VIP day at Constructionarium Wed 15th June

Naples team
It was VIP day at Constructionarium. Great and good and important people came to see whether Imperial’s students were doing something worthy of their attention and support generally and, in particular, on the nuclear engineering project. But it was still a construction day for all of the students. Looking back on it all, it seems that today the teams have swapped positions: the teams that were on track seem to have fallen behind.

How does that happen? How do you go from “in front” to “behind” in a day? It seems that teams that had their bases done and yesterday seemed “ahead”, have turned out to have been ahead because they didnt put any manpower on their other tasks. For instance, the Gherkin tower team put all effort into laying their foundations for their four-storey tower. They then “winged” it on their steel work for the tower itself: they have learned that it is wise to have a team member studying the steel drawings in minute detail so that, when the team needs to assemble the steel and place it on the foundations, they will know how to put it together, how many bolts are needed, what type and how to attach it to the foundation. Forgetting to grout and forgetting to level the the steel is, with hindsight, unwise. Their manager may have thought a team member was earnestly studying the steel drawings, but if they were, they were not understanding and they were not asking for help with their incomprehension. When you try to wing it with steel, you learn that civil engineering steel doesnt like to fly.

The Naples team needed every chippie (carpenter) on the site to get their column formwork in place, because the Neapolitans were beguiled by the magic of the self-installing ring beam. These are beams made of precast concrete segments that you assemble into a circular “low wall” and then excavate the ground from beneath them with a digger run by the wonderful, skilful Peter, who makes it look easy. He manipulates the digger fork the way a Neapolitan can scoop icecream. The students are lucky that our site is awash with apprentice carpenters from a training course at the construction college. No matter how glorious your ability to do partial differential equations, you develop respect for the people who can help you get the formwork for 23 columns in the right place in a short space of time. The idea of sub-teams doing work in parallel looks easy in the classroom back in South Kensington: making it all happen simultaneously on site is something else. But its a humdinger project with real engineering challenges and they have hauled back into line for their programme. But will the client be happy with the extra cost of the specialist tradesmen who helped them?

Don Valley is doing steady progresswith their section of a stadium. They are where Graham-the-contractor thinks they ought to be “so long as they are getting on with their steelwork at the same time” and that is the rub: the teachers/supervisors have to trust the students to be multitasking and we do not actually check and prod them. There is too much going on for that. The students are in charge of their projects. Team Don Valley only need to talk to the Gherkin team about the need for steel to be studied in advance of the start of works. But Graham concedes “Its a bit hard because you throw a load of drawings at a second year student and then expect them to get on with it” when they really are only second years and really very novice at turning drawings into physical reality. But on constructionarium that is how you learn.

Kingsgate were lagging on day 1, so their progress has been to catch up and now they have their bridge decks done, So they can relax just slightly because they have their embankments to do tomorrow while the concrete decks cure, so they have come behind to seem to be on course and where they should be. Their embankments involve earthworks that have to be built up to give you access to their footbridge when its finished, otherwise you’d need a ladder to reach the bridge’s deck, in uber flat Norfolk.

The Nuclear team had a mixed up day with a load of VIPs descending on them after visitng other projects briefly. The VIPs from the nuclear industry and construction industries were looking at Nuclear Island project to see whether it might help resolve the problem of finding enough engineers, of all grades, to build the power stations of the UK before 2050 (nuclear and all other power stations have limited design life and the whole of UK power generating stations of all types are due for renewal by 2050). So there is a great deal of interest in generating engineers and the Nuclear team were up front and on show. The BBC local TV news team came and filmed for 2 hours, to generate 2minutes on the evening local news. But two other film crews were there. A government senior advisor from industry looked at what they were doign (all teams) and a raft of skills and educationists inspected the viability of the Nuclear Island project as a teaching tool. To accommodate the BBC, the students’ were instructed to speed up the creation of formwork for their dome so a concrete pour could be filmed. But the film crew arrived, did the preliminary filming and then we found that the company had sent the wrong type of concrete for the dome (it was better suited to foundations than to tricky concrete curves on a polystyrene formwork). A compromise for the news team was found but students learned that the BBC does not fake it: an alternative bit of concreting was not going to be broadcast as a pretend dome pour: it had to be real. So it was real. Small but real. A challenge. Up against time limits. But done.

Well done? Depends on what your objectives were for the day. A concreting purist would not be best pleased, but the sponsors are well pleased with constructionarium making the news. The Mayor of Kings Lynn was there (in mayoral chains) and enthusiastic about this education event that pours a significant amount of money into the local economy. Accommodation, food, transport, concrete, steel, fixings, welfare provisions, tools, plant operators, equipment replacements, demolition works and everything else that goes into running constructionariums for 16 universities and over 800 students in a year has meant a real boon to the Construction College which is a major local employer in this rural area, and a boon to suppliers in the local area. The Mayor really likes Constructionarium. And so he should.

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