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Why is it so difficult to increase innovation in the construction industry?

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Why is it so difficult to increase innovation in the construction industry?

 

Introduction

Usually our blog-entries stand on their own without needing an introduction, but in this case, we will make an exception. Tommy has been with Hi-Con since 2010 and with his wide experience with regard to UHPC, he has been a prolific contributor to our UHPC blog over the years. From October, however, Tommy has decided to pursue new challenges away from Hi-Con (while he is still young – in his own words and I have decided not to comment 😉) and he will no longer be contributing to the blog. This will be his last entry for our UHPC blog – and he will be sorely missed.

 

We will take this opportunity to revise the frequency of blog-entries yet again – and possibly also the future scope of the blog. Since our first blog entry in March 2017 we have covered a lot of different subjects related to UHPC and the blog “library” is a good representation of the challenges we have met at Hi-Con while trying to adapt to the changing demands in the market. And I am purposely not writing “UHPC market” as most of the projects we do, are often proposed in other materials, where our first challenge is to find a more cost-effective, aesthetically pleasing or simply better solution in UHPC. This challenge is – in part – what Tommy will address in his blog-entry - how to encourage a process that allows for innovative solutions (not only based on UHPC, but in our specific case typically so), that are ideally better and more cost-effective. We can work with structural restrictions as we do in many renovation projects, such as the project Ved Volden shown below but the more open the process is, the better the solution will often be.

 

 

For the project Ved Volden we had to supply new balconies that looked exactly like the old ones, but as no columns or beams could be added for support we had to work with the existing deck (where the quality varied a bit).

 

There are still lots of new developments in the world of UHPC (and also at Hi-Con), and we will be happy to share our take on this, so we will still add contributions to our blog (although they may be less frequent). My own next entry will be based on my presentation (UHPC Joints – Not Just for Bridges) from the recent UHPC symposium in Albany.

 

And as always – if you have questions or comments (or you feel that there are some crucial aspects of UHPC that you would like us to address) – leave a message at the Wordpress edition of the blog and I will get back to you – and with this I leave the floor to Tommy for one last time!

 

New materials and solutions in tenders – why and how

 

Innovation in the construction industry is generally seen as being restricted often the same solutions and materials are used with small variations on familiar themes. So how can we ensure more innovation and evolution in the construction industry without ending with unpredictable results and increased risk?

 

One of the reasons that we stick to familiar solutions is that it is difficult to use and provide specifications for new materials and solutions in projects and tenders – without also running a risk, both in relation to the result, and legally in the form of assigning liability. There are several examples that stand as salutary warnings (Magnesia wallboards and PCBs to name just two) so it is understandable that both clients and consultants are reluctant to experiment.

 

As a provider of specialised products and solutions, we at Hi-Con are often involved in projects that (in addition to UHPC, which in many respects remains a new material) also incorporate other new materials, methods and design principles. We have therefore acquired substantial practical experience of how the challenges this entails for the tendering and contracting processes can be managed so that clients, consultants and suppliers may feel secure in relation to results, liability, risks and financing.

 

For some of our designs we really take advantage of the properties of UHPC.

 

The regulations and legal practices governing tenders and specifications are fundamentally constructed to favour familiar solutions and materials in that they are regulated by norms, standards, ERFA group papers, sample collections etc. and therefore are “safe” in relation to liability and often also results. The aforementioned documents are based on practical experience over extended periods and thereby ensure a high degree of predictability but they also make it difficult to innovate with new materials and solutions that may be better than those hitherto employed.

And there can be few who doubt that there is a need for new materials and processes when we consider on the one hand, the increasing demands on the functionality, energy efficiency etc. of our buildings and on the other, the rates of failure and remediation costs that are regularly reported for the construction industry.

 

So how do we resolve the challenge of applying new and innovative solutions to achieve better constructions while also ensuring we do not use the construction project as a full-scale trial and error test case?

 

In recent years, several initiatives have been launched that point in this direction – for instance Public Private Partnerships, Design-Build-Run contracts and other models whose purpose is to ensure that those who choose to apply new methods (thereby running a risk) also reap the rewards.

 

We apply similar principles at Hi-Con in that we divide projects for tender into phases where risk and liability are gradually identified, investigated and minimised until they are at a level all parties can accept.

