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Centre for Digital Built Britain


Ahead of the Construction Innovation Hub’s inaugural Digital Construction on a Shoestring workshop, Duncan McFarlane, Professor of Industrial Information Engineering at the University of Cambridge and head of the Distributed Information & Automation Laboratory at the Institute for Manufacturing considers the benefits of low-cost digital solutions.

Do you feel that many digital solutions on the market are not the right fit for your organisation, too expensive or complex to see where the benefits are? The allure of the Internet of Things, Industry 4.0 and Big Data brings a wealth of service providers offering digital solutions that will ‘enhance the customer experience’, ‘streamline processes’ and ‘transform business’ – but there may be benefits from something simpler?

Digital can work for everyone and there are significant opportunities for organisations to gain through applying simple, cheap technologies that bring capabilities including productivity and flexibility improvements – even to small-scale operations. Our Digital Construction on a Shoestring project brings focus to developing very low-cost digital solutions for companies in the construction sector. The project will work with constructors and their supply chain to develop low-cost digital solutions for their specific requirements; rather than pitching ‘a digital solution’, this project will engage directly with the business or operational challenges organisations are looking to overcome.

Workshops are integral to the project and will help establish prioritised digital solutions to help meet immediate challenges in the sector. These will drive our development programme comprising development blocks constructed from simple low-cost technologies – industrial as well as consumer, such as Alexa. Our collaborative project seeks to harness the benefits of digitalisation without relying on systems designed for large companies; Digital Construction on a Shoestring will consider a range of standardised solutions with a view to enabling integration to take advantage of the capabilities within each solution. This approach allows smaller organisations to build digital solution support incrementally rather than investing upfront in a complex system that has a high entry cost.    

Following the success of our Digital Manufacturing on a Shoestring project that addresses the common industry concern that many digital manufacturing solutions are mainly designed for large companies, Digital Construction on a Shoestring will work specifically with SME partners in construction to identify their common digital challenges and create inexpensive digital options in priority areas. The project aims to create digital solutions based on commercially available technologies and work with small IT developers and student hackathons to produce a range of customisable solutions.

Our first in a series of Construction Innovation Hub workshops, a partnership between CDBB, the BRE (Building Research Establishment) and MTC (Manufacturing Technology Centre), Digital Construction on a Shoestring workshops will take place at Churchill College at the University of Cambridge on Wednesday 26 February and is aimed at SME organisations, trade associations and networks, low-cost solution providers, regional business councils and manufacturing systems research groups. The workshop will feature interactive discussions and demonstrations to showcase the Shoestring approach which aims to rapidly accelerate digital use in construction by employing off-the-shelf technologies and open source software.  We hope many of you will join us at the workshop (register here) and collaborate with us to develop digital solutions that are repeatable, reusable and integrable.

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Register: Digital Construction on a Shoestring - One-day workshop: Low-cost automation for SME's