Money Well Spent: An Evaluation of the Transforming Construction Challenge | Comment

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When the UK’s Industrial Strategy was launched in 2017, then-Secretary of State Greg Clark proclaimed that we were at “one of the most important, exciting and challenging times in history. of the global enterprise. He noted that Britain was extraordinarily well placed to benefit from the new industrial revolution.

The construction sector was one of those selected to lead the charge with funding from the Transforming Construction Challenge. The initial investment of £170m from UK Research and Innovation was exceeded by £250m of industry funding. The recently published independent evaluation of the impact of the challenge by Frontier Economics reveals what has been achieved.

The Transforming Construction Challenge exceeded its targets with 85% of clients reporting more frequent use of challenge solutions and the results of projects supported by the challenge are applied to over £14 billion of developments. Of the approximately 140 companies involved, 62% reported a large positive impact on revenue, and 30% a lesser positive impact.

Evidence shows uptake is well beyond expectations, with projected life-cycle cost reductions for projects worth £114 billion by 2027

Other project performance indicators also look good, with 71% already reporting improvements in delivery time, 27% reporting a reduction in cost per square meter and 30% an improvement in productivity.

The Transforming Construction Challenge was designed to prove the gains that can be made by using platform construction methods and going from the lowest price to the best value in terms of supply. Every step of the construction process has been considered – from design to fabrication and site to use – and for a range of building types.

The need for scaling was understood from the start. This was to be achieved by increasing investment in R&D, establishing new business models and accelerating technology adoption, diverting demand from the “cheap”, expanding research and increasing knowledge dissemination.

Evidence shows that uptake is far beyond expectations, with projected life-cycle cost reductions for projects worth £114bn by 2027. This shows just how industry is ready to embrace innovation when the conditions are right.

Three examples illustrate this: nPlan, which uses machine learning to optimize the planning and scheduling of large construction projects, received a £25m investment, including Google Ventures; Cloud Cycle, which provides sensor technology for concrete trucks to optimize delivery and quality, secured an investment of £9.3m; and Converge’s sensor technology monitoring the hardening of concrete is now in use around the world after receiving a £24m investment.

The evaluation of the Transforming Construction Challenge shows positive evidence that it has an impact on the annual revenues, profits, export sales, productivity and speed of delivery of the companies involved. So far, there is relatively little evidence regarding the broader impact of the challenge beyond the organizations directly involved. This was to be expected, given the stage of delivery and the current emphasis on demonstration.

It is clear from the procurement case study that the Challenge has begun to shape procurement thinking in the public sector, not least through its significant contributions to the Construction Playbook. However, other tangible changes, including changes in the business sector, will take time to materialize.

The assessment found that “experts said they did not expect R&D focused on challenge concepts to continue in the long term without additional government support.” Without this, they felt it was unlikely that industry would be able to sustain the increased level of R&D in the challenge concepts observed, as organizations tend to focus too much on ‘business as usual’ activities.

The results show that the Transforming Construction Challenge has more than achieved its aspirations and made it the poster child for a successful industrial strategy. We must build on this success. All players involved from now on – customers, suppliers and government – ​​will have an important role to play in extending benefits in the years to come.

Sam Stacey, Challenge Director – Transforming Construction, UKRI

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