 

It is thus a collaboration and the inverse of the traditional zero sum game that is often practised in tendering and contracting where the goal is to end with the greatest possible earnings for oneself with least possible liability and risk relative to the project’s other parties.

 

As people we are well aware that through cooperation we increase value creation for all parties but nevertheless it can be hard. One of the reasons may be the legal practise we have, where every action taken by a consultant or supplier automatically incurs liability in that one is judged to have heightened responsibility as a professional party. This practise means that the majority – understandably enough – are extremely reluctant to pitch in with new ideas if they are not given guarantees or can find references that prove the concept – and would far prefer that others provide the specifications.

 

Agree the framework!

 

So true development cooperation requires an agreed consensus that, in the initial phases of development, we do not hold each other liable in the legal sense, but solely investigate the possibilities. If we can achieve this “safe space”, various possibilities can be brought to the table without subsequently becoming part of a chain of evidence for who is the “guilty” party if an idea proves unworkable after all.

 

Similarly, there also needs to be agreement on confidentiality so that one can securely contribute knowledge and expertise and be assured it will not appear in a competitor’s project the following day.

 

Finally, there must be agreement in advance on the subsequent terms of the tender so that, for example, if there is a requirement for an open EU tender, functional requirements are fixed precisely enough to give participants in the development a fair head start but will not exclude competitors (typical public private partnership model); alternatively, that the relevant parts are subtracted from the tender and purchased as materials provided by the client following prior agreement with the supplier.

 

All these matters must be mutually agreed and accepted and this demands both a high degree of willingness and trust to genuinely work for the common good.

 

What is important – and what is good enough?

 

After agreeing the framework and rules for the collaboration, the first step is to agree what functionality, requirements and needs must be met and how these may then be tested and demonstrated objectively and factually. This is crucial because only through testing and documentation can we ensure that the desired result is actually achieved and at the same time establish limits for a sample space that can be accepted by both the client and supplier and which can subsequently form the basis for the descriptions and requirements limits that will ultimately be included in the contract process.

 

New products and solutions often lie outside the harmonised standards and it can thus be difficult to know which documentation is relevant. Here, it is an advantage if there exists established quality data and documentation about the new materials and solutions you are considering as this reduces the required scope of specific tests.

 

Among other things, there are branch organisations that establish their own “standards” and certification processes that are relevant for precisely their area, just as there are voluntary labelling schemes and the option to make a technical “stand-alone norm” as an ETA (European Technical Assessment). We ourselves at Hi-Con use the latter and we have also chosen CE marking based on the ETA.

 

But even though parts of the requirements can be documented by the supplier, the greatest challenges often lie in the new combinations of materials or in the new usage of materials for purposes they have not previously been used for.

 

When the requirements limits are to be defined, it is essential that all key requirements are identified, i.e. those requirements that ensure that the overall solution fulfils the intended function(s) (for example, to function as a finished roof), at the same time that all other requirements can be fulfilled (e.g. that parts can be dismantled and replaced in a predetermined manner and can withstand various load scenarios).

 

How do we document – and who will do it?

 

Identifying the correct tests and the scope of testing needed to ensure the requirements are fulfilled is the tough part, particularly where long-term effects are involved.

 

A good starting point is to list possible failure scenarios, the potential consequences if failure occurs and the options that exist to investigate and clarify the risk of failure.

 

This typically results in a long list, some parts of which may be satisfied by way of existing documentation from suppliers or others or can already be confirmed as a risk that must be accepted if one wants to complete the project as intended.

 

What remains are the points for which no clear answer is available and which are key to the overall performance.

 

Here it is necessary to take a closer look at possible tests that may reduce the uncertainty. It is often a good idea to involve independent institutes to define suitable tests and also ask them to indicate how many tests, and of what duration, are necessary for them to be able to confirm a given probability of failure.

 

Ultimately, it is of course a balancing of certainty and financing and very extensive and prolonged testing programs are expensive and only relevant if the possible consequences are equally critical.

 

When clients, contractors and institutes are in agreement on the necessary and sufficient test programs that will assure an acceptable level of risk for the client and suppliers consider that their solutions can pass the proposed tests, testing may be carried out.

 

Typically, costs are shared – for instance, suppliers can provided products, mock-ups etc. while the contractor can supply personnel or facilities and the client can pay for the testing institute’s report. Naturally, this should be agreed in advance.

