Safety critical steel supply on course for breakthrough



A critical part of Britain’s construction industry is set to trigger a digital revolution in the steel reinforcing supply chain, partly thanks to government funds designed to make sure future buildings are ‘Made Smarter.’

Robotic fabrication, closer collaboration between sector partners responsible for sourcing and approving rebar, and the digital exchange of quality and GreenHouse Gas emissions data, are just some of the benefits the ‘Rebar 4.0 Supply Chain Made Smarter’ project brings to the construction industry. Results from the project, part funded by the Made Smarter Innovation programme and delivered by UK Research and Innovation, are a potential “game changer” say industry leaders.

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 ground-breaking ‘digital twin’ will feed into Building Information Management (BIM) systems, supporting the ‘golden thread’ of safety critical construction information. In turn, this locks in greater long-term building resilience – as data stored at design and delivery can be reviewed at any future point. For private and public sector clients the benefits are greater clarity around product assurance, material provenance, sustainability data and on-time project delivery.

Lee Brankley, Chief Executive Officer of the UK Certification Authority for Reinforcing Steels (CARES), welcomed the UKRI announcement which confirms Innovation Hub funding. He said: “The sector is finally on course for a new age of supply chain certainty built on digital transparency, with the expertise provided by our digital partner, Digital Construction Solutions, and by collaborating with all project partners we have designed and mapped out a process of how to link the Enabling and Core data flows together within this complex supply chain.

“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 Chief Executive Officer 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.” Dr Dobos paid tribute to the “highly effective collaboration” among all partners – as well as the key role played by Rebartek in seamlessly integrating robotic innovation into the reinforcement fabrication process.

Spelling out the wider Innovation Hub goals of Made Smarter’s £10 million total funding for supply chain sustainable innovation, Made Smarter’s Innovation Challenge Director UKRI, Chris Courtney, emphasised how digital technologies had the power to “radically transform how we manufacture and deliver the products and services of today and the future, delivering a productive, sustainable and flexible manufacturing sector and enhancing the future of work within it.”

This was echoed by Tony Woods, Founder and Managing Director of Midland Steel who stressed: “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.”

Buro Happold, the leading international integrated design and engineering practice which is also a project partner and powerful advocate of collaboration, also welcomed the UKRI announcement.

Dr Al Fisher, Buro Happold Director, Head of Computational Development, highlighted the project’s potential for significant efficiency and safety gains. He explained: “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.”

All four project partners: Buro Happold, CARES, Midland Steel and 3D Repo have reaffirmed their commitment to pursue collaborative digital solutions in support of construction’s elusive ‘golden thread of information’ seen as mission critical to the sector’s long-term transformation.