PLASMA

A smart digital platform that uses data to map the most efficient programme plan for a more productive supply chain.

Last updated: 29th September 2020

Date uploaded:

Approved for use

Innovation Lead: Hannah Gibson
Project number: 104801
UKRI funding: £590,540

Website:
vinciconstruction.co.uk/


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Summary

PLASMA is a digital platform that has the potential to transform the productivity of construction. Vinci and Skanska set out to improve supply chain processes through greater collection, sharing and access to historic and live site data, allowing teams to plan better and, importantly, learn from how projects performed and where improvements could be made. Working with SME partners, Vinci and Skanska created a smart contract system - PLASMA - that lifts data from site sensors and project management systems. This 'data SatNav' then gives a 360-degree picture of the supply chain flow, allowing project planning teams to map programmes, test project delivery scenarios and identify supply chain pinch-points. This shared access to secure data has the potential to improve costs by 25% and timelines by 28%, and overall productivity by 15% by 2025.

Innovation type: Digital, Process
Organisation type: ACE (Architect / Consultant Engineer), Construction tier 1 contractors

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Project pioneers

Data innovation companies nPlan, BRE and Assentian knew that working together, they could create a tool to improve how well large projects work. Global construction companies like Vinci and Skanska needed more simplified data to enable better communication up and down the supply chain. All parties wanted to be more data-led, and together the team had the digital know how and experience to create a smart contract system.

The problem

Construction doesn't always have the data needed to improve confidence, consistency and certainty throughout the supply chain. This is adding cost rather than value. Often a contractor has to employ several different internal and external systems in any one project, preventing them from having a clear picture of where their orders are in the supply chain, when they will arrive, and when contracts need to be paid. Yet technological options to improve this can be seen as complex, adding another layer to supply chain management, and even learnings and skills developed on one project are not applied consistently to subsequent projects. With fluctuating demands and many projects drawing on bespoke solutions each time, builds often exceed budgets and timescales, while health, safety, quality and sustainability can suffer. The industry is calling out for the data and tools to build in a more collaborative, innovative, and value-led way.

Vision

An optimised supply chain is one that is more data led, and improved data makes programme planning more consistent, more efficient and increase productivity. Data in the sector has many diverse and powerful benefits. It can help with the selection of pioneering supplier companies who have better environmental records. It can support the uptake of innovations that improve logistical planning, reduce costs and decrease programme timings. Data can promote best practice and de-risk builds when engaging with local authorities or residents. It can encourage skills and training development across the sector, and it can provide evidence around new ways to reduce carbon emissions, pollution levels, and geographic, social or economic disruptions during builds. Ultimately, it will add value, rather than cost.

Key Insight

Vinci and Skansa, both i3P members, had been trialing a digital solution that they believed could deliver as much as 25% cost and 28% time savings. They wanted to develop a proof of concept that would test this theory and, in doing so, help their own supply chains stay competitive in the market. Vinci and Skanska needed digital expertise, and BRE, Assentian and nPLan needed site data and large projects to trial their digital know-how. The collaboration was formed. With a shared drive to be more data-led, the team of large global companies and small innovative businesses made a commitment to modern methods of construction.

Gathering live site data was difficult for the partners at first, due to a reticence to trial new forms of data-gathering. But now the partners are testing and trialing PLASMA with Network Rail, Singapore Port Authority and M1 Junction 19 to name a few.

First step

The real breakthrough came when the partners were testing PLASMA with Singapore Port Authority. They found PLASMA’s scenario-creation and task-sequencing capability could save time and administration by automatically planning for and notifying a site team about international tariffs they may be incurring, rather than manually monitoring or retrospectively paying them. And, as well as planning for these tariffs, PLASMA could also determine the origin of their cargo. As the sector shifts from lowest cost and fastest delivery to whole-life value, companies are placing greater value on knowing the origin of their supplies.

