Building with robots and printers: innovation and sustainability shape future construction technologies

What will the building construction of tomorrow look like? Experts from industry, education and research answered this question at the specialist event “Innovative Building Technologies” at the Innovation Park Zurich. It became clear that climate protection and the shortage of skilled workers in particular require innovative solutions.

Printing in the third dimension is no longer a vision, but a reality. Today, 3D printers are used on construction sites, where they raise one wall after another in jagged, millimeter-precise movements. Fully digitized and automated. Around 100 participants at the "Innovative construction technologies" event at the Innovation Park learned how 3D printing and other advanced construction technologies work.

Contributing to climate protection with 3D printers

Various presentations from the fields of industry, research and education left no doubt that the entire sector is fit for the future. The focus was on various printing methods - construction companies are unlikely to be able to avoid "KARLOS", the large-capacity printer from the German manufacturer Putzmeister. Putzmeister engineer Arthur Martinevski explained why in his presentation: "The construction industry is one of the largest economic sectors in the world. But because there is a shortage of skilled workers, productivity is falling."

"KARLOS" can counteract this, its use saves construction personnel and time. What's more, the 3D printer is fully electric and produces very few emissions. He also uses ready-mix concrete - which is not only cheaper than conventional mortar, but also has a better ecological footprint, according to Martinevski.

Adapting learning methods to "Generation Z"

In the construction sector, "innovation" also means protecting the environment. In order for this to succeed in the construction industry, we need to start with apprenticeships. In a panel discussion, Arthur Martinevski and the construction technologists and university lecturers Thomas Stocker (Sursee Campus), Christof Gipperich (Biberach University of Applied Sciences, Germany) and Konrad Graser (ZHAW) debated the requirements for training and further education.

It became clear that "soft skills" are becoming increasingly important. Stocker explained that trainees today need to be skilled in communication and dealing with other people. "The classic specialist skills, so-called 'hard skills', only make up around 20 percent of the training."

For the Biberach lecturer, there is no question: "Digitalization is an opportunity that we must seize in order to drive the construction industry forward." He also has his eye on "Generation Z": in order to reach them, he has developed new learning formats at his university that are tailored to young people. "That is more important than - to put it crudely - trying to reconstruct their brains."

Combating the shortage of skilled workers with robots

From the classroom back into practice: tool and building material manufacturers are not just investing in 3D printing technology. Malena Schulz and Senita Muharemagic from the Liechtenstein-based company Hilti presented a company innovation to the guests in Dübendorf: the semi-automatic drilling robot "Jaibot": This is used for all kinds of installations and assemblies and can take over monotonous tasks and reduce the error rate in assembly work.

The development of the drilling robot "Jaibot" is also a response to the shortage of skilled workers, as Schulz says: "We at Hilti want to increase efficiency on construction sites." The market launch of new products can be a challenge: Managers, for example, would also immediately recognize the benefits of an exoskeleton - but the construction workers themselves would usually find it less "cool" at first. "You need the power of persuasion," explains Schulz.

Bringing important stakeholders together

Renowned companies invest a lot of money in the development of the latest technologies - money that most start-ups lack. In order to "monetize" their existing know-how, the Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences has launched "Groundbreakers" with two partner companies. The initiative supports start-ups in refining their business model or scaling up.

"Groundbreakers" also provides young companies with contacts: "Various stakeholders are part of our community," explained co-founder Johannes Felden. "We bring start-ups, universities, research institutions and investors together in a productive exchange." The aim is to make the construction and building industry more digital and sustainable.

In addition to a good network, start-ups are also dependent on funding. Anna Julia Schlegel from "Industry Relations" at ETH Zurich, Ralph Schmidhalter from Innosuisse and Anca-Georgiana Rusu from "Innovation Booster Robotics" presented their offers and financing options. Finally, all participants had the opportunity to make new contacts at the networking aperitif.


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