Construction innovation – more barriers than drivers?

  • Industry Viewpoint

The UK is a nation of problem solvers. We have a proud heritage of driving innovation, creating solutions and pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved. But for a sector that is often seen as traditional and slow in changing its ways, do we live up to these standards?

When it comes to design, construction and engineering, the UK is admired the world over. The buildings we’re creating are getting increasingly complex so there is no shortage of problems to solve. We also have ever increasing regulations and guidance when it comes to performance, whether that is thermal, fire or acoustic.

Net Zero is the big challenge we are facing, but we have the skills and the materials to create zero carbon buildings. However, like many things, its easier said than done and it all too often comes down to cost.

To address this, we need to find smarter ways to deliver our buildings and this is where product innovation comes in. We need to find new products and systems that lets us build better buildings, more efficiently, more sustainably and more cheaply – all whilst increasing performance and not reducing it.

Futurebuild, the UK’s leading show for product innovation in the construction sector, recently conducted research as part of a debate entitled ‘The Role of Specification in Meeting Net Zero’. The survey identified that most respondents (61.5%) believed ‘resistance to switch from traditional technologies,’ was the main barrier to developing smarter, cleaner working practices.

Other results revealed most respondents (60%) were actively sourcing new innovations in renewables such as solar PV panels, heat pumps and biomass heating systems, as a way of achieving greater sustainability.

According to the CIOB, there are seven drivers of construction innovation - cost efficiency, sustainability, client demands, time constraints, technology, global competition and end users. However, I recently read an article that detailed 10 barriers, including the fact we are a low margin industry. We lack young talent, the complexity of the sector and the fact there is often no incentive to be the first mover.

So, are we putting more barriers in our way rather than drivers? Many of the barriers are what makes the industry unique. Yes, it is complex, yes we are facing a skills shortage, but does that give us reason not to drive innovation? No.

So how do we drive innovation? The panel at the Futurebuild debate for me summed it up nicely. They all agreed that better engagement between manufacturers, architects and specifiers was key to innovating products.

This is surely music to every manufacturer’s ears – architects and specifiers that want to engage with manufacturers. So, let’s not talk about barriers, let’s talk about opportunities and collaboration and get back to what we do best – problem solve and innovate.

Author: David Ing

Managing Director

Contact David Ing

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