The digital 'toolbox' was responding to customer demand and the team saw the potential. PLASMA had the ability to provide rich data about supplies, from the very beginning of their journey, throughout their movement, and finally notifying teams about their safe and undamaged arrival – and feeding back any errors or defects along the way. The partners realised they had a tool that was about so much more than the status of a contractor’s order. It could track a whole supply chain and create more transparency on the goods purchased.

Barrier

Some of the existing wasteful processes throughout the supply chain add cost not value. But with a risk-averse approach to capital investment, supply chain partners often see new approaches or technology as complex and expensive changes that they won't benefit from making. And a resistance to new approaches means the industry isn't learning or adapting its traditional construction methods. These partners now needed to bring organisations and projects with them to demonstrate the need for change.

Process innovation

PLASMA helps create consistency in building techniques thanks to its manufacture and modular optioneering tool. Optioneering is informed by data and presents a number of options to the end user, based on a level of rigour similar to that applied to engineering processes. Building on Skanska's 'flying factories' idea (a concept that provides offsite manufacturing through temporary and versatile factories), the partners wanted to push the boundaries of smart, data-led supply chain management. The planning tool will map and plan builds using Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA). The nature of DfMA means that projects can apply a platform approach to construction and use repeatable, simplified processes and form a manufacturing regime.

The optioneering aspect of PLASMA is currently being trialled on Skanska’s £160m Blossom Street site (https://www.blossomstreet-e1.co.uk/project-information) which is using a mixture of offsite and modern methods of construction.

Digital Innovation

PLASMA is essentially a smart, digital 'SatNav' that captures data throughout the lifecycle of a build and shares it up and down the supply chain. It works by analysing data from on-site sensor networks and through supply chain tracking systems. The data then creates a 360-degree view of the entire build to plan the most efficient programme, identify the most suitable suppliers, embed modern methods of construction approaches (MMC) and suggest work flows with the lowest carbon footprint.

In the application, project teams can create orders, raise invoices and send requests to the entire supply chain, so everyone is aware of project progress and interdependencies. Electronic records of all orders allow contractors to track, and suppliers to view, received orders and action them. Data is constantly updating with information from sites and suppliers.

Project members can also upload supporting information such as compliance with health and safety; routes and blockages that could delay orders; or damage to orders. If a delay in the supply chain is caused by a supplier, the tool can immediately suggest alternative options to keep the project on track. The tool also has the capability to execute smart contracts and authorise speedy payments, increasing trust and confidence throughout the supply chain.

And it is secure. PLASMA creates a registration and authentication for each person who requires access and control. This could vary from client to supplier to site manager, and their access will adjust according to their need.

Importantly, PLASMA is a mobile app and so only requires a computer or phone. Contractors and clients don’t need to buy any new equipment, so can utilise PLASMA immediately. The mobile app – building on BRE’s tag and track tool - supports barcodes and QR codes to enable tracking, uploading of documents and photos, and linking to order numbers. A supplier could log-in to view the orders they have received and need to action, whilst the contractor could place and track orders.

It's also compatible with existing systems used by the partners, which means PLASMA has consistent components, but can also be customised according to programme needs. The flexibility and innovative approach the partners have taken has allowed them to morph and shape the solution according to findings along the way.

Collaborators

Vinci Construction, the biggest construction company in the world, and Skanska, one of the world’s leading project development and construction groups, partnered with innovative organisations BRE Centre for Innovative Construction and Assentian. Artificial Intelligence experts, nPlan, are not construction specific but also brought their expertise to the sector on this project. Together they understood how effective data collection and application could enhance the productivity of the supply chain, and improve knowledge and capacity across the industry.

All partners in the project are working with their networks to gather more data, so that the tag and track system is as intelligent as possible. They are incorporating numerous suppliers into the model; gathering data from existing construction sites to understand what information is needed; and learning from house builders how they are applying modern methods of construction (MMC). These insights will improve the application’s accuracy from client, to design, to contractors, to suppliers for a truly end-to-end digital solution.

