The report analyses 10 innovation cases in the sector which provide a ‘glimpse’ of the industry’s future
Futuristic dreams such as 3D-printed houses, automatically designed hospitals and prefabricated skyscrapers are becoming a reality. And new technologies and business models are transforming the engineering and construction industry faster than ever, according to a new report by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Shaping the Future of Construction: Inspiring innovators redefine the industry, developed in collaboration with Boston Consulting Group (BCG), analyses ten innovation cases, and provides key success factors and policy recommendations to accelerate innovation in construction.
In comparison with other industries, productivity in engineering and construction had stalled over the past 50 years. WEF points out that technology was not making any fundamental advances, and companies remained averse to changing their traditional methods.
Recently, however, transformative technological developments have emerged, and some pioneering firms have adopted them for current projects. These developments – 3D printing, building information modelling, wireless sensing and autonomous equipment, to name just a few –are already starting to turn traditional business models upside down.
The 10 lighthouse innovation cases in the report illustrate the value of embracing innovation. Prominent flagship projects, such as Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and The Edge in Amsterdam, the world’s most sustainable office building, showcase state-of-the-art innovation.
So, too, do the various start-ups or pilot projects that the report features, such as the 3D printing of houses by the Chinese company Winsun or the predictive analytics of construction data by the Chicago-based firm Uptake, Forbes’s hottest start-up of 2015.
As construction companies reap the benefits of innovation, so will their clients and the community at large benefit. “Incremental change is not an option; by redefining the ultimate frontier, leapfrogging innovations in construction will finally help to address major societal challenges, from mass urbanisation to climate change,” said Michael Buehler, Head of Infrastructure and Urban Development at the World Economic Forum.
He added: “The widespread adoption of these innovations is going to make a serious impact, socially, economically and environmentally.”
WEF said governments are crucial stakeholders in the transformation of the construction industry and so need to create an environment conducive to the adoption of innovative technology as regulator, strategic incubator, or project owner.
The report recommends that governments update building regulations, move to performance-based and future-oriented standards, and introduce more flexible procurement models in infrastructure projects to overcome typical hurdles for innovation. In fact, infrastructure is again high on the agenda in almost all regions of the world.
In the words of John Beck, president and CEO of Aecon Construction Group, one of Canada’s leading construction companies: “There has always been a mismatch between the need for infrastructure assets and the capital to fund them. By leveraging all the remarkable innovations that have emerged in recent years, we have a new opportunity to narrow that gap.”
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