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Construction Research Network a new online matching service for B.C. construction and high-tech

Peter Caulfield
Construction Research Network a new online matching service for B.C. construction and high-tech

Like two eligible but reserved singles living on the same street, B.C.’s construction and technology sectors are being urged to get over their shyness and get together.

Construction has not been cozying up to new technologies to the same extent as other industries.

“Construction is ahead of only hunting and agriculture in its use of technology,” said Markku Allison, vice-president of strategy and innovation with Chandos Construction Ltd. “It’s definitely a laggard in adopting technological innovation.”

The situation is starting to warm up, however.

The Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA) recently created the Construction Research Network (CRN) to play matchmaker to the best ideas in construction and technological innovation.

The VRCA said the new initiative is a central digital inventory of the province’s R&D specialists and facilities that are available to help connect architecture, design and construction with research and development facilities.

“Many people in construction are unaware that there are R&D facilities across the province that can help them move their ideas forward.

“It will help close the gap between insight and jobsite, ensuring B.C.’s construction sector remains competitive and vibrant.”

SCIUS Advisory Services in Vancouver is developing the project.

“There’s a disconnect between construction, engineering and architecture (CEA) and the innovation industry,” said Mark Devereux, SCIUS managing director and the person in charge of the initiative. “There’s a good technology ecosystem in B.C., but it’s unaware of the construction industry and vice-versa. And it’s difficult for CEA companies, except for the very largest ones, to do technological innovation themselves, because they’re not set up for it.”

Helen Goodland, SCIUS head of research and innovation, said CRN makes R&D more accessible to construction by giving the industry a front window onto the local tech world. 

“Many people in the construction industry have ideas they want to commercialize or test,” she said. “To do that, they need to connect with researchers so they can try out their ideas in a rigorous scientific environment.”

Here are three academic researchers who have worked with the construction industry.

The Building Science Centre of Excellence (BSCE) at BC Institute of Technology (BCIT) has been operating since 2005.

“BSCE is an advanced research centre for building materials, building envelope and whole building performance,” said Fitsum Tariku, director of BSCE. “We undertake collaborative research projects with construction companies. Before COVID-19, we did at least two building performance simulations per year.”

Tariku said BCSE does R&D in new materials, design, proof of concept and numerical studies.

“It is the most comprehensive building science lab in Western Canada,” he said.

Alexandre Hebert, manager of zero energy/emissions in the BCIT School of Construction, calls the Zero Energy Learning Centre where he works

“a large classroom, like a warehouse that’s full of wall assemblies for industry to build to zero-energy standards.”

Hebert said the centre serves as a showcase and library of wall assemblies for the industry.

“We test the architectural details of different wall assemblies for their zero-energy emission properties,” he said. “It’s easier for industry to understand what zero-energy walls are when they see them in action.”

Although the centre is used mainly by BCIT faculty and students, it also allows industry to use the facilities.

“Before COVID-19, the lab received about 1,000 visitors a year,” said Hebert.

Sheryl Staub-French, professor of civil engineering and director of the BIM TOPiCS Research Lab at the University of British Columbia (UBC), studies construction site workflow. 

“We do action research,” said Staub-French. “We study an actual project, identify what works and how to make better use of technology to improve project outcomes.”

She said the lab is very engaged with the construction industry and project designers and owners.

“We produce many reports with data generated in our lab,” said Staub-French. “We also have a mobile construction lab on wheels that we call the BIM Trailer.”

A number of B.C. construction companies have already been working with technology specialists here.

Urban One Builders, for example, has performed structural testing at the FPInnovations facility at UBC and panelized building envelope testing at the Intertek Canada testing facility in Coquitlam, said Brent Olund, vice-president of Sustainable Construction.

Allison has worked with researchers at UBC, Simon Fraser University and the University of Alberta.

“We obtain valuable information and data for our projects from university scientists,” said Allison.

The CRN is expected to launch some time before the end of March.

When the site goes live, it can be reached at www.constructionresearchnetwork.ca

Visitors to the network will find approximately 40 profiles of researchers at 33 different facilities with contact information, text, photos and video.

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