We’re a lot like many of you: About $10 million a year in sales, just under 50 employees, with two building material yards and an Overhead Door Ribbon Distributor. Being small, we need technology more than the big guys, because we’ve got to be more efficient. Where a big dealer may have 30 people in an office doing human resources or accounts payable, I’ve got three: me, my dad, and our bookkeeper. That’s the entire corporate staff, and I don’t want to get bigger than that. Lean is beautiful! So we have to have good tools to be efficient. We think good technology makes us look bigger than we really are and allow us to focus on what really matters… our business and our customers.
Byon February 24, 2014
We are now on the verge of many demand-driven and technological upheavals that would justify higher stakes in construction industry R&D. Companies that are open to cross-industry collaboration and use professional research resources can get a competitive advantage.
Compared to the economic significance of the construction industry, R&D investments among AEC companies are quite small. The 2013 EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard groups industries by their research and development intensity. Construction is in the lowest category with less than 1% of net sales used for R&D. Of the 1000 EU companies that rank highest in R&D, 38 are in the construction & materials industry.
R&D is not just for the largest companies. Even mid-sized or even small enterprises can improve their position in the market and boost their productivity with moderate investments in R&D.
Why is construction lagging in innovation?
Many construction business owners and project managers can be quite creative when it comes to solving construction-related problems. However, getting involved in an R&D project or process is not an easy decision. Many practitioners think that research is too distant from the everyday to yield any business benefits.
There are also structural reasons for the low interest in R&D. The industry is comprised of large supply networks, which means that one company’s development efforts do not make much difference if other players do not comply.
Client behavior is not encouraging R&D investments either. Most contractors claim that when it comes to choosing vendors, price, not value, is the defining factor. However, that may be based on the fact that the price is actually the only differentiating factor between vendors.
Where to innovate?
The most urgent areas for construction industry development are productivity, customer orientation, and sustainability.
Productivity boosts come from process improvement, use of information technology (especially BIM and the net), and new production and material technologies. Skilled people who are committed to learning are at the core of productivity.
Sustainability is still an area where companies are able to get a competitive advantage. A recent study in the USA showed that contractors who were able to build “green” were doing quite well even during the economic downturn.
Robotic technologies will also change the construction landscape. Autonomous machines are still prototypes, but not in the distant future. Once 3D printing matures it will have a huge impact on construction. Combined with the “internet of things” we’ll see really interesting development in construction.
Not all R&D is about technology. Many firms still adhere to age-old business models. Re-thinking how to do business can create totally new growth opportunities. Business model innovation is demanding and quite risky, but testing the waters is cheaper than reacting when it is too late.
How to innovate?
R&D should be based on strategic thinking. The management should be clear about what they want to achieve and why. This does not mean that trial and error are banned. It is impossible to achieve 100% success with R&D. However, every development project teaches something valuable.
The less systemic R&D is in a company the more success is dependent on individuals. Their skills and enthusiasm are seminal to success. Since the results of development efforts are meant to change the status quo, management support is of the highest importance.
As one company alone cannot change how clients and partners work, R&D collaboration is a good idea, even though it is not easy. A consortium that shares goals and sees how everybody will eventually win is a good starting point for an R&D partnership. Successful collaboration demands leadership and requires commitment from every participating organization.
Involving research institutions
Large construction companies have their own R&D departments with full time staff. Smaller companies can use consultants and research institutes to supplement their own personnel.
Most construction industry firms have little if any experience in collaborating with universities or research institutes. They might even fear that researchers are too theoretical and do not understand the requirements of business. Sometimes that fear is justifiable, but most often it is due to lack of experience.
The biggest gap between companies and researchers is communication. Construction industry practitioners expect from scientists the same kind of straightforwardness that they’re used to in their own business. As clients, they are eager to specify expected results when researchers are expecting research problems.
Another communication gap is evident when research results are available. Few researchers excel in communicating results to business people. This can lead to frustration and substantiate the prejudice that researchers are just theorists.
Companies working with researchers need integrators. They are individuals who know the needs of the business and can guide the implementation of research results into business.
The importance of foresight
No business lives in a vacuum. Changes in culture, politics, technology and behavior create new demands and opportunities for the construction industry. Companies should use insight and information on future needs when they plan their development initiatives.
If the construction industry cannot satisfy the customer others will. Companies like IKEA and many electronics manufacturers are already testing the market. Foresight and cross-industry innovation are now in high demand.
There’s nothing worse for productivity or your schedule than sitting around the job site twiddling your thumbs waiting for materials to rise, especially when it comes to concrete. For most jobs, concrete pours are milestones that just can’t be missed without devastating consequences. The problem is, concrete deliveries place the contractor at the mercy of the supplier, making call after call following up to make sure there are no delays.
