Promoting Research and Innovation in the Canadian Construction Industry

Canadian Construction Innovations (CCI)

CCI

The Canadian construction industry needs more innovation. In 2009, Canadian Construction Association (CCA) released a report on research and innovation in construction and found the nation was falling far short of innovation goals, preventing the industry from realizing its full potential.
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Canadian Construction Innovations (CCI) was launched in response. The organization’s goal is to instil a new culture of research and innovation throughout the country’s construction industry. “We are about everything that provides improvement to construction practices in terms of productivity, efficiency, profitability and market expansion,” President Pierre Boucher summarizes.

“Canada as a whole fares poorly as compared to other countries in the adoption of technology; we are ranked 27th or 28th. Being a G7 country, that is not good. So there is lots of catching up in this area. We have to determine what the cause of that [lack of innovation] is and how we can best assist firms in adopting those technologies.”

Construction has remained largely unchanged over the past decades, making the industry more than ready for a revamping. This will require industry wide innovation, Mr. Boucher explains, since companies working alone within individual silos will not yield significant transformation throughout the sector. “We need to have more of an integrated approach.” Collaboration and cooperation is key—and CCI plans to be the entity that brings the industry together for the common good.

CCI has a number of initiatives currently on the table. A foundational project has been to determine exactly what the industry needs in terms of innovation. “We have done a survey of construction owners to guide us on the areas that are of concern to them. We need to identify the hindrances that are caused by the silos that we have in the industry.” Commissioned last fall, the study assessed the primary challenges in construction and then performed a gap analysis to establish how academic and private sector research can best align with industry needs. Conducted by Dr. Lloyd Waugh of the University of New Brunswick in partnership with Tom Froese of the University of British Columbia and Farnaz Sadeghpour of the University of Calgary, the survey included 30 interviews with private and public sector construction owners from all regions of Canada.

To promote collaboration on a wide scale, CCI has created an idea-sharing platform. Launched last September, CCI Clearinghouse has become the “nerve center for construction innovation in Canada,” where industry members are able to post solutions at no cost, making new ideas easily accessible to the public at large. “It is the tool that we use to make sure that the industry has access to the latest technology,” Mr. Boucher explains. “We are soliciting companies to post their innovative tools and solutions. It is growing every day.” CCI Clearinghouse facilitates communication of industry solutions across all areas, from procurement, IT, and green building to industry codes and regulations. CCI’s next step is to add a chatroom feature so that participants can discuss their ideas.

In January 2016, CCI launched an incubator to improve energy conservation in the heavy construction sector. Made up of industry leaders, the program has already identified and evaluated areas in need of attention. The next step is developing case studies, currently underway, that will support the creation of an energy saving program to be implemented across Canada.

CCI is constantly working to stay abreast of the latest construction technologies and to spread these solutions throughout the industry. Drones are creating a lot of buzz these days, and CCI is already at the forefront of this game-changing technology. “The drone has been available for a long time, primarily as a hobby for many people. But some people have started to use it to take pictures and evaluate the site conditions.” Mr. Boucher predicts that, with so much unrealized potential, the use of drones is about to take off in the construction industry. “With the powerful equipment that has been developed, there will be much greater usage that will provide serious savings in terms of site assessment, site progress, safety and design.”

Canada already plays a key role in developing drone technology, so adopting the solution for construction will not be a stretch. “We know that Canada is a leader in the development and manufacture of drones and their peripheral equipment, so I think the potential is there. But it has yet to be maximized; we have to do case studies and demonstration projects to demonstrate how it can come together and what its full potential use is.”

Drones grant easy access to a wide variety of visual data that would be difficult to see without highflying cameras. “For example, if you are going to renovate a bridge [and need to view it] you can certainly use a drone to inspect it, rather than putting together all kinds of mobilization equipment. You can certainly do that quite effectively – same with erosion of soil. To have a good picture of it, you clearly have to have something that is above the earth. If are going to [walk] the area that needs to be taken care of, [you] will not get the image that you could get with a drone.” Indeed, drones can be effectively used to evaluate virtually any construction situation. “There are lots of opportunities.”

Last October, CCI released a booklet on the use of drones in the construction industry. The educational report covers a variety of relevant topics including: a comparison and contrast of different types of drones; risks and pitfalls; available equipment; data expectation; industry applications; regulations; and insurance, as well as answers to frequently asked questions. CCI is currently contemplating case studies and demonstration projects on the use of drones.

CCI’s first workshop, held in April of last year, sought to improve collaboration between industry and academia. The primary purpose was to determine key challenge areas within the industry where pragmatic solutions can be identified and taken to market. The workshop facilitated communication and established networks to help leverage the expertise needed to commercialize new solutions.

Last fall in Montreal, CCI participated in a workshop on modular construction. It is estimated that this building technique accounts for only 3.8 percent of North American construction, so the workshop helped educate participants on the building method and identified barriers to its use. In early summer of this year, CCI co-hosted a workshop on BIM and green building. The primary goal was to create strategies on how to improve industry performance in those two areas. CCI is currently exploring the possibility of hosting its first annual conference on construction innovation this fall.

As a new organization, CCI still has a lot of ground to cover. “We’ve only been there for a short while – two years in August – so there is lots to deal with,” and the team has identified several target areas that they are ready to tackle in the near future. “We are thinking about green buildings. We are talking about smart cities, energy conservation, clean technologies, and procurement. We are talking about modular construction. We are talking about social licensing—that means to build better to the needs of the communities that you are serving.”

The organization is eager to continue serving the construction industry by promoting research and innovation throughout Canada. “We believe we will be able to make a difference.” Mr. Boucher says. “We look forward to working with government and engaging the industry and identifying areas where we can be the leader and bring about positive change.”

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 22, 2019, 12:24 PM EST