Undertaking a construction project today requires strong nerves.Delivery problems, missed deadlines, and rejected materials are the order of the day. “Usually, there are significant delays, with actual costs ending up well above those agreed in the contract,” explains Prof. Dominik Matt, head of the Fraunhofer Innovation Engineering Center IEC in Bolzano, the capital of the Italian province of South Tyrol. Matt has become an expert of the everyday chaos in the construction sector. Together with his team, he has scientifically analyzed problems faced by building contractors and developed new approaches in order to solve them.
In the first stage of the project build4future, the specialists of the project team interviewed 400 building and construction companies as well as suppliers from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. The results showed that one third of all respondents are dissatisfied with the scheduling and coordination of their construction projects. “There is a lack of communication between architects, construction companies, plumbers, window fitters, glaziers, electricians, roofers, and the many other groups that are required for a construction project,” says Matt. He estimates that the lack of coordination drives costs up by even a third.
With the aim to minimize losses arising from friction between the various parties and to reduce costs, Fraunhofer researchers in Bolzano have developed a new organizational concept. This allows optimal scheduling and coordination for all the various activities of the companies involved in construction projects – in the case of large projects, there may be even as many as 50. “The challenge was to develop a concept that works independently of the particular companies involved,” explains Matt. Having this kind of flexibility is important in the construction sector, as involved actors change quickly. Each project sees a new call for tenders, which means that new players are getting involved. A “process map” developed by Fraunhofer researchers in Bolzano gives all involved parties of the project access to the scheduling and logistics of the other parties. Standards are laid down, and data that for quality management is provided.
Building for the future
The cradle of the new planning strategy is South Tyrol, a region where – thanks to tourism – the construction industry is booming and which is home to an especially large number of small and medium-sized companies. The researchers want to support these companies to prepare for the challenges of the future. “Megatrends, such as demographic change, sustainability, mobility, rbanization, and digitization present new challenges for the construction industry,” says project manager and deputy director of the IEC, Daniel Krause. “Long-term innovation planning is of particular importance: after all, people are building for the future.”
16 project partners – alongside Fraunhofer, the project benefits from the participation of the Free University of Bozen/Bolzano, the KlimaHouse Agency, the TIS innovation park, and 12 South Tyrolean companies – now collaborate in order to develop new construction concepts: houses that save energy, are amenable to modular renovation, and adapt to the needs of their occupants, who need varying amounts of living space at different stages of their lives. “Only
when these requirements are known, defined, and taken into account at the planning stage, you end up with buildings that fit for the future,” explains Matt. Sometimes, simple measures are enough: for example, façade elements that generate solar power and can be quickly replaced if they are damaged; wiring that is laid in a way that wires can be replaced easily without having to break open walls; or partition walls that can be taken out and moved around. “It is also crucial that planners and suppliers work together in the best possible way,” adds Matt. “Only if all partners communicate, it is possible to avoid planning errors, delivery problems, missed deadlines, and rejected materials.” Matt and his project partners will present the new concept at the Innovation Festival, which will take place from September 27 to 29 at the Universitätsplatz in Bolzano.