REM: New adventures in road design

29/01/2019
Dominic Browne

Jon Masters provides an in-depth analysis of Highways England’s latest work in computer-led design and its potential to change the way we deliver the next genera-tion of roads.

Engineers employed in the design stages of Highways England’s smart motorway programme are getting to grips with a new way of working – collectively labelled Rapid Engineering Model (REM) - first reported in Highways December 2018.

The main aim is to achieve greater efficiency in the design of smart motorway schemes. This should be feasible, given that every project in the programme is essentially doing the same thing: creating eight running lanes in the space where there are usually six plus two hard shoulders.

Each smart motorway scheme is different in detail, but there is scope for automating repetitious elements of the designs.

‘Our goal for the next 12 months, is to get to the point where outline designs can be completed where 80% of the effort is automated, including schedules for cost and project programme,’ says Lorraine Butler, Highways England’s delivery director for operations, business improvement and change in the smart motorway programme .

Highways England is nearing this stage of automation after testing REM methods against conventional manual means of drawing up outline designs. REM is not best described as a system of software, Ms Butler says, but as a ‘workflow system’, incorporating a number of design and management tools that most engineers working for Highways England are familiar with.

‘REM utilises a lot of what we’ve already got. It is compatible and interoperable with our existing software, such as Oracle’s Primavera P6 management software, building information modelling, geographic information systems and other information systems,’ she says.

The basis for REM is a ‘rules-based platform’ – which is essentially all of the rules and regulations of the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges and Interim Advice Note 161 for smart motorways, but in a digitalised format.

On top of this platform, or attached to it, is a library of standardised components including barriers, gantries and all of the roadside equipment needed for smart motorways, their Emergency Areas (EAs) and traffic monitoring.

‘The REM system gives us the ability to take the digitalised rules base and the components catalogue and bring these together, to see how the design works overall,’ Ms Butler says.

‘The output is the design visualised in three dimensions, with the technical specification of each item behind. The system gives all of the data and drawings needed to ensure it all fits and for contractors to use for further value engineering.’ REM is a work in progress and does not yet replace conventional manual methods of outline design. Some important capabilities of the new system have now been proven, however.

‘We tested REM to see if it would produce the same design as manual methods, and it did. This gave us assurance and confidence in the system. We tested some different things, such as driver visibility in relation to sign gantries. If this is wrong or insufficient, can REM diagnose and fix it? Yes it can. It is self-diagnosing and can solve problems,’ Ms Butler says.

The system is also developing incrementally and becoming more sophisticated. Jacobs engineer Liam Gallagher is seconded to Highways England as its project manager for REM. He says: ‘We started the journey of applying REM by using it to assess and prove initial operational concepts of smart motorway schemes. It has now developed to help with providing assurance of pieces of outline design work.

‘It has become useful for rapidly re-running designs, of positioning of EAs for example, if a change is needed. REM is now an important part of consultations and technical meetings, allowing projects to be demonstrated in a digital format.’

Further capabilities are being built in, as more layers of data are added, including 3D topographical information and environmental rules. The system has been designed to flag up the risk of problems with the positioning of components to a red, amber, green rating, to show where more human input is needed to solve problems.

‘As we are adding more data, we’re effectively giving REM additional layers of intelligence,’ says Ms Butler.

‘The system is now smart enough to alert the user if human intervention is needed to solve a problem.’

An example, she says, could arise from the positioning of a gantry on a steep gradient, requiring larger foundations.

‘It may be that the best, most economical solution, would require two gantries instead of one, or that a more unusual or innovative form of support is needed. The important thing to note is that REM will alert users where a problem needs human help,’ Ms Butler says.

She also points out that while the system stops certain rules from being broken, it does not prevent changes within those parameters. For instance, distances between EAs cannot exceed the maximum allowed, but REM does not prevent designers from closing up the spacing if appropriate.

Inevitably, the advent of further automation raises questions of whether jobs and livelihoods are being gradually cut out of the process, but Ms Butler has a good answer to that: ‘We will always need an element of human skill and ingenuity. We are now arriving at a stage where computer-aided design is being overtaken by human-aided computer design, where machines can be left to do more of the routine leg work, allowing skilled people more time to do the thinking and detailed design that adds value. ‘REM represents a new way of working that will allow better use of resources. As we go on, as REM software is used for outline design, we will be able to focus human efforts on refining the designs, being innovative and extracting greater value.’

Mr Gallagher says: ‘REM was initially all about proving operational concepts, which we have managed to lower from a nine-month process down to four or five weeks. Next will come the reduction of the time needed for base level design, from weeks to a matter of days.

‘Essentially, we will be automating design of civil engineering in verges and central reserves, which is where the majority of the smart motorway work is, with 80% of the manual design effort put into the crucial part of refining the designs.’

There is more to be done in partnership with Highways England’s smart motorway supply chain before that point is reached. At present, Ms Butler’s team is working on adding more layers of data to the REM system. A process of engaging with suppliers is under way to build up the digitalised component library, while REM as it stands is being used as a means of checking designs.

‘We are putting the system through more testing as we add more data layers, running it parallel to conventional designs and using it to visualise digital rehearsals on how projects will be built,’ she says.

‘We want increased standardisation of designs and certainty of delivery cost, as well as greater efficiency. By the end of this year, we should have that from using REM. The intention is to then use the system for base level design of all smart motorway schemes of the second Road Investment Strategy.’

Pictures of the software from Highways England.

Highways jobs

Transportation Planning Officer x2

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council
Band F, SCP 26-31 (£29,636 – £33,799 per annum) (£15.36 - £17.52 per hour)
The post holders will be part of a team developing transport policy encompassing all modes of travel Sandwell, West Midlands
Recuriter: Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

Highway Asset Engineer

Lambeth Council
£38,403 pa rising in annual increments to £41,466 pa incl LW
Lambeth is a vibrant place with a diverse population and an exciting cultural scene. Lambeth, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Lambeth Council

Senior Traffic Engineer

East Riding of Yorkshire Council
£32.029 - £34.788 career grade
We need an enthusiastic and experienced traffic engineer to manage our Traffic Team. East Riding of Yorkshire
Recuriter: East Riding of Yorkshire Council

Senior Community Infrastructure Levy Administration Officer

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£32,643 - £44,373
The successful candidate will play a key role in ensuring Richmond and Wandsworth Councils mitigate the... London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Engineer (Structures and Tunnel)

Medway Council
£31,385 - £37,053
Exciting opportunity has arisen to work within the highways department in Medway Council... Rochester, Kent
Recuriter: Medway Council

Principal Information and Monitoring Officer

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£40,183-£47,274 (Grade PO5)
Opportunity has arisen within the Spatial and Transport Planning service for a team leader with demonstrable practical experience of... London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Senior Community Infrastructure Levy Administration Officer

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£32,643-£44,373 (Linked Grade PO2- PO4)
There has never been a more challenging – or rewarding – time to work for Richmond and Wandsworth.  London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Senior Engineer – Highways Development Service (HDS)

North Yorkshire County Council
£38,813 - £42,683 pa
We are looking for someone to join the Development Management Team in a new post. Northallerton, North Yorkshire
Recuriter: North Yorkshire County Council

Executive Director of Place

Northumberland County Council
£142,417 - £153,384
This role is at the heart of helping shape and lead the successful delivery of environmental and transport services... Northumberland
Recuriter: Northumberland County Council

Senior Development Management Engineer – Section 38

Warwickshire County Council
£37,849 - £39,782
Due to the nature of the role the ability to travel effectively throughout Warwickshire is essential. Warwick, Warwickshire
Recuriter: Warwickshire County Council

Partnerships & Activities Manager

London Borough of Bexley
£31,353 - £36,876
Currently seeking an experienced manager to work in the Parks and Open Spaces Team of Bexley Council’s Communities Department. Bexley (City/Town), London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Bexley

Chartered Environmental Health Traineeships– 3 Jobs

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
National Minimum Wage (Age appropriate) plus enhancements for night time working
This traineeship opportunity is for graduates to undertake the new Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH)... Kirklees, West Yorkshire
Recuriter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Senior Traffic Signals Engineer

Luton Borough Council
£34,788 - £37,849 a year
We have an exciting opportunity in the Highways Services team Luton, Bedfordshire
Recuriter: Luton Borough Council

Corporate Director, Environment & Sustainable Transport

Newham London Borough Council
Competitive Salary
For further information about this exciting opportunity click... Newham, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Newham London Borough Council

Conservation Officer

Telford & Wrekin Council
£31,371 - £33,799 
We are not afraid of a challenge… Are you?   Wellington, Telford (GB)
Recuriter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Principal Urban Design Officer

Royal Borough of Greenwich
£44.607 - £47.511
Seeking an experienced urban design professional to work in the Planning Policy Team in the Royal Borough’s Planning and... Greenwich, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Environmental Health Team Manager (Noise)

Royal Borough of Greenwich
£44607 - £47511
We would like to hear from exceptional candidates with a can-do attitude who think laterally when solving problems.  Greenwich, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Refuse Drivers - Rolling Advert, applications checked fortnightly

Royal Borough of Greenwich
£29,228.52 to £30,766.08 (including London Weighting and Contractual Overtime).
It is an exciting time in Waste and Street Services at the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Greenwich, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Principal Transport Planner (LEN & Healthy Streets)

Camden London Borough Council
£40,829 - £47,360
Looking for a highly motivated Principal Transport Planner to project manage, and deliver, these two transformational schemes... Camden, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Camden London Borough Council

Streetscene Mechanic

Ryedale District Council
45 hrs £28,989 to £35,008. 37 hrs £23,836 to £28,785.
Are you a fully qualified HGV/LGV mechanic? North Yorkshire
Recuriter: Ryedale District Council

Highways on Fridays

Latest Issue

latest magazine issue

Zero carbon roads?

Modelling the future

A breath of fresh air

View the latest issue

Latest Video