Postgraduate research opportunities

Automated manufacturing of smart concrete components

This 4 year PhD project between the University of Strathclyde, COWI and Highways England will demonstrate the automated integration of sensors into precast concrete construction elements.

Number of places



Home fee, Stipend


16 August 2019


15 September 2019


48 months


Applicants should have (or expect) a distinction pass at Master’s level, or a first class / 2:1 BEng/BSc Honours degree, or equivalent, in an Engineering or Physical Sciences subject. Applicants must be:

  • willing to work across engineering disciplines (electronic, civil and structural engineering);
  • willing to work in both practical lab and office environments, both on a University campus and at industrial sites and offices;
  • comfortable reporting to industrial partners and meeting deadlines.

Candidates with strong experimental skills are particularly welcome to apply. Experience with robotics, sensors, programming (e.g. Python, Matlab, C) and/or hardware development environments and languages (e.g. LabVIEW, VHDL, AVR), would be advantageous but is not essential.

Overseas applicants are welcome to apply provided those applicants can: i) self-fund the shortfall in fees between international and EU/UK student rates (see below), and ii) submit IELTS results (minimum 6.5) if applicable. If you are an overseas applicant, please contact stating that you can meet these criteria before applying. Details on international student post-graduate fees for 2019 can be found at:

Project Details

This 4 year PhD project between the University of Strathclyde, COWI and Highways England will demonstrate the automated integration of sensors into precast concrete construction elements. Wireless electronic- and skin- sensors will be embedded and surface mounted onto concrete elements using robotics, during off-site manufacturing on a lab-scale production line.

These smart concrete elements will automatically set up ad-hoc, self-repairing wireless networks with neighbouring smart elements. This could support the seamless tracking of elements’ locations, loads and performance throughout storage, transport, construction and utilisation. Unlike manually retrofitted sensors, automatic sensor deployment during manufacturing reduces installation errors and construction project delays.

This approach forms new, distinct UK capabilities in construction manufacturing that have a high global demand. Concrete is the most utilised material in construction, and today, asset managers worldwide are struggling to optimise the maintenance of their growing, ageing concrete population. This is causing infrastructure systems to break down more frequently, for longer, and cost more time and money to recover. This challenge can be addressed by intelligently scheduling maintenance, and by validating and improving structural design, but this demands real-time performance monitoring. Sensors themselves are affordable, but their use in construction is uncommon because sensor installation and data management campaigns pose significant labour costs and risks to productivity. This PhD project seeks to eliminate these risks and make smart, resilient structures the new norm by innovating the off-site manufacturing process.

  • proof-of-concept demonstrations of the robotic installation of wireless sensors into and onto precast concrete elements;
  • assessments of process quality, via the performance and robustness of smart elements during accelerated ageing;
  • demonstrations of ad-hoc wireless networks between multiple smart elements, producing cloud data of live loads / risk ratings and;
  • business case and impacts reports which outline pathways for commercial implementation, and impacts on/from precast manufacturer supply chains.

Successfully developed technologies may be demonstrated on upcoming high-profile transport construction projects within the UK.

In addition to the standard benefits of a PhD project, successful candidates will benefit from:

  • an enhanced £19k per year stipend for the 4 year duration of the PhD project;
  • desk space, technical support, work experience and training at COWI’s Glasgow offices;
  • technical support and guidance from Highways England;
  • 60 credits of Researcher Professional Development training courses from the University of Strathclyde (gaining an additional PGCert qualification).



Funding Details

Industry-funded PhD, 4 year duration, fully funded fees (for EU/UK students) with enhanced £19k per year stipend.

Number of places


Further information

Academic supervisor: Dr Marcus Perry –

Industry supervisor (COWI): Dr Chris Hoy

Industry supervisor (Highways England): Dr Efforsyni Tzoura

This project is jointly funded by COWI, Highways England, and the Scottish Research Partnership in Engineering (SRPe).

How to apply

Applicants should send a CV (with two references), a covering letter, a copy of degree transcripts and an example of a technical report (e.g. a dissertation) to Dr Marcus Perry at

If English is not your first language, please include a copy of your English language qualifications.

If you wish to discuss any details of the project informally, please contact Dr Marcus Perry  at For general enquiries, email: