By William Boll
The world is changing faster than ever before. Consider just one of the global megatrends shaking up the construction industry: the population of the world’s urban areas is increasing by 200,000 people per day, all of whom need affordable housing as well as social, transportation and utility infrastructure. In the face of such challenges, the industry is almost under a moral obligation to transform. Its transformation This change will have transformative effects elsewhere: on the wider society, by reducing construction costs; on the environment, by improving the use of scarce materials or by making buildings more eco-efficient over time; and on the economy, by narrowing the global infrastructure gap and boosting economic development in general.
While most other industries have undergone tremendous changes over during the last few decades, and have reaped the benefits of process and product innovations, the Engineering & Construction sector has been hesitant about fully embracing the latest technological opportunities, and its labor productivity has stagnated accordingly. This unimpressive track record can be attributed to various internal and external challenges: the persistent fragmentation of the industry, inadequate collaboration with suppliers and contractors, the difficulties in recruiting a talented workforce, and insufficient knowledge transfer from project to project, to name just a few.
The industry has vast potential, however, for improving productivity and efficiency, thanks to digitalization, innovative technologies and new construction techniques. Consider the rapid emergence of augmented reality, drones, 3D scanning and printing, Building Information Modeling (BIM), autonomous equipment and advanced building materials – all of them which have now reached market maturity.
The importance of innovation to the global economy has never been greater. Globalization, disruptive technologies, emerging business models and growing sustainability concerns are putting unprecedented pressure on the Engineering & Construction industry to adapt, and innovation is the common thread to strengthen the right industry’s response to them all. By promoting and harnessing innovation, the world’s industrial economies can secure long-term competitive advantage in the race to win the most from the global transition to a radically new economy.
As a starting point, many innovative construction companies are looking through a ‘human need’ or ‘end use’ lens – focusing on shelter, thermal comfort, nutrition, and mobility, for example – and we have to consider the complete value chains that meet these needs. Such an approach allows for a full picture of an industrial economic ecosystem, and overcomes some of the conflicts and perverse outcomes that can result from focusing on individual economic sectors and sub-sectors to the detriment of the bigger picture or systemic whole.
Continuous innovation of a construction value chain is extremely critical. It is fundamental to any economy, and is creating megatrends like zero energy, healthy building materials, minimal construction and using unskilled labor that are weighing upon the construction value chain the innovation potential that it contains, and the pools of added-value for stakeholders to tap into.
Nvolve Technologies, like many others, has at its heart transformative and massively deployable innovation. We create new technologies and processes to help this industry to transition to a new global economy, one that is shaped by the green, sustainable materials, better-built structures using ordinary labor, decarbonization, design/architect/build digitization, mass customization, servitization, greater use of a circular economy methodology and resource efficiency.