Challenge 2020

Ben Hawkins, Innovation Business Partner
28 August 2019
Image of two Amey employee's digging a hole.
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When looking at ways to innovate, it's often useful to think of how the world might look in ten, twenty or thirty years. However, it can also be useful to think about what is happening right now. A great case for this is our challenge to leave no streetworks excavations uncovered overnight by 2020.

Despite hundreds of incidents every year in the UK, it is still deemed an acceptable risk to leave a hole unattended and easily accessible to members of the public. We've decided this cannot continue and our people and the industry as a whole have responded brilliantly.

A two-pronged approach
From the outset, focus has been on two areas. First, we’ve assembled a team to focus on creating a set of standards and processes for things such as using no-dig technology and providing quality information to our customers to avoid needing to make the hole in the first place. We’re targeting 15 'quick win' actions by the end of 2019.

The second area of activity is around physically covering an open hole. Of course, excavation covers aren’t new, yet so many holes are still left uncovered. This suggests a very real gap in the market.

In early March, we started a search both internally and externally for concepts that could fill that gap. The appetite for innovation in this space has been tremendous.

By July, 50 people from inside Amey and beyond had come forward with their ideas. We saw an influx of interest from our clients; Severn Trent Water, United Utilities, Scottish Water and Openreach to name but a few. We also received the backing of Streetworks UK and the Health and Safety Executive and generated international interest amongst our parent company Ferrovial Services.

‘Hacking’ a blueprint for solutions
Now we’ve reached the point where ‘ideas’ are transformed into ‘solutions’. In July, we assembled a hand-picked task force made up of Amey employees, supply chain and academia to participate in a four-day ‘hackathon’, supported by Coventry’s Manufacturing Technology Centre. The objective was to draw up a shortlist of solutions to take through to product development.

When selecting the team, there were several desirable qualities - technical knowledge of the subject, experience in the field and communication skills to name but a few. However, there was only one critical quality set as a prerequisite. Members of the task force needed to have a genuine passion for solving challenges. Our task force contained Metering Engineers, Graduates, Site Managers and even members of Ferrovial Services' Innovation team: A varied group united by the desire to solve this challenge.

The team was armed with a set of benchmarking criteria that focused on filling the gap in the market. The ideas evolved throughout the course of the four days and by the end of the event, it was clear that we had a new blueprint for solving strategic challenges.

Solutions made of cardboard, polystyrene, netting - and even one resembling a swimming pool cover - did not make the cut. Instead, the task force settled on five prototypes; three made from hard plastics, one from a softer plastic and a ‘wildcard’ solution incorporating inflatable materials.

Our 2020 Challenge is now entering a phase of ‘design, build, test and reflect’, where continued engagement with our external stakeholders will be critical. At the end of this rigorous testing phase, any feasible solutions will become the benchmark and new minimum standard for all Amey’s streetworks excavations.

If we are successful, it will offer the industry a new solution to an issue that has lingered since ground was first broken and eliminate any need to leave streetwork excavations open overnight.

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