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Digitization – is it important in the construction sector?

Smart and sustainable - this is the future of the construction sector. Norwegian company Rebartek has developed a unique innovation - robotic reinforcement installation technology, which allows construction companies to optimize processes and reduce human resource costs. Andrius Jurgelionis, Dean of the Faculty of Construction and Architecture of KTU, is gradually coming to the Lithuanian market as such innovations.

An innovation that offers greater efficiency, profitability and security

Rebartek is a Norwegian company that has been operating for more than 16 years, developing automated production solutions for construction companies around the world. The idea to create automated reinforcement construction came to the company's founder Max Trommer back in 2017.

It was in that year, while the company’s experts were working on bridge construction projects, that Max noticed that the rebar installation process was relatively time consuming. Reinforcement, also called the backbone of every building, is based on physical strength and therefore requires a lot of human resources and is dangerous. The engineer realized that optimizing this design would be of great importance to the entire construction industry.

Rebartek began experimenting with processes that would allow the production of structural blanks outside the construction site. The company started with smaller objects - staircase and balcony constructions, and later adapted robots to the production process and moved on to larger projects.

Today, the company manufactures robots for special reinforcement cages for various types of construction projects. Prior to production, the construction of the cages is designed using a design program developed by Rebartek specialists. The question is, how is production going? According to the drawings, the robots immediately produce the parts and install them into the reinforcement structure of the required configuration, then it is transported to the construction site and integrated into the object under construction.

Rebartek's innovation allows the builder to eliminate up to 90 percent manual work, helps to prevent the number of accidents at work and reduces costs up to 50 percent.

The potential for innovation development, Lithuania as well

Rebartek founder Max Trommer predicts that the importance of innovation in the construction sector will only grow.

“Observing the construction trends, we see that this innovation will have a huge impact on the construction sector in the future. First, gradually automated solutions such as robots, computer graphics, machine learning are already gradually being integrated into construction as these technologies become less costly and more affordable over time. In addition, parametric design and off-site production of blanks is spreading rapidly in the construction industry. Larger companies are increasingly using components that have already been manufactured instead of making everything themselves from scratch, as this saves time, which is highly valued in the construction sector. By combining modern design with robotic capabilities, construction will gradually become a more sustainable, safer and more productive sector, ”says Rebartek CEO.

Rebartek is a rapidly expanding Norwegian company that is constantly looking for new opportunities and international partners to develop innovations. Among the potential new markets, the head of the company names Lithuania.

"We are interested in the Lithuanian market. Although labor costs are relatively low here, the investment potential here through innovation promotion programs such as Norway Grants can compensate for this, ”says Max Trommer.

The Norway Grants program gives Lithuanian companies the opportunity to receive up to 1 million Eur, who are seeking for investment in information and communication technology innovations, and also promotes bilateral business partnership between Lithuania and Norway. Applications under this call are open until 12 February 2020.

Innovativeness of the Lithuanian construction sector

Andrius Jurgelionis, Dean of the Faculty of Construction and Architecture of Kaunas University of Technology (KTU), notes that innovative technologies are also increasingly used in the construction industry in Lithuania.

“In Lithuania, there are companies in the construction sector that actively digitize processes, production and apply new technologies. Building Information Modeling (BIM) technologies enable the use of artificial intelligence for process optimization, efficient resource management, logistics, and more. Digitization is a very important basis for the development of the construction sector. In addition, new materials and modular production are areas where a lot of innovations are implemented” says A. Jurgelionis.

However, the specialist notes that the innovative potential of some companies is limited by the lack of resources and they are limited to objects where the "lowest price" criteria are applied.

"However, this strategy is not sustainable, and new technologies are necessary for companies to remain competitive both in Lithuania and in the international market. The application of robotics in the construction sector is not yet sufficiently exploited” the specialist notes.

Examples of innovation leadership
The Dean of KTU is glad that there are companies in Lithuania that develop innovative technologies in their activities, invest in human resource competencies, modern equipment, materials, and modern work safety solutions.

"Companies such as YIT Lietuva, INHUS, Staticus, Kauno tiltai are good market examples. Some of the innovations already applied in companies today are 3D printing in the production of prototypes, building elements, use of information models for material cost optimization and logistics ("virtual warehouses"), use of lasers to display geometrical parameters in production, drones for spatial building models, earthworks." names A. Jurgelionis.

According to the expert, the importance of the mentioned technologies and the construction sector as a whole is particularly closely related to the main challenges of the next 20 years: growing population, urbanization, climate change mitigation, sustainability, human safety and health.

Great potential for innovation growth

According to Andrius Jurgelionis, currently Lithuanian construction sector companies more often implement innovative solutions or adapt them than they create new solutions themselves. The presence of a unit such as R&D (Research and Design) in companies is the exception rather than the rule. This could be replaced by a stronger State policy towards digitization, a reformed public procurement system, support for business and closer cooperation between construction companies and higher education institutions.

Looking to the future, A. Jurgelionis identifies digitalization as one of the most important directions of innovation in the construction sector in Lithuania and in the world for the next decade,

"One of the most emerging 'stars' lately is the 'digital twins' - virtual representations of buildings combined with real-time data. Digital twins provide an opportunity to track the parameters of buildings, optimize their operation, and apply the collected operational information for forecasting and reconstruction, ”says the Dean of KTU.

He also predicts a breakthrough in innovation in prefabricated (modular) construction. According to the specialist, future components of buildings, such as modular facades, should have integrated sensors for building control, heating and ventilation components, etc. Internet of Things (IoT) technologies will be actively used for building maintenance.

Another trend that, according to A. Jurgelionis, will change the construction process from design to demolition or reconstruction is the requirements for the sustainability of buildings. Smart companies are already carrying out carbon assessments of their buildings and products. However, in the coming years this should become the norm for all market participants, and will stimulate innovation in the field of new, composite materials, should increase the use of wood products.

Lithuanian companies wishing to develop new ICT-based solutions and find a project partner in Norway can apply for funding to Business Development, Innovation and SMEs, which operates under the Norway Grants program until 2021. February 12 Information on the ICT call for proposals can be found on the MITA and Norway Grants websites.
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