Pace of Technology Change

A recent call for papers from the American Concrete Institute got me thinking about the amazing pace of R&D and new technology in the construction materials industry. Within my lifetime, concrete has gone from a relatively simple mixture of cement, aggregate, and water to a "high tech" industry.

Change of this magnitude can leave design and construction industry professionals baffled and struggling to sort out the winning and losing technologies and to understand the standard of care expected of them.

The call for papers suggests the number and breadth of fronts on which the technology is advancing:

1. