Graduate stories - an app to revolutionise engineering
One of our graduates – Romain Poirier – has won a prestigious competition run by the international construction company Bouygues Construction.
Romain is a Site Engineer at Bouygues, and his winning entry in the Innovation Challenge was an app he developed while studying with us on our MSc in Construction Management.
The course is an international collaboration between Abertay and Ecole Supérieure de Conduite de Travaux in France, which enables early-career, full-time employees of large French construction companies to develop their knowledge and skills at a university.
The programme integrates technical, managerial and entrepreneurial concepts in the context of managing construction projects, and Romain’s app is an excellent example of how the knowledge and experience gained on this course can be put into practice in the real world.
We caught up with him to find out more about it and what Bouygues Construction plan to do with it next.
Tell us about your role at Bouygues Construction
“I work at Bouygues Construction as a site engineer. At the moment I am managing the construction of a €5 million housing project in Tremblay, which is one of the suburbs of Paris.
“My office is based on the construction site, and I am responsible for the entire project: materials, planning, budget, personnel – everything! I plan what will be happening at each stage of the 14-month project, and I ensure not only that the technical work is being carried out correctly, but also that we remain on budget and on schedule.
“Everything depends on the size of the project, but it takes at least two months of preparation to make sure it will all run smoothly. We can’t start laying the foundations until we know exactly what we’ll be doing and when. We need to arrange for deliveries to be made in phases so that we don’t have too many arriving on the same day, as we can’t store all the materials on site because there isn’t enough space. We need to anticipate client validation deadlines, manufacturing and, of course, we always have to allow for inevitable delays with materials not arriving when they’re supposed to.”
What does a ‘typical’ day at work involve?
“Every morning I plan the work that each team will be doing on site and communicate to them what this will be. Some days there are new workers coming on site – electricians, for example, once the building has been completed – and I answer any questions they may have and make them familiar with the site.
“I’m responsible for health and safety, which is extremely important on a construction site. I have to ensure that all machinery is safe to operate, that everyone working on the site is safe, that we take the effects we’re having on the environment into consideration, and that the neighbourhood and people in it are also safe and minimally affected by our presence. Criminal liability is also one of my responsibilities.
“Every day I am in direct contact with the customer and the architect. I look back on the financial expense and progress of the work that has been carried out at my direction every week.
“So basically, I am responsible for the quality of work, deadlines, money, materials, and supplies. I am also in charge of the payroll for subcontractors depending on the progress of work.
“The core of the job is the management, human relations, and anticipation of what will be needed next. It’s a wonderful job because you see the development of the project each day and from start to finish. When construction is finished, I am proud to be involved in projects and I am eager to show my projects to my children.”
Could you tell us about the app you developed for your MSc project? What made you come up with the idea?
“I focused my attention on the problems encountered during my professional experiences, and I tried to think of possible solutions.
“I settled on developing an app for handheld devices – mobile phones and tablets – that aims to improve and modernise the sharing of data and communication between the various divisions of the construction process: people working in the office, people working on the construction site, logistics, finance, the supplier and so on.
“At the moment, this isn’t joined up in any way. A table in the construction office is where all the organisation is done, but there is no single place where everything that is going on can be viewed at once by different people.
“I would like to automate all the information: to know when the elements depart from the factory, at what date they will arrive on site. The factory will be able to input the data into the app and we’ll be able to track progress and plan accordingly.
“We need to optimise the time taken for cranes to get in place, to adjust the cycle time for things like concrete pouring, and handling time for different equipment. This would allow us to manage and control the inventory on the construction site to reduce the cost, time, and space on the site as well. Storage areas are a major constraint on construction sites.
“An app like this would also allow us to exchange materials between sites so as not to throw anything out if it doesn’t all get used – again reducing costs, this time further down the line, and being better for the environment."
Tell us about the Innovation Challenge competition
“Bouygues Construction runs the Innovation Challenge every year, and each time it has a different theme. This year the focus was on digital innovation, and it could be in any field: digital modelling, geolocation, virtual reality, cloud computing, social networking, robotics. All sorts! Basically they were looking for any ideas that might benefit the company.
“It’s open to the whole organisation, so several hundred people entered. Not just engineers, but secretaries, foremen and managers, right up to financial managers. So it’s accessible to everyone and, if the innovation is achievable and could benefit a lot of people, then it is set up. Usually every year the winning idea is developed within the company.
“I decided to enter and had to give a presentation on my idea to 500 people explaining what it was and the benefits it could bring. It was nerve-wracking, but I really believed in it so I used that as motivation to do the best job I could. When I found out I had won, I could hardly believe it!
“There are so many things the app could improve and, since I won the award, the company has moved it into a testing phase on a real construction site so that my idea can be developed further. Hopefully this will lead to it being rolled out across Bouygues Construction over the coming years.”
Congratulations to Romain on his winning idea! We will keep you posted on developments and hopefully it will not be long before the app is fully-functional and up-and-running within the business.
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