STEPHEN Good, chief executive of the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) is a touch self-deprecating when he says: “We’re the one that folk most often raise their eyebrows at – construction innovation, isn’t that an oxymoron?”

However, he’s quick to add: “There is a lot of innovation goes on in construction – and Scotland has a proud history of innovation in engineering and building in this diverse industry.”

The CSIC is already involved in 130 projects worth more than £7 million. During its time so far it has brokered over 140 collaborations between businesses and academia and nearly 300 between businesses.

Over the next five years, the industry estimates these projects will generate an addition £160m in revenue along with £7.1m in savings. They will also take 70 new products to market, create almost 240 jobs and safeguard almost 800.

“We channel through four areas of innovation support,” says Good. “The most obvious two are product and process innovation support, so industry developing new products and processes, but in the processes sense it’s quite a broad catch-all term. It could be new processes where they’re perhaps manufacturing more of the building components in a factory environment and taking them to site through to perhaps smarter and leaner and more waste conscious, circular economy type on-site processes.

“Anything from waste segregation to using smart technology to make sure that deliveries of materials are coming in on time and not sitting on site getting damaged, right through to procurement processes, driving innovation across construction.

Good continues: “The two other channels of support we provide are business and service innovation support. The business part is working with industry around a lot of cultural issues around the industry, such as diversity, how attractive it is to kids in primary school – is it an industry of choice or sometimes of last resort and how to we change those perceptions.

“How do we help the construction companies, the architects, engineers and designers and perhaps showcase the diverse range of opportunities the industry can provide at all different levels – from a site hut to the boardroom.”

Off-site manufacturing, where buildings components are put together indoors and constructed on-site, combines with digital and other new technologies and new thinking in CSIC. An off-site hub, where companies can work together, has helped Scotland’s reputation in the area go global in the last decade, Good says.

“We recognised an opportunity to ask these off-site companies to work together,” he says.

“Over 18 months we managed to get them from a round table of seven competitors to a collaborative partnership of around ten companies working together and they moved from the offsite hub and won a Scottish Enterprise award last year.

“We talk to industry a lot, but we use expertise from other industries, from academia to help showcase how things could be run differently if industry would lift its head up from the hole it’s digging and have a look around.”

Good is enthusiastic about the role of CSIC and sees the centre as a single point of entry into the wider innovation landscape.

“It’s not just matchmaking, but because the construction industry hasn’t always had the need to use academic expertise, we are trying to help change that mindset because there’s a lot of expertise there that can help,” he says.

“Some construction companies have embraced or worked with academia in the past and while they haven’t always delivered the commercial outcomes they had hoped for our job is to try to make more of that happen.”

He is proud of CSIC’s 35,000sq ft industrial shed at Hamilton International Technology Park which, he admits, is nothing fancy, but which houses £2m worth of state-of-the-art equipment, including a UK first: “It’s a vacuum press for large panel high value timber engineered products – a solid timber system – and because of its engineering, and against the background of the Grenfell Tower disaster, it chars on the outside and protects the core, so structurally it’s quite predictable in how it burns.”

While the future for construction is looking brighter, cleaner and more evolutionary in its processes and outlook, Good says culture is one major issue it has still to tackle.

“We’ve to think how attractive the industry is for women. It doesn’t have the best reputation or perception, so we work with businesses that are actively trying to improve their attitude and approach around diversity challenges.”


A MIX of imported buildings, a shortage of apprentices and a failure to implement more progressive housebuilding methods could hit the sector in the coming decade, according to a leading Scottish architect.

Neil Sutherland is chief executive of Inverness-based MAKAR Construction, which has been designing and building quality, energy-efficient timber homes for the past 20 years.

Its market is relatively buoyant, but Sutherland told The National it will probably be interrupted in the next five to ten years as more imported buildings come into the UK: “The Chinese are looking at the UK, thinking they could build houses here, as well as the Eastern Europeans.

“In Sweden there are 70 companies involved in progressive, off-site construction – that’s in a country of eight million people.

“I think we are going to get so far behind that we’re going to struggle to build things well unless we take on more progressive methods.

“The other perfect storm element is the lack of training these last ten years since the recession – a drop-off of 70 per cent of new apprenticeships in construction in the Highlands – so there are very few young people coming through and that’s going to have a huge impact in the coming years.”

But Sutherland is not entirely downbeat.

He says: “What’s really exciting are the kind of changes that are coming about in what’s often regarded as a dull and boring sector really, and we can’t get bright young people to come into it because of its image and reputation.

“But it is reinventing itself, turning into a more progressive activity.”

The company’s philosophy is simple – a belief that better buildings change people’s lives in a positive way.

“What I mean by better is healthier, less energy-intensive and more pleasant and enjoyable. We know how to do all that it’s just there’s various challenges strewn in our way to make it difficult.”

MAKAR’s buildings are manufactured off-site to customers’ specifications before being constructed on-site “on time and on budget” to a high quality.

The company’s involvement with the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre has developed over recent years.

“You simply can’t build as well on a building site as you can in a well-equipped workshop where you have the information and the tooling, materials and all the back-up you have.” says Sutherland.

“The main thing holding it back is vision and investment in both people and that’s a big part, and processes – how things are done.

“Our involvement with CSIC evolved through close collaboration with one or two universities, primarily Edinburgh Napier. Because we represent a progressive, innovative way to do things we’re a natural fit with the innovation centre.

Sutherland adds: “When most people think about progress in construction they think about the technology, the equipment and the automation, but the hardest thing is to change the mindset about the way of doing things.”