By Lucy Black, head of business relationships, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre
COLLABORATIVE working seems like a no-brainer – it helps organisations improve efficiency, productivity and by extension, profitability. It also encourages the transfer of knowledge and innovation. Problems are solved more easily because there’s a wider field of expertise to draw from. Why wouldn’t anyone want to collaborate?
When it comes to construction, the industry is notoriously fragmented. A lack of communication between the numerous parties involved in any given building project can cause disruption, mistakes and extra expense. Clearly ours is an industry which could benefit significantly from working more closely together.
So what’s stopping us? Perhaps the misconception that collaborating is costly and time consuming. At CSIC, we’re on a mission to bust that myth and encourage businesses to work with competitors, in collaboration with their supply chains or clients, or to team up with university experts and public sector providers.
And we’re getting there. Since launching in 2014, we’ve supported 207 collaborative projects with a total value of nearly £10 million. 98 new products and 69 new services are on course to be brought to market. It’s estimated that our work will result in £732 million of additional revenue over the next five years, safeguarding well over 3000 construction jobs and creating over 1300 more.
The William Tracey Group, for example, collaborated with the Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) at the University of Strathclyde on a project to create lighter, cheaper and more transportable concrete products. Not only were they able to access AFRC’s furnaces and ovens, but also their expertise. The successful outcome of this project led on to further research and development activity which will enable the group to expand the business operation throughout the UK and Europe.
Another successful project – and one of the very first we supported – was the UK’s first patented prefabricated timber frame party wall system, developed by Stewart Milne Group with support from Glasgow Caledonian University and Edinburgh Napier University. This new product offers enhanced thermal, acoustic and fire performance as well as ease of installation and cost effectiveness.
While business-to-academic collaborations are key, we are also keen to encourage projects with several industry partners, including competitors. When it comes to collaboration, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The more players involved, the greater the impact of the resulting project. We are here to help partners scope the project and make the whole thing less daunting.
While it may seem counter-intuitive to collaborate with competitors, it can be beneficial. The Offsite Hub – a group of nine leading Scottish companies active in offsite construction – is a great example of a sub-sector working together to pool technical and market knowledge to drive the growth of the sector together, for each player’s overall benefit. CSIC is currently funding the Hub companies to work with the Business School at the University of Strathclyde to undertake joint research into the market opportunities across the UK, helping the sector to achieve its goal of up to 50% growth over the next five years. The companies have now formed a legal trading entity, Offsite Solutions (Scotland), and are viewing market research as something that is better tackled collectively.
CSIC is also keen to support collaborations which bring in knowledge from sectors like manufacturing, oil and gas and aerospace, many of which are already highly automated. Together with key Scottish and UK partners, we are involved in a project which draws on manufacturing sector expertise which has just received significant funding from the UK Government’s Transforming Construction Industrial Challenge Fund. We want to hear from any sector which may have products or process which could be useful to the construction industry.
Another exciting opportunity is the possibility of collaborating with us through our Innovation Factory, a breeding ground for new ideas which allows companies access to leading edge production, robotics, timber engineering and AR/VR equipment. We have in-house expertise to assist in the development of new products and production processes. The facility is also being used to train and upskill employees and students – our future workforce – on the technology and its potential.
So if I’ve persuaded you that collaboration could benefit your construction-related business, get in touch – we want to hear from you.