Innovation isn't only in the realm of startups.
Roadways is a long-established modern highway construction company with innovation at its core. With more than 50 years of experience, Roadways combines its deep history of industry knowledge with forward-thinking.
In 2021, Roadways joined the Plus X Innovation Brighton community to make us their Brighton innovation home, focusing on environmentally friendly road construction materials.
We recently caught up with Chief Executive, James Bailey, to learn more about Roadways' culture of innovation and hear how he collaborates with academic experts and the Plus X Brighton community to inspire further innovation. Watch the full interview, and read our top 4 learnings below.
1. Innovation Comes in Many Forms
There's different approaches to innovation. People talk about problem-solving innovation, and problem-finding innovation. But what I've done here in Plus X with Dave Lock is in the most tangible kind of evidence of what I call 'swivel chair innovation'.
Innovation at Roadways stretches across the business: covering everything from digital technology in excavators so that they don't dig too deep, to making sure that roads are built to last for the next 20 years.
But for Roadways, innovation isn't only about the product. James told us how they are innovating as a business by focusing on hiring a more diverse workforce than is typically seen in the construction industry.
When at Plus X Innovation Brighton, James values innovation through collaboration, such as with fellow member Dave Lock, Technical Director at Cast Iron CAD.
There are different approaches to innovation, James said. People talk about problem-solving innovation and problem-finding innovation. But what I've done here in Plus X Innovation with Dave Lock is in the most tangible kind of evidence of what I call 'swivel chair innovation'.
We couldn't find anyone who could blend low-carbon cement for us, cement is the big problem in producing low-carbon concrete, so we needed to build our own cement blending facility - one of the only ones in the southeast.
Dave is a mechanical engineer. 'So James, that's great,' he said. 'I'll come to your place, take some measurements, and I'll build you the full CAD model. We can use that to get prices, specify what we want, and then you can place the orders, and we can make that happen.'
So swivel chair, Dave was there! Within a few days, he'd built the CAD models, we sent that to the suppliers, and they gave us the price. We approved the budget, the equipment's on order, and later this spring, we'll be installing cement blending equipment, one of the few places or only places in the southeast that is blending low-carbon cement.
As a result, James estimates Roadways will be saving 4.8 million car kilometres of CO2 every year.
2. Collaboration Makes for Better Business
It's bizarre that everybody you meet here, there's some kind of connection with what you're doing and your business¦ Whoever you speak to, there's some kind of collaboration or some value add that is possible.
Collaboration is a core part of the Plus X experience. Connecting businesses of different sizes, backgrounds, and industries helps accelerate innovation.
James splits his time between Brighton, and the Roadways bases in Hailsham and Southampton. While at Plus X Innovation, he values both the look and the feel of the innovation hub. He said:
The Plus X Innovation building is amazing. The architecture is just groundbreaking, the lighting, the acoustics, the colours, you know, it's you can see that it's an absolutely top, top-level building.
Before I owned this business, I worked in London in some really nice corporate headquarters, but I'd say this is definitely one of the best designed, and it's just a great space. It just feels really nice to walk around and sit and think and talk and you just feel the benefits to you as an individual and to how you run the business.
It's bizarre that everybody you meet here, there's some kind of connection with what you're doing and your business. So whether it's something more indirect, for example, there's a company working on a wellbeing app to help staff wellbeing and engagement or whether it's something much more direct, like the work we've been doing with Dave Lock and mechanical design to actually bring some of our concepts to reality. Whoever you speak to, there's some kind of collaboration or some value add that is possible.
3. Access to Expertise
Access to Expertise helps us to get university resources and expertise that we could never afford to have in-house on our own.
And, for James, collaboration isn't limited to fellow members.
The Access to Expertise programme matches businesses with specialist academic expertise from the University of Brighton. Businesses can access up to £7,000 of academic expertise to develop an existing product or service or to solve a specific challenge within the business.
Roadways has a small laboratory used for research and development, but, as a medium-sized business, don't have an in-house team of experts to develop new materials.
This is where Access to Expertise comes in. The BRITE team James was partnered with Andreas Lampropoulos, Principal Lecturer at the School of Architecture, Technology and Engineering.
Together, they have explored how much recycled aggregate can be safely put into Roadways' fresh concrete mix without affecting the strength of anything else so that environmental improvements can be made.
4. Construction Demands Sustainability
As a company operating in the construction industry, I don't see how you can't have sustainability at the top of your agenda.
Roadways see sustainability as key to their business. Construction contributes 40% of global CO2, and James and the team are focused on saving the planet one road at a time.
Through collaborations and continually prioritising innovation, Roadways has put sustainability at the top of its agenda. They are just one of the few companies innovating with eco-friendly products such as low carbon, concrete and asphalt in the South of England.
The future for Roadways looks bright. In the coming years, Roadways plans include continuing to seek out likeminded clients that see the social value in sustainability in Brighton and beyond. For James, it's not just about getting roads fixed but doing so in a way that has a positive impact on the environment.
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Content + Social Media Manager at Plus X Innovation.