The Strategist

Construction industry: Innovations and reluctance to change

03/01/2017 - 14:00

The World Economic Forum and The Boston Consulting Group presented a new report "Shaping the Future of Construction: Inspiring Innovators Redefine the Industry". The authors speak of nearly fantastic things - 3D-printed houses, prefabricated skyscrapers and automatically designed hospitals.

Experts of the World Economic Forum and The Boston Consulting Group presented its new report dedicated to innovation in the field of construction. The researchers analyzed ten projects, which were named leaders in regard to innovation in construction. Among them are the world-famous sites, such as the world’s tallest skyscraper Burj Khalifa in Dubai, The Edge - the most "green" office center in the world (based in Amsterdam). The list also contains less known companies, such as Chinese Winsun, which came up with a 3D-printing construction technology, Amsterdam-based MX3D, a creator of the world's first steel 3D-printed bridge, Chinese construction company BSB, a champion of fast building, Aditazz, which figured out how to automatically design hospitals, Moladi, engaged in construction of perhaps the most affordable and prefabricated housing in developing countries, and a number of others. 

WEF and BCG believe that the ten iconic projects are meant to make an example of effect of innovations.

"The future of construction is now, just it is still unevenly distributed, - said one of the report’s authors and a senior partner at BCG Philipp Gerbert. - Innovative companies and projects described in this report demonstrate art of the possible and ways to respond to these challenges."

However, despite apparent abundance of innovative technologies, scientists at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science came to a conclusion that the construction industry is treading water. Various branches of production have already experienced a series of transformations – there are automated factories, Internet of Things for resource management, and many others. However, modern construction sites are scarcely different from sites of early 20th century. In this connection, experts suggest a number of projects that could possibly 

Experts from ETH Zurich offer use of robots at construction sites. The company is developing a mobile robot called In Situ Fabricator1 for on-site construction works. The robot can build objects using various tools up to 5 mm, reach top of high walls and operate in semi-autonomous mode. An architect remotely controls the system by adjusting the construction plan.

Experts also discussed a scenario of application of digital technologies and computing models to design of future buildings. Modern mathematical models facilitate the work, allow architects to improve quality and customize the construction process.

3D printers are yet another trend that could turn around the construction industry. Most of modern printers can produce only small parts. Scientists plan to develop materials that will scale additive manufacturing.

The World Economic Forum and The Boston Consulting Group agree with their colleagues. They believe that introduction of new technologies will lead to a rapid transformation of the engineering and construction sector, which is one of cornerstones of the global economy. According to the report, share of the construction industry accounts for 6% of global GDP, and the industry is linked to virtually all other sectors of the economy. Performance in the sector has slowed down in the past half-century, and there weren’t any fundamental achievements in the technology so far. WEF and BCG explain this fact by reluctance of companies to change their normal practices.