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THE TIES LIVING LAB PROGRAMME is part of a suite of government initiatives that aim to deliver better outcomes for the UK; It seeks to deliver public works better, faster and greener, and support the construction industry to be safer, invest in skills and reduce carbon emissions.

How will the construction industry in the UK, having met the challenges of the pandemic, meet the new challenges of a major culture change? How does an already stretched sector meet the demands of major public infrastructure investment, with a projected worth of £60 billion a year and contributing more than 7% of GDP – whilst improving productivity and driving innovation.

Funded by the British Government and Innovate UK, a consortium of academics, suppliers and client groups, including Network Rail and National Highways, have spent the last two years working on the answers. They recognize that completing large transport infrastructure projects on-time, and on-budget, while securing the benefits expected is immensely challenging.

The Transport Infrastructure Efficiency Strategy (TIES) Living Lab project is tackling the systemic issues that still obstruct the use, integration and adoption of innovations that could cut costs, drive productivity and efficiency and deliver much wider social benefits in our built environment.

The ten projects under the TIES Living Lab umbrella work in tandem with the government’s Construction Playbook and National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS). The Playbook outlines commercial best practice and reform, to reset government’s relationship with the construction industry and the NIS sets out plans to transform UK infrastructure in order to level up the country and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.


The first four TIES Living Lab projects are ‘physical’ and grouped under the term Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), a terminology encompassing data-led pre-manufacture of primary structural systems and components, off-site pre-assembly and reducing on-site labour with large format pre-configurations and easy joining features. They are a footbridge designed to fit any station or road, anywhere, the creation of a new generic standard for equipment rooms, automating cable route management system designs and cooling panels which tackle the heating issues in the London Underground network.

The first of these, a footbridge project, has been branded as the “AVA bridge” and aims to revolutionise the way we approach footbridge design in both manufacture and installation. It has focused on these key points; a pre-approved system for shorter pre-construction time, faster assembly for reduced costs, minimised negative climate impact, a revolutionary dry, prefabricated foundation and high-quality durable materials.

The AVA footbridge project partners are Expedition Engineering (design), X-Treme Systems (manufacturing) and Walker Construction (assembly), with Network Rail as the primary client.

Then the Signal Equipment room, managed by Transport for London (TfL) and working with Mavin Powercube, intends to promote a new generic template for modular equipment rooms which are built off-site, reducing future infrastructure investment time, cost and risk. It also demonstrates the potential to reduce disruptions and noise impacts created by traditional construction works.

The third of the physical projects, also managed by TfL, the Cable Route Management System (CRMS) has Bryden Wood Technology as the key supplier. They are delivering a digital tool to show how automation can assist with cable route management feasibility analysis and design. It shows the potential to reduce time, financial cost, risk, (especially delivery team safety risk) by using automated CRMS design software as part of the design process. Bryden Wood technology have won  ‘Transport Infrastructure Champion’ at the New Civil Engineer TechFest awards 2021 for this project, already proving the significance of the TIES Living Lab projects to the transport industry.

TfL and Strategic Rail Consultants (SRC) will soon be trialling the last of the physical projects, innovative cooling panels, in a disused tunnel in Holborn. The panels are composed of a curved ‘radiator’ with internal cooling pipework and forced air distribution.

The objective is to find out if they can deliver the same cooling outputs as the Underground’s Platform Air Handling Units (PAHU) yet be significantly easier to maintain. With the upgrade of the Piccadilly line trains from 2025, replacing the fifty-year old 1970’s fleet, TfL want to ensure the new walk-through air-conditioned trains will be faster and more reliable. Increasing cooling capacity means they can run more trains per hour and make a dramatically better passenger experience. The cooling panels are an integral part of this plan and once testing is finished the panels will completes and the results are successful, TfL will look into further testing in a live environment.


