“The challenge is to finally use technology on site”

Conversations on innovation

Ferrovial Construction is working alongside university again for R&D projects.
This time, Alberto Évora (Edification Manager in the Canary Islands) opens the debate on innovation with Basilio Gómez, Head of Technical Arquitecture at Universidad de La Laguna.

We are beginning to live amazing times in the construction sector. We are already talking about digitalization, energy efficiency, renovation or virtual reality in construction. Which do you think are the biggest challenges facing our sector?

R. The construction sector is still recovering from the big crisis it suffered in the past years. The positive outcome of this kind of situations is that it offers the opportunity to rethink. In our University, we have realized that we cannot keep going towards the future with the same way of working as before.  We must manage the same outcomes but with more precision, less time, more technical or environmental issues… This also means that more agents are involved in the process, and coordinating them all before, during, and after construction, becomes crucial.

Ferrovial Construction is focusing on applying a variety of new technologies in the construction sector  (Big Data, Internet of Services, robots with human surveillance, apps, smartglasses…). However, the use of technology and innovation as a concept is still one step away from being seen as something usual. Which do you think are the main benefits we get from technology and how can we maximize their potential?

R. Implementation of new technologies is still, in my opinion, in the phase when we think about projects and write them up. The biggest challenge is to finally use all these technologies on site. The main benefit from these tools and technology in general is efficiency. So to get the most out of them, we should find a way to include them throughout the whole construction process.

If we provide you with this virtual reality smartglasses and ask you to find the best use for them on site, what would it be? It can be to to improve a process or to give an answer to a still unsolved challenge…

R.To be able to “see” what is going to be built in each phase of the construction before it is done, I think, is the limitless potential. By doing this, agents intervening will have access to an interactive and 3D information that goes way beyond what we can see today in construction models and plans. This kind of tools help understand what must be done, and even show the quality of what has been built.  Though this might seem a Little Sci-Fi, it is closer and closer to reality.

How can our Company- university collaboration successfully face the challenges set by the industry itself and the society’s demands from an innovative perspective?

R. The processes we deal with are usually transversal, which means that they require joined investigations, with a varied group of specialists on different fields. The main advantage of our collaborations is that university provides rigorous investigations, and companies provide the experience and the areas where there is a need to develop new projects. That is why we should encourage these collaborations.

When we talk about Research and Development initiatives, we think about “potential”. However, issues such as climate change are forcing us to become more conscious and act (or re-act) imminently. How do you think we can tackle energy efficiency with the tools we have today? What would we need to  successfully  come to grips with these challenges?

R. First of all, we would need to instill collective conscience: we still find people for whom climate change is still unreal. Then, all the agents in the construction sector must look for solutions that reduce fossil energy consumption and reduce greenhouse effect, and apply sustainable criteria in construction (use and make recyclable materials, make a conscious use of scarce resources such as water…).

Public Administration has a key role in this as well. Allowing photovoltaic energy installations would be a big step forward, as it would be to include energy efficiency and sustainability as criteria in bidding.

The construction sector traditionally “moves slowly” when it comes to implementing great technological changes. Climate change and timings proposed by 2017’s Paris Agreement make it obvious that it is absolutely necessary to incorporate new technologies and procedures in the coming years. We need solutions to execute and control. That is why we must involve all the agents throughout the whole construction process and facilitate their work. In this, I believe Ferrovial Construction is already one step ahead.