The CPA Plant Conference – Full report

The CPA’s Plant Conference 2014 (October 23rd, Wyboston Lakes Cambridgeshire) was a great success, with plenty of attendees and a host of top level speakers.

It may have been some time since the CPA last held an industry-wide conference, but the substantial list of attendees at this year’s event clearly demonstrated an appetite for discussion and networking. With delegates from hire companies, contractors, industry associations and government agencies, the CPA welcomed more than 140 members, and equally importantly non-members, to hear speakers discuss the ways in which we can understand and influence the future of our industry.

Brian Jones
Brian Jones
“This is a great opportunity for us to open a dialogue,” said Mr Jones.
“This conference provides the seed that we need to plant for the future of our industry.”
Graham Black
Graham Black
The conference was moderated by respected Editor Graham Black, from industry publication Earthmovers, and delegates were provided with a range of interesting topics from leading industry speakers.

A Vision of the Future

Peter Hansford, Chief Construction Advisor to HM Government, provided delegates with an update on Construction 2025, the government’s vision for improvement within the built environment.

Peter Hansford
Peter Hansford
“Construction is important for the UK economy,” he said.
“It provides £90bn per annum to the UK economy, around 7-8% of GDP and safeguards 3 million jobs, 10% of the workforce. The important message now, is that the Government gets this.”
Construction 2025 aims to show the way forward for construction over the next two decades. Initially announced in September 2012, and published in July 2013, Construction 2025 calls for: a 50% reduction in construction time; a 50% reduction in greenhouse gases; a 50% reduction in the trade gap between construction imports and exports; and a 33% drop in costs.
“This is not about reducing margins, but reducing waste, doing things more efficiently,” says Mr Hansford.
“This is about thinking and doing things very differently. That includes recognising the role that technology can and will play in the future. Technology is moving very fast and we will see a lot more site assembly of off-site manufactured components.
But we must not forget that people are the heart of this industry. We need to focus on building up the people that we need. We’ve got to transform our image. You may be surprised to hear that 35% of careers officers are actively discouraging children from a career in construction. We really need to attract people to this industry.”
He also called upon the industry to embrace diversity when looking for new employees. At present just 14% of construction workers are female, while only 2% come from ethnic minorities.
Mr Hansford also outlined the need for an improvement in procurement methods, with greater cooperation and partnership required between suppliers, contractors and clients.

The Contractor’s View

This focus on procurement is second nature to John Carroll, a Project Director at Skanska, and Head of Construction and Logistics for the HS2 high-speed rail project. HS2 looks set to be Britain’s largest transport project for the next two decades, offering opportunity for many member companies.

John Carroll
John Carroll
Rail passengers have doubled over the past 20 years and freight is growing too, by 2030 it will be 120% of current levels. HS2 aims to bring fast rail travel from London Euston to Birmingham in Phase 1, and then on to cities across the North in Phase 2.
Phase 1 will include 230km of high-speed track, with 50% of construction involving cuttings and tunnels, along with more than 100 new bridges and tunnels. The quantities are incredible. More than 55m3 million of excavation will be required. Over 4m3 million of concrete will be used, along with 900,000 tonnes of rebar. There will be 4,500m3 of concrete segments, 700,000m3 of surfacing and 973km of actual rail line.
“The supply chain is the key to the success of HS2,” said Mr Carroll.
“HS2 will deliver 50,000 jobs a year during construction. Those people will need training and upskilling. But we will also need 450 articulated dump trucks for the earthworks. The requirements for the next 20 years for the UK construction industry are clear.”
That said, he made the point that HS2 will not be a case of business as usual. The project will require companies to constantly innovate throughout.
“Unsafe companies will simply not be tolerated on HS2,” he said.

Improving H&S Statistics

Philip White, the Health & Safety Executive’s Chief Inspector of Construction, is of course no stranger to safety on site. He was keen to point our how far construction has come in recent years, it is now 40 years since the Health & Safety At Work Act came into force and he said that the UK is now a world leader in health and safety.