The next three TIES Living Lab projects are data tools, harnessing data from across the consortium to create a repository of benchmark data and to output standard Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), as well as using Artificial Intelligence (AI) for data mining and then carrying out analysis to provide strategic insight into what can improve performance in projects. They harness the vast quantities of data that our nation’s construction projects generate. Wisely all three of these projects are led by academics who are a trusted, neutral third party that can robustly and objectively analyse complex sets of data. Dr Doug Forbes of Whole Life Consultants and the University of Dundee, Professor Lamine Mahdjoubi, Professor of the Built Environment at the University of West England and Dr Phil Wheat of the University of Leeds are working on these together with Accelar, Loop, Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The three projects focus not just on cost, cost performance and benchmarking, but across five other areas including carbon & environmental impacts, scheduling, productivity, social value and quality   using TIES Living Lab client groups’ historical data on project duration and risk schedules. As Dr Doug Forbes states ‘benchmarking performance is crucial in driving forward best practice and bringing about improvement. Sharing that knowledge and information is key to bringing about transformational industry change.’ The immediate challenge is that each construction client uses their own in-house systems for collection and analysis, with data that is not standardized and does not align with international or emerging standards, unlike the aviation industry which in comparison has a very different culture of sharing.

For example, since the aviation industry started sharing information about near misses these events have decreased substantially through the lessons learned from recording incidents. Without shared data it becomes impossible to benchmark, or compare, how well you are doing against others. As Professor Lamine Mahdjoubi says ‘A foundation of trust needs to be built to overcome the major obstacle, being cultural, of an assumption that data exposes performance’.

Looking for cost efficiencies within the system at present is also problematic, so the key foundation of the TIES Living Lab data projects has been to structure data so that it is classified according to the International Construction Measurement Standard (ICMS).

If current data is classified using this method, then it enables comparative benchmarking and standardized metrics. To this end an ICMS translator, which would create a phenomenal working shift within the construction industry, has been built and a Risk Identifier which tries to predict if a project will encounter risk issues.


Finally, the three TIES Living Lab digital projects are an Intelligent Infrastructure Control Centre (IICC) which will provide the most cost-effective way to design, deliver or operate transport infrastructure projects, Advanced Logistics, assisting the smart planning of advanced offsite logistics and the Social Value Transport Infrastructure Calculator, measuring the social value derived from transport infrastructure projects.

Charlie Davies, Strategic Growth Manager at Costain the lead partner in the IICC says “our goal is to digitalize the infrastructure sector. TIES Living Lab has provided a platform to help drive innovation that optimizes existing infrastructure, development, and the UK’s net-zero carbon journey.”

The IICC will deliver a secure cloud enterprise technology platform to assist the demonstration of major infrastructure projects in proving their business case for the adoption of Modern Methods of Construction, including logistics and conversational AI, with the use of key data sets outlined by the Department for Transport and TIES Living Lab partners. It offers live operational data and benchmarks which capture efficiencies in a very user-centric platform, reducing the need for data literacy. This is proving so successful that the Ministry of Defence, Shell and Innios are already interested.

Arguably the construction industry is one of the least productive; dogged by infrastructure or buildings not being delivered on time and over-budget, costing the industry and the taxpayer billions. A major cultural shift is required to understand and put in place best practice. The Advanced Logistics Cloud-based Digital Platform enables the construction industry to track an asset from design, to manufacture, to installation and is pivotal to ‘just in time’ delivery. This method has already been used by the retail sector and car manufacture assembly for years.

As an example of the challenges faced, after the fire at Grenfell Tower the Government approached the British Research Establishment (BRE) to ask where similar insulation had been installed-and discovered this was not readily available. The Advanced Logistics Platform not only enables better planning of projects as well as potential massive cost savings, nearing 50%, but archives all information regarding a particular construction. Two mobile apps have been created from scratch for Iphone and Android and as Professor Lamine Mahdjoubi, the project lead, says ‘this is a massive step to creating something far better, as it will be delivering buildings and built assets in a controlled environment’.

The last of the projects is called the Social Value Transport Infrastructure Calculator and is the third and final digital project in TIES Living Lab, which is currently being delivered by partners Loop, Kier Construction and Akerlof. The calculator aims to establish social value metrics that inform the generic framework for creating benchmarks for infrastructure and construction. The project team is developing a model and digital toolset to measure social value, as well as capture the impact of Modern Methods of Construction for transport infrastructure. This will empower clients such as National Rail and Highways England to advocate and promote the importance of social value assessment in delivering better social, economic and environmental outcomes across transport infrastructure schemes.

The legacy of this project will be phenomenal. Aside from costs savings and creating value for public money, the TIES Living Lab can help deliver the Government’s ambition to transform infrastructure delivery, by enabling the construction sector to be more productive, more sustainable, and more internationally competitive, with better use of data and MMC. Welcome to the future.