The successful implementation of the government's industrial strategy in the area of infrastructure will depend on six key enablers working together, says Barry Rust of Tata Steel.
One of the five key foundations of the government’s industrial strategy is a major upgrade to UK infrastructure, including an increase in the National Productivity Investment Fund (public spending earmarked for raising economic growth) to £31bn to support investments in transport (£4.9bn), housing and digital infrastructure up to 2023.
For companies like Tata Steel involved in the infrastructure sector, these are extremely exciting times. We have a long history of successfully supporting the UK’s infrastructure requirements over more than half a century, as well as providing steel for many structures around the world.
From our experience of working on major projects we have identified six key enablers that will be critical to the success of the government’s industrial strategy’s infrastructure proposals.
1. Early Vendor engagement and communication
A critical element in the successful delivery of any infrastructure project is effective communication, specifically early vendor involvement. Aligning the objectives of the project, especially in the design brief, with the practical experience of the supplier at the earliest opportunity can create significant benefits both in identifying cost reductions and the agreement of mutual outcomes.
2. Capacity planning
Part of the communication process will be an understanding of the vendor’s capacity to deliver in the contractor’s required timeframe, especially where the vendor is managing several large projects concurrently. This can be a particular issue for smaller suppliers and reinforces the message that early vendor involvement allows for effective planning and delivery as part of the project’s overall success.
3. Stick to the brief
Another critical element in ensuring the end results meet the original brief will be to ensure the specifications set by the project owner at the start are adhered to throughout the supply chain. If carried out as stated by the government, the industrial strategy has the potential to spearhead the UK’s economic growth well into the mid 21st century. This is too big an opportunity to ‘fudge’. Cost engineering to deliver a project that approximately fits the original plan cannot therefore be accepted.
The industrial strategy will generate ambitious and innovative programmes of work. These will demand innovation from suppliers in the delivery of products and services. For example, to avoid congestion issues and on site waste, some of the country’s largest infrastructure projects, such as the high profile Heathrow 2.0 proposal, are planning the creation of supply chain logistics hubs with products assembled into component parts, at a distance from their final destination, so they can be installed more efficiently on site. In these circumstances, suppliers may have to abandon traditional business models in favour of more collaboration and adaptability for the greater good of the overall project.
5. Sustainable solutions
Innovation will also be required in the sustainability of materials to be used with the intention of further reducing lifecycle costs and delivering more circular economic solutions. As an example, Tata Steel has developed a number of product solutions from energy-generating steel facades in construction to weathering, maintenance-free steel that significantly reduces corrosion potential and will generate clear benefits in terms of reducing maintenance during the project lifetime and therefore enhance cost optimisation.
6. Enhanced and improved digitalisation
Innovation through the improved and increased use of digitalisation across the board to collate and deliver data at speed can improve processes and enhance communication. Tata Steel is developing digital product provenance solutions to enable the increased ‘circularity’ of products and more efficient processes in the infrastructure supply chain. The drive towards greater digitalisation will effectively underpin the above enablers and the delivery of the strategy.
The National Productivity Investment Fund was launched initially in 2016 to add £23bn in investment from 2017 to 2022 (expanded now to £31bn), with spending focussing on areas fundamental to the productivity of the UK such as research and development, economic infrastructure and housing. Tata Steel will benefit from this fund in two ways. Firstly, it will drive the company’s innovation and research and development in developing sustainable steel products and services. Secondly, Tata Steel will be a key enabler in delivering the outcomes of the funding by contributing to building the infrastructure required to enhance UK productivity.
Barry Rust is the marketing manager energy and sustainability at Tata Steel.