Philip White
Philip White
“We have to work together, but construction has come a very long way in the last 15 years,” said Mr White.
“We want to continue that close working relationship that we have with the CPA and the Strategic Forum for Construction Plant Safety.”
While there have been huge steps forward in terms of safety, eight of the 23 fatalities on UK construction sites recorded so far this year were plant related, so there is always room for improvement. With that in mind, the HSE will release new Construction, Design and Management (CDM) Regulations in April of next year.
“There is no change in the standards on construction sites,” said Mr White.
“The key changes are around the issue of coordination of health and safety prior to construction starting. We need better focus on traffic routes, trained signallers, improved selection of plant plus competent operators and qualified supervisors.”
Looking further ahead, he promised CPA members that they would see fewer inspections, but that they would be better targeted in future. The HSE is smaller than it was just a few years ago, so needs to focus on the highest risks. This will result in new and innovative interventions and increased communication on health and safety matters.

CPA Launches New Guidance

One of the safety areas that the CPA itself has been concentrating on is the assessment of ground conditions for lifting and excavating machinery.

Tim Watson
Tim Watson
“No construction equipment is immune to ground conditions,” said Tim Watson, CPA Technical Consultant.
With that in mind the CPA is publishing a new guidance document ‘Ground Conditions for Construction Plant’ to assist site workers in choosing plant and assessing ground safety prior to positioning and lifting operations.
The new guidance deals with ground bearing pressures and loadings from mobile plant and the assessment and engineering of the ground’s capability to withstand those loadings.
“If you are going to be using larger pads for instance, make sure that you know about the ground conditions further down,” said Mark Davies, Associate Director at RNP Associates.
“If you are uncertain about the ground or the load you should increase the factor of safety.”
To help workers with this, the new document includes fairly simple methods for calculations on site, though Mr Davies added that any calculation of risk should be carried out by employees at supervisor level.
The document can be downloaded for free from the CPA website at

BIM Explained

Part of the focus of this year’s conference was a look forwards to the technology that will influence future construction. To help delegates understand what is available now and going forwards, Steve Hesketh, Engineering Director at MGF Excavation Support Systems, provided many with their first chance to better understand BIM, or Building Information Modelling.

Steve Hesketh
Steve Hesketh
BIM is a process of using information and design data to model everything from individual components to complete projects, to allow companies to visualise how a project can be taken forwards and to reduce risk on site.
“We are trying to embed information modelling in every stage of our business,” says Mr Hesketh.
Unlike many companies, MGF puts all of its connected digital information on the internet for others to benefit from. Mr Hesketh recognised that some companies might fear their competitors seeing how things are being done, but insisted that technology is moving so quickly, that the company may well have moved on for its next project.
By using BIM, MGF is able to animate the installation sequence of its support systems, to demonstrate to the client and contractor how the project can progress. Quality assurance is also stored electronically within the process as it uses actual build data.
“It’s not as expensive as people might think to do all of this work,” said Mr Hesketh.
However he insisted that connected digital and BIM are very much at the start and will evolve rapidly, with costs dropping further.
“Everyone is going to have to be digitally connected eventually,” he said.
“But there are huge opportunities for plant hire. Web-based collaborative working will become the norm in the future. You will have the latest data from site and all that data will be stored in the Cloud for anyone to access.
“BIM makes a massive difference and there are huge benefits to be gained.”

Adopting New Technologies

He was not alone in his belief that BIM is very much an essential part of future construction. Elliot Mawbey, Principal Digital Engineer at Laing O’Rourke, said that his company had been using 3D modelling since 2007, initially working from 2D drawings.

