GENEVA, SWITZERLAND — New technologies are transforming the engineering and construction sector at an accelerated pace, according to a new report compiled by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
The report, released March 1 and titled Shaping the Future of Construction: Inspiring Innovators Redefine the Industry, analyzes 10 innovation leaders, identifies key success factors and makes policy recommendations for accelerating innovation in construction. The report quotes John Beck, president and CEO of Aecon Construction Group of Canada, in a discussion of infrastructure.
Relative to other industries, productivity in engineering and construction has stalled over the past 50 years, says the report. 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 — 3-D printing, building information modeling, wireless sensing and autonomous equipment, to name a few — are already starting to turn traditional business models upside down, says the report.
The 10 spotlighted innovation cases in the report illustrate the value of embracing innovations, the report indicates. 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 pilot projects or startups that the report analyzes, such as the 3-D printing of houses by a Chinese company, said the report.
"To paraphrase William Gibson, the future of construction is here now — it is just not evenly distributed. Innovative companies and projects, as described in the report, demonstrate the art of the possible and how to address the challenges involved," said Philipp Gerbert, a BCG senior partner and co-author of the report.
The report says governments are crucial participants in the transformation of the construction industry. They need to create an environment conducive to the adoption of innovative technology as a regulator, strategic incubator or project owner. The report recommends that governments should update building codes, move to performance-based and forward-looking 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.
"There has always been a mismatch between the need for infrastructure assets and the capital to fund them. We now have a new opportunity to narrow that gap — by leveraging all the remarkable innovations that have emerged in recent years," said Aecon's Beck.