£10m in UK government funding has been secured for a project that aims to trigger a digital revolution in the steel reinforcing supply chain.
The Rebar 4.0 Supply Chain Made Smarter project seeks to achieve closer collaboration between key sector partners responsible for sourcing and approving safety-critical rebar to bring benefits to the wider construction industry.
The collaboration also hopes to develop the digital exchange of quality and GreenHouse Gas emissions data.
The project partners are Buro Happold, CARES (the UK Certification Authority for Reinforcing Steels), Midland Steel, and 3D Repo.
Results from the project, part funded by the Made Smarter Innovation programme and delivered by UK Research & Innovation, are seen as a potential “gamechanger”.
The project is exploring the feasibility of sharing digital data from the production of reinforcement bar in the steel mill, through 3D robotic steel fabrication to live project sites.
Ultimately, this ‘digital twin’ will feed into building information management (BIM) systems.
In turn, this is seen as locking in greater long-term building resilience – as data stored at design and delivery can be reviewed at any future point.
‘A new age’
Lee Brankley, chief executive officer of the UK Certification Authority for Reinforcing Steels (CARES), welcomed the UKRI announcement that confirmed Innovation Hub funding.
He said: “The sector is finally on course for a new age of supply chain certainty built on digital transparency.
“Bringing digital assurance solutions to complex projects will transform processes across the whole construction supply chain, significantly improving the flow of information while achieving valuable efficiencies for all our stakeholders.
‘This collaboration represents an important step towards the goals we all share.”
Dr Jozef Dobos, founder and CEO of 3D Repo, said: “Workflows in the reinforcing steel supply chain are still inherently paper-based.
“This, combined with the ongoing pandemic, uncovered a need for digital innovation and optimisation.
“Our new solution will digitalise the industry by converting 2D paper-based processes into fully digital workflows driven by 3D BIM from the onset, allowing it to benefit from more efficient manufacturing processes.”
Tony Woods, founder and managing director of Midland Steel, added: “Midland Steel has been an advocate for BIM, 3D engineering and rebar detailing since 2012.
“We have identified this project as a major step forward in the digitisation of the paper-based systems currently used in the construction industry, to a process that enables information to be transferred more efficiently directly from 3D BIM with full traceability throughout.
“From detailing to offsite rebar manufacturing, to the use of robotics, the results from this project will be a world’s first and an industry game changer for decades to come – and will attract new talent to our industry, which is the lifeblood of construction.”
Project partner Buro Happold also welcomed the UKRI announcement.
Dr Al Fisher, Buro Happold director and head of computational development, highlighted the project’s potential for significant efficiency and safety gains.
He said: “One of the biggest challenges we continue to face as an industry is persistent and reliable tracking and retrieval of design information throughout the entire construction process and across all parties.
“This project seeks to address this issue, relating design data from the very earliest design intent through to fabrication and installation information on site.
“In the context of increasingly distributed teams and working practices, this capability could not be more valuable in support of continued safe and efficient design and delivery of our projects.”
Image: New Africa/Shutterstock
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