Thames Laboratories and Aston University are on a journey to create a greener, more efficient asbestos sector through state-of-the-art engineer scheduling processes. 

The Company

Thames Labs is based in Fenstanton, just outside Cambridge. Established in 1991, the company primarily provides asbestos consultancy, supplying surveys, project management and training to businesses, local authorities, social housing and education facilities, using a fleet of mobile engineers across the UK. The company completes over 25,000 individual jobs per year for more than 150 clients. Thames Labs works works under contract, for example, to large housing associations and on existing buildings and developments such as conversions from offices to housing.

“The partnership with Aston University will enable us to deliver excellent service to our customers with greater efficiency and will reduce impact on the environment.” John Richards, Thames Laboratories Managing Director. 

The Challenge

Thames Labs is a growing business which employs a number of engineers across the UK to deliver their environmental services. Scheduling engineers' workloads requires fitting in work that has been planned some time ahead, or more often, due to the nature of the business, work that requires urgent attention.

The company is seeking a way to maximise business efficiency by continuously reviewing schedules to optimise their activities and reduce costs to the business.

However, Thames Labs has been unsuccessful in finding a commercially available scheduling solution that has the capability to respond dynamically to their customers’ requirements. Indeed, they have been advised by existing companies that what they require could not be done. 

The Solution

Aston University’s School of Computer Science will apply its research and expertise in optimisation of vehicle fleets combined with predictive analytics to develop state-of-the-art software to transform the company's existing engineer scheduling processes. The more efficient processes will create reduced turnaround times, costs and emissions, enabling Thames Labs to deliver a higher level of service to their customers.

The project will up-scale cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence (AI) research being carried out at Aston University in the fields of vehicle fleet route optimisation and machine learning for workload prediction, to fit the needs of a company providing services country-wide. AI is one of the fastest-growing disciplines at Aston and the University offers an MSc in Artificial Intelligence as well as free support for qualifying SMEs to get started on their own artificial intelligence journey. 

Benefits of this partnership will include: 

  • Thames Laboratories gaining a competitive advantage by maximising business efficiency and reducing costs through more sophisticated and adaptive scheduling of engineers
  • Positive environmental impact and a direct contribution to the clean air and carbon reduction agendas – reducing vehicle time on the road, with the resulting reduction in vehicle emissions across Thames Labs' nationwide fleet.
  • Greater efficiency, timeliness, and overall quality of service for clients
  • Enabling further diversification of the company’s service offer, with the potential to launch a dynamic scheduling product 
  • Enhancing the quality of Aston University’s research, through access to extensive data sets, richer problem specifications, and feedback from general use.

Team Aston

Providing academic expertise is Dr Alina Patelli, academic supervisor of the project and director of Aston University’s pioneering Digital and Technology Solutions Degree Apprenticeship Programme. Dr Patelli brings experience of software development in the commercial sector as well as expertise in applying optimisation techniques in practical applications, particularly modelling and optimising complex industrial and urban systems. 

“This is a great opportunity to enhance state-of-the-art optimisation and machine learning in order to fit the needs of the commercial sector and deliver meaningful impact to Thames Labs.” Dr Patelli, Engineering and Applied Science Lecturer in Computer Science, Aston University.

Joining Dr Patelli as the academic lead for the project is Dr Aniko Ekart, reader in Computer Science at Aston University. Dr Ekart has taken over from Dr Peter Lewis, who is now Canada Research Chair in Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence at Ontario Tech University. She brings extensive experience in translating the benefits of university research into practice and is contributing expertise in computational intelligence techniques to this complex commercial and data-driven problem. 

“I am delighted to join the team on this very interesting and challenging project. It is particularly interesting to combine computational intelligence techniques with multi-objective optimisation to find practical solutions to scheduling that save time, energy and cost and allow for better productivity overall. Seeing how our theoretically known and proven methods bring such tangible benefits to the business, its employees and customers is very rewarding.” Dr Aniko Ekart, Reader in Computer Science, Aston University

Next steps

The KTP is expected to complete towards the end of 2022 – look out for more updates by following us on Twitter and checking our webpage

For more information about Knowledge Transfer Partnerships or an informal chat, email or call 0121 204 4242.