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BAM Nuttall consortium uses 5G network for the first time in UK construction

07 March, 2022

BAM Nuttall’s SSEN Transmission Shetland project is testing new technology for industry innovation and investment, while supporting the connection of Shetland to the GB grid to help meet Shetland’s future energy needs

BAM Nuttall’s partnership with Attocore and Building Research Establishment (BRE) has switched on and is using a private, stand-alone 5G network on a construction site, for the first time in the UK.

Located on a remote site in Shetland, BAM Nuttall’s project team is designing and constructing the civils infrastructure at Kergord on Shetland for SSEN Transmission’s HVDC convertor station and substation, part of the Shetland HVDC link. When completed, this major link between Shetland and the Scottish mainland will feed renewable energy to the electricity grid and connect Shetland to the GB grid for the first time, supporting its future security of supply.

The 5G network, funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS)*, aims to test the potential of new digital technology and demonstrate tangible benefits, along with other stand-alone networks implemented across a range of industries.

The project site at Kergord, provides the ideal conditions to measure the benefits for the construction industry. Challenges typically faced on building sites are magnified and will stretch the use of 5G technology.

The site area spans 55,176m2 of challenging terrain; weather conditions are cold, wet and harsh; winter’s daylight hours are short. Clients and management teams can’t easily visit the site and rely on reports, data, images and insights to track progress and make decisions, based in offices, 100s of miles from site.

BAM’s project team is collecting evidence of how new technology can help improve safety, sustainability and increase collaboration. They’ll create more effective and efficient solutions to fix age-old challenges for wider adoption across the construction industry.

One of the most exciting opportunities is how technology impacts the design of jobs in engineering and construction. It’s hoped technology, such as 5G and the capability it brings, will support more flexible working and increase the appeal of careers in construction to a wider diversity of people.

Colin Evison, Head of Innovation at BAM Nuttall said: “5G is unlocking increased use of digital tools and models as we explore safer, more modern and efficient ways to work in construction. We’re excited for the next steps as we trial new solutions which, without the 5G network, wouldn’t be possible.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the results and ultimately sharing the benefits across wider industry. We’re proud to be working in collaboration with SSEN Transmission and thank them for supporting this trial as we help deliver the decarbonisation of Scotland – helping to achieve net-zero carbon, and increase diversity, by modernising construction.”

Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure Julia Lopez said: "5G can revolutionise the way Britain builds, which is why we're investing £200 million in cutting-edge innovation projects to ensure we unleash its ability to drive growth across the construction industry.

"With 5G now switched on at this exciting project in Shetland, it will unlock a huge range of transformative tech from cameras and drones that enable builders to work more flexibly, to mixed-reality glasses so they can see 3D building designs live on site." The consortium is a partner of the 5pring accelerator programme and will work with start-ups to trial and improve manufacturing technology, adapting it for future use in the construction sector.

5G has rarely been used by the construction industry, and this first fully functioning network allows BAM to explore how far we can go to change the way we work; using a mix of digital tools to cover the full extent of the Shetland site, while our people control the technology and use their time to analyse data gathered to improve decision-making and our delivery methods.

BAM’s team is deploying numerous 5G supported solutions, including digital live cameras and drones; mixed-reality and virtual visualisation; artificial intelligence and Internet of Things sensors to monitor construction processes and measure progress.

The potential benefits of the technology include:

  • Safety – using artificial intelligence to carry out site surveys and send back live data means less people surveying remote locations and tracking progress; hard-hats with location sensors to track people’s whereabouts and alert safety advisors.
  • Quality job design: more data analytics; operating tech and using augmented reality and digital models to detect clashes; more collaboration; less time out on site in bad weather.
  • Accurate, live data driving decisions and collaboration – access to live drone footage and cameras on site; time-lapse photography and footage – visualising project progress.

**DCMS confirmed £15.2m funding to support nine UK 5G trial projects in early 2021

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