The Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) will accelerate the commercial impact of graphene and help realise its potential to revolutionise countless industries.
A gateway to Manchester’s new Innovation District, GEIC lies at the heart of a world class research community, bringing together the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) and Victoria campuses.
Unlocking innovation and enterprise, GEIC supports academic excellence and collaborative research nationally and globally. The exciting work being undertaken at the centre includes pioneering graphene-oxide membranes for water filtration, graphene composite battery panels, an innovative unmanned aerial vehicle made with graphene-enhanced carbon fibre, and a modified BAC Mono sports car with graphene-enhanced composite bodywork.
Designed by world-renowned architect Rafael Viñoly, the building provides 8400m2 over three storeys and includes a triple height pilot production hall with two 10 tonnes overhead travelling cranes. As part of an integrated core design team, Ramboll provided multidisciplinary consultancy services including civil, structural, geotechnical, fire engineering, contaminated land, vibration, acoustics, and ecology services for the project. We assisted in developing the project brief, assessing site constraints and adjacencies, preparing concept and detailed designs, and delivering the construction stage.
Having provided a variety of engineering services on the University’s Henry Royce Institute and award-winning National Graphene Institute, our involvement in GEIC builds on the already successful relationship with the University of Manchester (UoM) and other project team members; Arcadis and Laing O’Rourke.
University of Manchester Project Manager, Stuart Lockwood said, “Ramboll clearly understood the University’s requirements and used their expertise to drive forward innovative design…they demonstrated the ability to clearly communicate the design solutions and address cross-discipline design issues.”
Unlocking valuable land
The GEIC site is constrained by numerous interfacing transport links and infrastructure assets including; Mancunian Way, River Medlock Culvert, United Utilities deep sewers, services tunnels and an historic Victorian bridge buried under the site.
For each constraint, Ramboll undertook desk-based surveys and further intrusive surveys where appropriate. Each option was evaluated with any potential programme or financial implications briefed to the client, enabling informed decisions to be made easily. Options for advancing design, and ultimately construction, were also identified and proposed.
Ramboll’s thorough study led to a successful negotiation with United Utilities for a reduced easement, which in turn freed up a portion of the site to development.
Achieving low vibration in a heavily serviced building
The building design had to solve complex challenges relating to competing demands for very low vibration, heavy servicing and significant user equipment. Ramboll developed clear engineering strategies to solve the building’s unique technical parameters in a cost effective and innovative way.
Ultra-low VC-D vibration performance was achieved at ground rather than in a basement using a mass concrete pour and a ground bearing slab, omitting the need for basement construction. ISO-1 vibration performance was achieved on the upper floor by an isolated suspended slab and suspended steel structure respectively.
Offsite construction technology and advanced digital engineering
The floor vibration logic would have typically led to a concrete frame, however Ramboll undertook a focussed study of the vibration response differences between the concrete and steel frame options and identified that the lower embodied carbon steel frame solution could be adopted. Utilising hollow-core precast prestressed slabs helped maximise the BREEAM Green guide and achieve an ‘A’ rating.
The use of advanced digital engineering made downstream data available earlier in the process, enabling careful coordination of the offsite construction elements with input from the contractor, architect and MEP engineers prior to construction. This helped the client and design team make informed decisions earlier, reducing risk and increasing cost efficiency.
Working closely with the client and stakeholders the design team helped develop the brief for the building. This involved understanding the University’s objectives, current facilities and the spaces, function and technical requirements for each area.
The University’s objectives for future adaptability and flexibility were key in defining the building design loads and services strategy. A flexible, modular design that can adapt to suit the changing requirements of future research while supporting the University’s new ways of working was adopted and a 'builder's work in connection' BWIC strategy was specified. This enables partitions to be moved, loads added and future holes to be drilled within the constraints of a set of agreed design drawings to meet UoM’s aspirations for the life of the building.
Award winning building
In 2019 the GEIC was awarded the RICS 'Project of the Year' title. This highly acclaimed prize is presented to the scheme which demonstrates overall outstanding best practice and an exemplary commitment to adding value to its local area.
The GEIC will act as a regeneration catalyst, promoting the area as a future "Graphene City", with a predicted economic impact of over £100million over the facility's lifetime.
RICS judges said the project team's modular construction approach to the GEIC has delivered maximum flexibility and enhanced the overall building usability, whilst ensuring minimal reliance on external energy sources for heating, cooling, lighting, and natural ventilation.
GEIC also collected the ‘Design through Innovation’ award for harnessing maximum flexibility to create a high specification facility, necessary to research the properties and potential uses of graphene.
RICS Judges said the future and long-term prospects of the GEIC are significant. In their view the facility will provide a place for the world's innovators in healthcare, aerospace, technology and hardware to help shape our future by improving existing technologies and materials, so opening new markets and opportunities.