Making that jump: from buildings to roads

5 min read

We can build a storey a week using new methods of construction. We can create safe environments close to sites, get things manufactured, assembled and slotted into a building at the drop of a hat.

In this article, Mace's Sean Gray explores whether these innovations can be used to deliver infrastructure projects faster and safer. 

Applying new innovations to the way we construct our infrastructure and roads could make the UK a leader in efficient infrastructure delivery. 

Mace invested £9m in a pioneering jump factory kit in order to bring factory levels of productivity to site and build a storey a week of a residential tower. 

The self-contained factory is built around the perimeter of the new building, is fully enclosed and includes two gantry cranes to maximise efficiency of material handling and enabling progress irrespective of the weather conditions. External cladding can be fixed to the outside of the building from within enclosed factory eliminating the risk of fall from heights. 

Add to this state of the art logistics with prefabricated elements being delivered to site on a just in time basis and the result is drastically shortened build times coupled with factory levels of quality.

Inside, the building is constructed floor by floor and the factory is ‘jumped’ up 3.3m to the floor above as each is completed, repeating the process and revealing the finished building below.

The concept behind the jump factory is centred around creating a highly productive environment on site. The residential market is flooded with modular pods, design and onsite manufacturing – however, this doesn’t translate in the same way to infrastructure due to the sheer volumes of equipment and components that are often too heavy or large to transport fully-formed from factories to site. 

The challenge is to somehow create – either on-site or near site – factories in which construction takes place in a controlled, efficient, safe environment and gets installed or assembled as required. For highways and infrastructure projects this heavily relies on location, logistics and how big the land mass is that we have to work within.  

This is something we have recently been tackling with i3P, where Mace is a supply chain member. The i3P is an innovative platform that allows the brightest minds in the sector to collaborate and deliver infrastructure for the future. Government strategy is driving the platform to adopt more offsite and pre-manufactured construction but the nature of infrastructure projects means it's not always practical so we are considering other forms of innovation.

For instance: can we apply the jump factory concept from building to road? Instead of ‘jumping’ vertically is there an opportunity to turn the method horizontally to create a ‘rolling factory’?

Even if no additional equipment is involved, applying factory techniques on-site combined with advanced logistics arrangements could make a difference with faster and more predictable delivery, based on a well-rehearsed sequence following rigorous preparation and design processes to achieve certainty. 

The ‘physical build’ of the jump factory was “digitally” rehearsed in the BIM model for months in advance and required a significant upfront investment to get things right. This is perhaps comparable to high levels of ground and asset surveys that will need to flow into the detailed design and resulting BIM model for an infrastructure project.

Similarly, logistics were planned down to the smallest detail and every activity was subject to comprehensive preparation, including prototyping and try-outs. The factories demonstrated that this level of pre-planning – coupled with a rigid, comprehensively thought through plan and schedule – can generate certainty and efficiency. 

Applying the jump factory method horizontally and not vertically also means exploring the movement of people and materials to the workface, which would also link to the methodology and design. 

The fact that we have always built infrastructure and roads in a certain way, accommodating familiar methods, equipment and approach to risk, doesn’t mean we can’t look again. We should try harder to deliver our national infrastructure projects as ‘special projects’, creating a 'better way' – an ethos which Mace try champion on all our projects, programmes and commissions.

Road users and customers see lengthy lane closures with minimal visible activity, and understandably form less than favourable opinion of the industry’s abilities. Developing innovative methodologies - together with well designed and implemented communications - is essential if we are to gain the trust and respect of the people that use our roads every day.

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