services.

Volumetric homes rolling off the assembly line that are fully smart enabled, providing a new, enhanced user experience and wrapped up in a low carbon package, are certainly a game-changer. This way, designers are embracing smart and healthy homes, and the government and the NHS are enjoying positive saving spin-offs.

This article originally appeared in the Friends of the Scotsman section of The Scotsman newspaper. See the original article here.

Student seeks BIM survey respondents for postgraduate research

Melanie Robinson

A proactive student is looking for anyone who currently works in the UK construction industry, both adopters and non-adopters of BIM, to participate in a survey to aid her postgraduate research.

Melanie Robinson is studying at the School of Engineering and Built Environment at Edinburgh Napier University.

The aim of the research is twofold: to identify the factors which are likely to predict those who adopt, intend to adopt, and don’t intend to adopt, and to pinpoint where competency gaps lie in individuals who have adopted.

The findings should be able to help better inform upskilling strategies by identifying weaknesses in the current discourse.

Melanie told Scottish Construction Now: “Contrary to what is perhaps typically thought, a PhD relies on the collective efforts of people and real world opinions to effectively deliver change. By listening to people who deal with construction on a daily basis, we can really challenge policy to ensure we are delivering a digital innovation which is understood and adopted successfully.”

The link to the survey can be found here.

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.