To try and solve that issue, Truckast, a logistics software for both contractors and suppliers, was created. Available for the iPhone and Android devices, Truckast not only connects contractors with available suppliers, it also allows you to see the progress and quality of your batch, so you know exactly when it’s complete right in the palm of your hand, no phone calls necessary. Once your batch is complete, the app even track where your truck is and when it will arrive at the site, leaving the superintendent stress free so he or she can focus on other tasks. For the project manager and estimator, it provides accurate and detailed information to allow them to better plan for their next project.
Check out the demo app on Truckast’s website for more information
Truckast.com ($220/yr) | Truckast
By Andrew Stewart, for CNN
“We are combining nature with construction materials”
Henk Jonkers, Delft University
Here is the crack after 28 days…
(CNN) It’s the world’s most popular building material, and ever since the Romans built the pantheon from it some 2,000 years ago, we’ve been trying to find ways to make concrete more durable.
No matter how carefully it is mixed or reinforced, all concrete eventually cracks, and under some conditions, those cracks can lead to collapse.
“The problem with cracks in concrete is leakage,” explains professor Henk Jonkers, of Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands.
“If you have cracks, water comes through — in your basements, in a parking garage. Secondly, if this water gets to the steel reinforcements — in concrete we have all these steel rebars — if they corrode, the structure collapses.”
But Jonkers has come up with an entirely new way of giving concrete a longer life.
“We have invented bioconcrete — that’s concrete that heals itself using bacteria,” he says.
The bioconcrete is mixed just like regular concrete, but with an extra ingredient — the “healing agent.” It remains intact during mixing, only dissolving and becoming active if the concrete cracks and water gets in.
Jonkers, a microbiologist, began working on it in 2006, when a concrete technologist asked him if it would be possible to use bacteria to make self-healing concrete.
It took Jonkers three years to crack the problem — but there were some tricky challenges to overcome.
“You need bacteria that can survive the harsh environment of concrete,” says Jonkers. “It’s a rock-like, stone-like material, very dry.”
Concrete is extremely alkaline and the “healing” bacteria must wait dormant for years before being activated by water.
Jonkers chose bacillus bacteria for the job, because they thrive in alkaline conditions and produce spores that can survive for decades without food or oxygen.
“The next challenge was not only to have the bacteria active in concrete, but also to make them produce repair material for the concrete — and that is limestone,” Jonkers explains.
In order to produce limestone the bacilli need a food source. Sugar was one option, but adding sugar to the mix would create soft, weak, concrete.
In the end, Jonkers chose calcium lactate, setting the bacteria and calcium lactate into capsules made from biodegradable plastic and adding the capsules to the wet concrete mix.
When cracks eventually begin to form in the concrete, water enters and open the capsules.
The bacteria then germinate, multiply and feed on the lactate, and in doing so they combine the calcium with carbonate ions to form calcite, or limestone, which closes up the cracks.
Now Jonkers hopes his concrete could be the start of a new age of biological buildings.
“It is combining nature with construction materials,” he says. “Nature is supplying us a lot of functionality for free — in this case, limestone-producing bacteria.
If we can implement it in materials, we can really benefit from it, so I think it’s a really nice example of tying nature and the built environments together in one new concept.”
“TRUCKAST continuously provides me a real time and trending view of both IMI’s performance and our performance.”
Casey Harvey of Custom Concrete
W.E. Beaty’s field operations supervisors appreciate how the TRUCKAST app has organized the concrete delivery process and changed the conversations they have with IMI. It is no longer about ‘where’s my order?’ instead it’s about how we work together better to create mutual improvement and clear accountability for both IMI and W.E. Beaty
“I need to know if we’re being efficient with our concrete orders, and TRUCKAST gives me the information to figure that out,” Scott Beaty said.
In the past, W.E Beaty’s on-site construction foremen on the 15 different job sites would call IMI (Irving Materials) with questions about the concrete for that job site – is the concrete behind schedule, when will the trucks arrive, are you sending the right mix?
“It’s almost a pain to pour with someone else because I can’t see this information. It’s just not as convenient.” Tim Brogan, Sr. Project Manager, Shiel Sexton By providing instant access to organized and complete job information to both IMI and Shiel Sexton, TRUCKAST is creating mutual accountability and cultivating mutual improvement and increased profitability.
Read how other companies are effectively using TRUCKAST in order to be more efficient and collaborate with their customers.
Domino’s Set To Roll Out “Tweet-To-Order” Pizza Ordering a pizza is about to get as simple as a tweet. “It’s the epitome of convenience,” says Patrick Doyle, CEO, in a phone interview. “We’ve got this down to a five-second exchange.” Now imagine being able order to concrete just as easy. Oh wait, you already can with Truckast! Truckast is the first mobile platform to enable contractors to order concrete through the app, 24/7
Oh wait, you already can with Truckast! Truckast is the first mobile platform to enable contractors to order concrete through the app, 24/7.
Start watching at the 2:00 min mark. Concrete Ordering with Truckast!