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Centre for Digital Built Britain


Ahead of this year’s Cambridge Science Festival and following the success of the Construction Innovation Hub’s support of Futurebuild 2020, Alexandra Bolton, Executive Director at the Centre for Digital Built Britain, considers skills and education crucial to transforming construction.

Securing the skills, training and education required to transform construction requires industry, government and academia to work together towards a shared goal. We need both capability and capacity in the work force and that in turn needs new skills, education and training to support change. While this brings challenge, it also brings unprecedented opportunity to deliver a modern construction sector that is fit for future purpose and equipped to deliver better services and outcomes to society. It is an opportunity we simply cannot afford to miss.

CDBB’s national programme works at a number of strategic levels and across a range of disciplines to bring together people, policies and technologies to drive a more sustainable and productive built environment sector. Collaborating with our Construction Innovation Hub partners – the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) and the Building Research Establishment (BRE) – to support Futurebuild 2020 saw key representatives from all three organisations participate on panels, present keynotes and meet with leaders of technology innovation from organisations big and small.

Futurebuild 2020 showcased the modern manufacturing approaches and digital processes which have demonstrable ability to boost productivity and resilience, decarbonise construction, extend whole-life asset performance and inform better decision-making. With government departments committed to a presumption in favour of offsite – or modern methods of construction – and adopting innovative approaches to planning, designing and delivery, there is pressing need for industry to support this change and foster the underpinning skill set. This topic emerged during the Futurebuild panel discussion chaired by CDBB’s Terry Stocks, who leads on UK BIM implementation. The panel considered the obstacles to BIM adoption and invited insights and reflection on the importance of future skills required to drive transformation of construction. The will for industry to change is there and together we are finding the way.

Ensuring a digitally skilled future work force is essential to success. This requires changing perceptions of construction to reflect the increasingly diverse, dynamic and data-led aspects of the sector. With this in mind, CDBB will once again be supporting the Cambridge Science Festival on Saturday 21 March showcasing a number of digital technology demonstrations and presenting talks and tours that explain the effects of digital transformation on the world we live in. The CDBB team will be joining colleagues and collaborators at the Institute for Manufacturing on the West Campus from 1.30pm to 4.30pm and we hope many of you, both young and old, will join us in our hands-on and drop-in activities. We will show how harnessing the power of robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and new technologies will shape the future of how we build schools, homes and hospitals.

CDBB is partnering with Bouygues UK, the construction company that combines sustainable practices with innovation, on a host of digital activities to demonstrate how virtual reality and gaming pursuits can be adapted and utilised in the construction industry. Children and adult participants can engage with Minecraft, virtual reality headsets, 3D scanners and time-lapse film while learning how these technologies are being used to construct and manage built assets that lead to better social outcomes. The team from Bouygues will also be offering tours of the building site on which the new home of the Department of Physics is being built. Cavendish III is the largest single building under construction in Cambridge and this is an opportunity to put on a hard hat and see a live building site in action. Tickets must be booked for this activity.  

CDBB is working with the Centre for Natural Material Innovation to unlock the potential of timber. At the Science Festival we will be showing how science and architecture can be combined for use in off-site manufacturing and large-scale school buildings – visitors will have the chance to experience a variety of interactive activities and try their hand at designing and building with natural materials. By bringing construction and the built environment to life for children and young people, CDBB hopes to demonstrate what jobs in the future might look like. We will be installing a Giant iPhone Photo Booth for children (and adults) to dress up for jobs associated with a digital built Britain enabling visitors to imagine themselves in a future career in construction. A giant colouring wall and activity sheets will add to the fun.

Our partners and colleagues will also be delivering activities in support of the Festival. The Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction and the Laing O’Rourke Centre for Construction Engineering and Technology will be at the Department of Engineering, Trumpington Street, on the afternoon of Saturday 14 March presenting Smart Building, Smart Construction. Researchers will offer hands-on demonstrations with Microsoft HoloLens, and acoustic and fibre optic sensors to discover how we use technology to make infrastructure smart.

Please do visit the Centre for Digital Built Britain at this exciting event to see how construction is going digital. I very much hope our activities and demonstrations will capture the imagination and interest of the data scientists, digital innovators and designers of the future built environment.