Driving innovation and evolution
LCRIG content director Alec Peachey carries out regular interviews with small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) to highlight the work they’re doing and the types of technologies that are driving innovation forward. This week, Rajit Rajaram – Tensar’s highways manager for UK & Ireland, provides his take on the sector.
Q. What is the best way to try innovations on a huge customer base?
A. “The best and most likely route to success is to target customers who have been ‘friendly’ to the company and have faith in our technologies and solutions from past, positive experiences. A scatter gun approach is less likely to succeed. A combination of selecting the right customer and the customer to whom the innovation is likely to be most beneficial for is key.”
Q. As an SME, what are some of the main challenges you face when it comes to engaging with the wider sector?
A. “In my opinion and experience, the biggest challenge is resistance to change. It is a case of ‘why fix it when it isn’t broken’ way of thinking. This is specifically relevant when one is trying to introduce new technologies or solutions into the wider sector. Equally, Government bodies paying lip service to change and innovation but doing nothing to support such efforts do not help.”
Q. What cutting edge technologies are you most excited about?
A. “In the sector there are currently quite a few technologies to be excited about. From the construction of intelligent highways to regulate traffic to technologies that enhance road safety to technologies that promote use of more sustainable materials in the construction of our highway pavements. I am most excited about technologies that allow the ‘smart’ or ‘optimised’ design of road pavements incorporating geosynthetics, that allow for a reduction in carbon footprint, increasing maintenance cycles and creating a greater asset value, whilst also delivering projects quicker by reducing construction times.”
Q. In what ways does the sector need to evolve?
A. “The evolution needs to be from the top down. Currently we see the right things being said at Government levels about innovation, change, carbon savings and even to the point of mentioning dates by when targets need to be met. However, in reality, when approached, there is reluctance to change and sometimes outright refusal to. Acceptance on an ad hoc basis from random local councils or contractors is fine but the sector won’t truly evolve and fulfil its potential unless the push comes from the top.”
Q. Can regulation be a barrier to innovation?
A. “In my opinion, over regulation can definitely stifle and be a barrier to innovation. The regulation/innovation interface is mutual and dynamic and is also sector specific. An interesting way that can address this is the ‘Innovative Deals’ approach of the EU. The objective of an Innovation Deal is to gain an in-depth understanding of how an EU rule or regulation works in practice. If the rule or regulation is found to be an obstacle to innovations, the deal will make it visible and feed into possible further action. This approach will ensure regulation can assist innovation.”
Q. In what ways can the industry learn from work being done overseas and how easy is it to adopt these practices in the UK?
A. “There are a few ways industry can learn and transfer best practices from one part of the globe to the UK. I speak from personal experience as I lived and worked in the Middle East and was with my current company (Tensar) for 16 years there before moving to the UK with them. In the case of innovative solutions, it would help to understand what the quickest route to success was and then suitably adapt and adopt, to suit the UK. Equally, to understand what the stumbling blocks were and proactively address them. It would also immensely help to understand the engineering practices in other parts of the world and how they would need to be addressed in the UK.”
Q. What are the biggest disruptors facing the sector?
A. “One of the biggest if not the biggest, disruptor facing the sector is the size and scale of projects. Projects are getting much larger in size (HS2, A9 Dualling in Scotland) and need to be delivered faster with little room for failure. One solution has been the increase of design & build type of contracts where the designer and contractor work under one contract. Another disruptor is the increased use of technology in the sector. That includes increased use of technology in design and use of smart materials that challenge conventional methods as they enable the production of more with less and have resulted in a step change in costs and delivery time of projects. A study suggests technology will disrupt the sector more in the coming decade than the last five decades put together.”
Tensar are an associate member of LCRIG.