 

This also means that each party invests a little in the clarification before any orders or agreements are entered into. However, in any subsequent tender the parties have the advantage that they have already completed the tests and are certain that they fulfil the requirements while other bidders must run a risk or perform equivalent testing themselves.

 

Who then is responsible for what?

 

When all tests have been completed and fulfil the set requirements, the supplier is responsible for living up to those results in the finished project. The supplier is thus not obligated beyond the regular product requirements (covered by their general declaration of properties) and the specifically tested performance criteria.

 

In general, the consultant is responsible for ensuring the scope of testing is comprehensive relative to the requirements set by the client but at the same time has, by way of a subcontracted testing institute, defined the potentials and limitations in interpreting the test results to be considered and which limit the consultant’s responsibility because it has been clearly described what the tests document and what they do not document.

 

The client is responsible for setting correct (and sufficient) requirements and is also responsible for evaluating the level of certainty the tests must exhibit and also to approve or reject the consultant’s proposed test package. This means that the client or developer often requests assistance from an independent 3rd party to assess what would be a reasonable and sufficient scope for testing.

 

How would this look in practice?

 

One example of how this might look in practise can be seen in the Musikhuskvarter in Aalborg. The stated wish was for a timber-like appearance but without the durability challenges this entails in a waterfront environment. The alternative they wished to use was a type of long format, monocottura (hard-fired) tile with a thickness of just 14 mm. The idea was to cover the underside and sides of the 28 m² balconies with a stave-like pattern of tiles at heights up to 10 stories and the risk they would come loose and fall off using standard adhesion methods was, naturally, unacceptably high.

 

 

But who should take responsibility for the tiles remaining in place with an embedded depth of just 5-6 mm in Ultra High Performance Concrete?

 

The solution was, before any agreements were entered into, to create a 1:1 model of a balcony with tiles embedded which was then forcibly deformed in both directions (tile in both normal and shear strains) to a deformation over the calculated level in long term state, after which checks were performed whether tiles were cracked, had become loose or whether joints had sprung, and selected tiles with joints were cut free and investigated for delamination and freeze/thaw tested.

 

The test later formed the basis for determining that the tile supplier was solely responsible for ensuring the tiles lived up to the same performance level as in the test and that Hi-Con alone was responsible for ensuring the casting was performed just as effectively as in the test, while the contractor could present test results to the client that the solution had been tested within the relevant parameters.

 

 

Another example was Kvæsthusmolen in Copenhagen. The intention was to be able to replace rounded glass paving blocks (with a very high carrying capacity) covering an underground parking basement. This solution had not been tried before and, after some discussion on possible installation methods, a test of a mock-up with loads equivalent to being driven over by a truck was performed and then it was checked whether the blocks could be removed and replaced. This worked as intended but the provider of the rubber spacers that were used and the supplier of the glass blocks could not, based on the test, rule out possible failure of the blocks or spacers at intervals, so the client purchased extra blocks and spacers and accepted that the replacement requirement entailed a certain increased maintenance need.

 

One parameter which was not investigated, however, was impermeability before and after being driven over, which subsequently caused major issues and cost both time and money for all parties involved, which underlines the fact that when testing is done, all relevant performance requirements must be covered – in this case also waterproofing.

 

Some concluding remarks

 

Employing new materials, techniques or solutions in a tender is not impossible, it is simply uncommon, so if the need for innovation is great enough, there are ways to handle it, including within the current construction contract legal framework.

 

Hi-Con is a good example – we have successfully achieved broad application of an UHPC material outside the Euro Code and to such a large degree that we often do not need to test because of our comprehensive list of references and documentation.

 

Inviting others to assist in development does not nullify the competitive process; after development is complete, other firms are of course free to present the same documentation and bid on the project as long as they fulfil the same documentation and performance requirements.

 

But it does demand that several parties cooperate on solutions before the tendering process and that they subsequently remain solution-oriented, both in the tender specifications and practically, in connection with project completion.

 

One might say that innovation in the construction industry most of all demands a shift in focus from price-fixated negotiation to results-fixated negotiation – and this continues to be in short supply.

 

Leave a message at the Wordpress edition of the blog right here.

Corresponding editor

Bendt Kjær Aarup
Group R&D Manager