Pressures on infrastructure – time to innovate

By Alan Peacock, Fulton Hogan’s executive general manager, Engineering and Technical Services and Chloe Smith, national innovation manager.

WITH ALL THE CURRENT scrutiny on the cost and performance of our national infrastructure, greater investment into innovation and better systems for capturing and driving the innovations to completion is imperative.

Whether it’s a way to reduce carbon emissions in bitumen operations for a major roading project, cut the maintenance costs on a wastewater facility or keep people safer on a large-scale horizontal civil construction – there are answers out there and often enough the people at the frontline know the best way to move forward.

Over the past couple of years we have focused on harvesting the innovation opportunities from both our customers and our 6500 staff, and developed our own system for identifying and tracking these initiatives to support innovation within our business which operates in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific.

Bringing ideas to life

So far we have been able to fund, resource and complete 45 innovation projects in the 2015-2016 financial year and approve 40 projects for the 2016-2017 financial year. We aspire for our innovations to revolve around our customers and the problems faced by our people in working for our customers and the industry. The innovations we invest in need to service a need or gap in the construction market and deliver projects across our existing, core and future business areas.

To date we have made gains through innovation in the areas of quality, sustainability and safety to name a few, and continue to push the boundaries of what we know to improve our business.

For example, to improve the quality of small sealing projects such as footpaths and driveways, we invested in the development of the patent pending Vibrating Pneumatic Tyre Roller. This achieves a better looking surface than a traditional compaction roller, with the asphalt appearing smooth, shiny and polished with no visible hairline cracks or imperfections, and the surface actually lasts longer as it reduces the amount of water ingress into the asphalt.

In support of our sustainability focus we developed a process to recycle water cutter waste to separate out the waste and reconstitute the binder and fine material into new asphalt pavements. We believe we are the first in the world to achieve this. It improves job quality and safety as well as reducing waste to landfill.

In the interests of safety we developed the Moving Plant Proximity System for use on our rollers, which detects when personnel or equipment breach the exclusion zone. The device, which includes a 2D laser scanner, a touch screen display and audible alarm, logs any breach data which can be used to identify high risk sites so we can work to keep our people safe.

The common theme in these examples is the strong practical grounding in the day-to-day workplace which is then backed by further research where required. We use an open forum that allows anyone at any level of the business to contribute innovative ideas to provide solutions for our customers.

Keeping innovation at our business core

To circulate this innovation strategy across a 6500 strong international workforce Fulton Hogan with UiRevolution developed a multi-faceted communication and interaction platform called ‘Blue Skies’. This tool forms a complete database of every innovation, big or small, that has delivered value for our people and our customers.

It enables our people and alliance partners to search through or add to existing ideas, and submit their new ideas for sharing or funding. Every person’s ideas have the potential to be funded, developed and implemented through this process and it is important to us that innovation remains a priority. ‘Blue Skies’ has also been introduced as a kiosk that is available in all of our regional offices and for our customers at request.

Innovation is woven into the folds of our management structure through the appointment of a national innovation manager for New Zealand and Australia, and an executive general manager for Engineering and Technical Services to provide continuity for our strategy. We have also appointed an innovations co-ordinator who looks after our ‘Blue Skies’ database.

To ensure the innovations we are investing in are on the pulse of industry needs, we are prototyping what we call our Futurescope Workshops alongside Callaghan Innovation.

These workshops identify possible changes to our future horizons caused by technology, or shifts in environmental, social or market dynamics. This helps us to challenge our current thinking by identifying disruptors that could influence future innovations. We want to demonstrate that our business is adaptable and continually improving.

This makes global connections important for us to stay in touch with the latest technology and harness it across Fulton Hogan’s activities. One way we have done this is through the establishment of a collaboration agreement with Heijmans, a leading Netherlands based company which excels in commercialising innovation.

Recognition for efforts

We understand that recognition and feedback helps sustain progress so we use the ‘Blue Skies’ platform to share all ideas submitted for our annual managing director’s Innovation Awards.

All ideas, regardless of whether they win or not, add potential value to the business. We have also been gratified that our innovation strategy as a whole has recently been recognised by the UK-based Chartered Institute of Building with the premier award in the Innovation Achiever’s category for the International Innovation and Research Awards. Innovation is an exciting fast-paced space and our customer-centric approach is paving the way for the future of the industry.

This article first appeared in Contractor June 2017.

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