Peter Owen from contractor Willmott Dixon and Anthony Shaw from independent engineering and services business NG Bailey discuss how digital collaboration enabled them to support Coventry University and FEV to bring cutting-edge German facilities into the UK
The Centre for Advanced Low-Carbon Propulsion Systems (C-ALPS) is part of a multimillion-pound long-term collaboration between Coventry University and FEV, the international leader in design and development of advanced gasoline, diesel and hybrid powertrains and vehicle systems. It was built by contractor Willmott Dixon and designed by Broadway Malyan, with M&E design and install by NG Bailey and initial concepts by Couch Perry Wilkes.
The aim of the partnership was to harness academic and industrial expertise to drive new propulsion technology, and with £15.5m invested into creating the world-class centre for developing the latest sustainable powertrains. All involved in the project are certain the centre will support these ambitions.
Peter Owen, managing director of Willmott Dixon in the Midlands, said: “As soon as Coventry University engaged with us, it was clear that we needed to do as much groundwork as possible in the early stages of the project to ensure the delivery of the C-ALPS project ran smoothly.
“A complicated challenge we faced with this project was that FEV had a lot of its own technical testing elements that needed to be installed in order for the C-ALPS facility to effectively mirror German testing conditions. Because of this, our team needed to work collaboratively with FEV to provide a unique infrastructure to serve its equipment, ensuring the building met all of FEV’s future requirements.
“Consequently, there were a lot of interfaces between FEV’s equipment, the building and its services, both spatially and technically. All partners were able to visually understand these interfaces through the use of detailed 3D modelling in a collaborative digital environment. This collaborative model meant there was limited ‘to-and-fro’ in each detailed piece of information and it enabled all partners to gain a better insight in to how all of the services and specialist equipment would integrate effectively and in a timely manner.”
The now complete project focuses on research into vehicle hybridisation, electrification and enhancement of conventional and alternative fuel-based powertrains to meet the requirements of future transportation and cities.
Amassing crucial data from the outset
The development – which was procured through the Scape Major Works Framework – has created five testing cells, offices, a workshop, car parking and soft landscaping. C-ALPS has created strong links into the engineering industry for Coventry University and in turn, will create fantastic opportunities for students and Coventry itself. However, making it a reality was no easy feat.
Peter Owen continued: “As a professional team, we worked to host a series of workshops in conjunction with FEV, Coventry University, NG Bailey and Broadway Malyan to plot out the project’s start and end, as well as the interface points in between. Scheduling all of this allowed us to collaboratively coordinate the project and identify the mass of information we needed to collate and understand throughout the project’s duration.
“Of course, this intense planning and the workshops both took time, but it was invaluable as it allowed us to create a robust project plan and, in turn, meant we benefitted from avoiding challenges later down the line and experienced a speedy installation.”
The C-ALPS project was delivered seamlessly and, thanks to real collaboration between industry, the university and Willmott Dixon and its design and supply chain partners, the mammoth project took only 50 weeks to complete.
The value of 3D modelling
The group identified that it was essential to model the project in 3D to make sure the delivery programme kept within the constraints of the time given. After the initial information gathering was complete, NG Bailey – who designed and delivered the mechanical and electrical components of the build – created the crucial 3D services model alongside the architectural and structural models that played a key role in the coordination of the project. One of the largest challenges C-ALPS faced was its tightly packed service zones, and by using a technical 3D model, NG Bailey was able to build this digitally, in real-time, ensuring a speedy build process.
Anthony Shaw at NG Bailey said: “Time was of the essence during this project and using 3D models encouraged us to build and produce manufacturing drawings to inform offsite production. This resulted in a seamless build of offsite modules that were easily integrated on to site – saving a lot of time and potential issues.”
Peter Owen of Willmott Dixon said: “C-ALPS’ constrained location came with its challenges due to being surrounded by businesses, a church, a university and residential areas – it’s very different to most other FEV sites around the world, which are normally located miles away from other buildings. Because of this, our design partner Broadway Malyan designed its exterior finishes and colour tones to blend in with the environment and complement the site’s location considering every element of the project from the outset.
“The experience on the C-ALPS project proved that spending the time upfront early on coordinating and planning can save a lot of time through delivery and help avoid numerous risks. By keeping several steps ahead of where we were, we could produce a better quality of product and gave everyone involved in the project a better idea of what we were installing and when, combatting any uncertainty of the unknown when it came to the complex equipment we were handling.”
Success built on communication
With the project now complete and FEV in situ at C-ALPS, it is clear that collaboration enabled all partners to deliver a high quality of work, while also avoiding potential detrimental mistakes.
Owen concluded: “The reason it worked is that we had consultants and supply chain partners who were committed to collaboration from the project’s beginning. We had a coordinated design and sufficiently detailed models to support the team. Similarly, we had consultants capable of providing the operational data the customer needed for its asset management strategy on board.
“It was a challenging build but, thanks to strong relationships and communication between all partners, C-ALPS has been a great success and we are all proud to have been central in this significant project’s completion.”
This is the fourth project Willmott Dixon has undertaken for Coventry University following the creation of its new build Scarborough campus and its London Campus in Dagenham and Mile Lane in Coventry.
Professor Richard Dashwood, deputy vice-chancellor for research at Coventry University, said: “This collaboration is very encouraging news and a welcome boost for the UK automotive industry. We have a real opportunity for the country to lead the rest of the world when it comes to developing low carbon propulsion systems and C-ALPS has a major role to play in making this happen.
“It’s all about bringing the best of both worlds together, using the expertise and track record of FEV Group in engineering consultancy and combining it with the academic knowledge of our professors to create a real centre of excellence that can attract funding, build capacity in the supply chain and, importantly, offer commercial testing services to carmakers.
“Automotive is naturally the first target, but the technology will also be available to support the evolution of other sectors.”
Managing director, construction, Midlands
Tel: +44 (0)1675 467666
LinkedIn: Willmott Dixon
Senior bid manager