  • Assentian
  • BRE
  • Skanska
  • Vinci
  • nPlan

Lead support

The investment from Transforming Construction (delivered by UKRI) gave participants the confidence to make their own significant investments. The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund also helped assemble the collaborative and bring together the expertise needed to develop PLASMA - expertise that does not exist in a single company.

Long Term Vision

PLASMA is a digital platform that can dramatically increase productivity across UK construction. By embracing this digital innovation, the construction industry can use the improved data and planning to optimise supply chains and reduce cost, and minimise disruptions and delays.

It also supports best practice, de-risk builds and removes siloed learning, enabling greater collaboration. As well as driving increased productivity and deliver a greater number of quality sustainable builds, the innovation will encourage investment, improve the reputation of the UK construction industry and give it a greater competitor advantage in the global market.

Human Stories

PLASMA makes supply chains more productive and helps contractors, suppliers and site teams work more effectively together. Greater planning will mean people are used at the right times and in the right ways for their specialist skills. Supply chain companies will benefit from the communication and contract efficiencies, helping them deliver to time and equally be paid in a timely manner.

PLASMA also has the potential for teams to benefit from best practice and up-skill in a way that's collaborative and beneficial to the industry as a whole. And with such a focus on digital technology and platform-based thinking, new skills and roles will emerge, encouraging more people to enter the construction sector.

Powerful Processes

PLASMA's optioneering tool will use the data from sites to present 'options' for contractors and suppliers, so they can map the best programme scenario using Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA). And these efficiencies from DfMA, drawing on the repeatable, simplified processes in manufacturing, will improve the productivity of the build.

As a digital platform, PLASMA also creates visibility of the programme deliverables so each supplier, contractor and site manager knows the role they need to play and has full transparency and accountability. And its smart scenario mapping also means that should something change or not be delivered on schedule, PLASMA can adjust the programme accordingly, reducing delays.

Essentially, this improved way to collect, share and store data, up and down the supply chain, will lead to more streamlined programme, a 360-degree view of a programme, and improved best practice sharing across the industry - all help within a mobile app.

Fascinating Facts

PLASMA has the potential to decrease supply chain costs by 25% and project timescales by 28% - with an ambition to increase productivity by 15% by 2025.

Benefits

Collaboration
Vinci and Skanska collaborated with existing supply chain partners nPlan and Assentian to develop PLASMA. This collaboration was supported with technology and expertise from BRE Centre for Innovative Construction. The purpose of the digital tool is to improve supply chain communication and collaboration through the collecting, sharing and storing of secure data, without the need for central control and management. And by working with a variety of organisations, from Network Rail through to SME Taunton Fabrication, those stakeholders quickly realised the value of the tool in promoting best practice and sharing learnings across the industry, so construction as a sector can more readily embrace new methods and innovations.

Cost
Vinci and Skanska estimate that PLASMA can help make significant productivity gains, through an estimated 25% saving in programme cost and an estimated 28% saving in delivery time. These important and sizeable savings will increase profits, support R&D and employment, and provide benefits to tax payers and shareholders.

The failure of Carillion demonstrated that need for greater transparency of contractual arrangements throughout supply chains is needed. With smart contracts key to PLASMA's technology, smaller subcontractors can be paid in a timely manner, reducing the frequency of business failure.

Health
Key to PLASMA's technology is the use of smart contracts. This means smaller subcontractors can be paid in a timely manner any will improve their job security, reduce the frequency of business failure and, in turn, improve workforce mental health and wellbeing.

Investment
The value demonstrated by the optioneering tool in PLASMA has led Skanska to invest approximately £30,000 in further research and development within their business.

Productivity
This project was born from a desire to help increase the productivity of UK construction projects by 15% by 2025. The project team estimate that PLASMA can help make significant productivity gains, through an estimated 25% saving in programme cost and an estimated 28% saving in delivery time.

Time
The initial estimates suggest PLASMA could deliver a 28% saving in project time. But mainstream implementation of PLASMA could help to leverage as much as 55-70% savings in time.