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Government Backs Technology Project

17 April 2013

Costain is among a group of organisations that includes De Montfort University, Bluefrog Design, M Wright and Sons, Virtalis and Loxcius that has secured co-funding from the government-backed Technology Strategy Board for a project aimed at improving the Company’s operational performance and service delivery at Severn Trent Water.

The Technology Strategy Board, the UK’s innovation agency, works to stimulate technology-enabled innovation in areas that offer the greatest scope for boosting the UK’s growth and productivity.

Central to the three-year project involving Costain plus manufacturing firms M Wright & Sons and Bluefrog Design is the Autonomous Model Development software Tool (AMDT).

The AMDT will work like a closed loop control system, where changes are constantly assessed and their effects fed back into the loop. The ultimate aim is to produce more reactive and competent processes.

“It’s still very early days,” says Costain’s Business Development Director for the Water Sector, Matt Crabtree. “The background to the project is to make British industry more efficient. The collaborative research and development project uses Costain’s and other collaborators’ processes to generate a requirement specification for the AMDT and as sites for validating the project outputs.”

For the purposes of the study, Costain’s maintenance and repair work for Severn Trent is under the microscope. “For example,” says Matt, “we repair hand-railings across Severn Trent sites. We do a lot of these jobs, but they are all slightly different. It’s a case of how we can streamline the process by using these innovative technologies to make it more efficient.”

“Monitoring resources through simulation provided by Loxcius and rehearsing tasks in Virtalis’ virtual environments will increase our effectiveness and feed back into planning,” adds David Cockburn-Price, managing director of Virtalis.

“We don’t think of ourselves as a manufacturing business and Professor David Stockton of De Montfort University suggested we compare ourselves to Morgan Cars,” says Matt. “All Morgan’s sports cars have four wheels and an engine, but they are built to custom order – in many ways, a similar situation to our hand-railing jobs. The fundamentals are similar but the shape and fixing differ.”

“Coping with those differences – for example, in the form of problems or changes to an individual project – is the aim of the AMDT,” says Professor Stockton.

Even a small change or problem, such as equipment breakdown, or a client changing a deadline, can have lengthy knock-on effects, he explains. AMDT is aimed at helping a company’s planners make better judgements by using causal links across processes to autonomously resolve the effects of these problems and find best solutions to them.