Elliot Mawbey
Elliot Mawbey
Laing O’Rourke has been involved in BIM for some years and now uses digital modelling and engineering both in preparation, and while working through a project. BIM provides visualisation for the client and for the workforce and allows Laing O’Rourke to evaluate logistics, crane positioning, temporary works and to demonstrate how the work will be done.
Indeed Mr Mawbey is already talking about 4D modelling for programme validation.
“We believe we are in the early adopters stage, but we are getting there,” he said.
“We’re embedding it in every department in the business. Digital engineering is contributing to reduced rework, improved coordination and sequencing.”

Intelligent Machine Control

A third angle on digital data use was provided by Dirk Legrand, deputy general manager at Komatsu Europe. Komatsu has recently introduced its first crawler excavator equipped with Intelligent Machine Control (IMC), following the successful launch last year of a number of dozers using the technology.

Dirk Legrand
Dirk Legrand
Unlike machine guidance systems, IMC actually controls some of the machine movement, in the case of the excavator preventing over digging and allowing easy creation of batters and slope works.
“Up to 20% of construction costs are due to errors in planning, qualities of materials, bad communications or repair due to over digging,” said Mr Legrand.
“The future is a linked environment, hardware, software, new ways of operation, new technologies and seamless integration.”
As well as controlling the machine’s bucket or blade, integrated machine control provides companies with as-built data, reducing the need for engineers to constantly measure and assess site levels. It also cuts machine operating costs as there is no requirement to fill in over dig.
Mr Legrand warned hire companies that the machines are more expensive, but he said they are also more productive, making up for the premium and reducing whole life costs.
“The UK market will go drastically in this direction in the coming years,” said Mr Legrand.

The Training Challenge

Of course while new technologies are sure to improve efficiency and productivity on site, they do require a trained workforce to maximise their performance. Stephen Radley, Director of Policy and Strategic Planning at the CITB, recognised that as the industry continues to recover from recession, there is already a skills shortage in some areas.

Stephen Radley
Stephen Radley
He said that around 390,000 staff left the industry in the downturn and a further 410,000 are due to retire in the next five years. The CITB is therefore reviewing how it works and how it responds to the changing needs of the industry.
“CITB has to develop a greater understanding of what the future will look like for construction,” said Mr Radley.
“Employers say that legislation, regulation and new technology are the drivers for change. We are also expecting new technologies to require new skills.”
This will require increased collaboration with industry and a need to change the way that people are trained and upskilled.

In Conclusion

Commenting on the many topics that had been touched upon during the conference, a panel of hire industry leaders, including Andrew Turner from Camfaud Concrete Pumps, Douglas McLuckie of A-Plant and Hugh Edeleanu from HE Services, responded to questions from the floor.

Andrew Turner
Andrew Turner
“We’d like to be able to provide our customers with more information and we will in the future gear up to provide that information, but we are not there yet,” admitted Mr Turner.
Douglas McLuckie
Douglas McLuckie
“The key thing for me is planning,” said Mr McLuckie.
“Then we won’t have so much kit standing and costing money. However telematics has seen a huge leap forwards for plant hire.”
Mr Edeleanu agreed, adding: “Telematics gives us utilisation at the touch of a button. While we’d like to offer our customers more though, they quite often don’t know what they want until the last minute anyway.”
All three agreed on one thing however, despite all operating in-house training and taking on apprentices, they agreed that the industry is going to desperately need new people.
“The key is not just retention of existing staff, but attracting new staff to our industry,” said Mr Turner.
“We’ve got to attract younger people into the industry. In 5-10 years time it will be too late,” said Mr Edeleanu.
As the conference closed, delegates had time to reflect on many new topics and interesting points from the day. CPA Chairman Brian Jones once again thanked both members and non-members for attending, and praised conference sponsors JCB, Liebherr, Arthur J Gallagher, Munich RE, HSB Engineering Insurance, Hawk, Towergate, Manitowoc, Syrinx, Select, A-Plant and Tenstar Simulation.
Given the positive reception to this event, delegates won’t have as long to wait until the next CPA Conference.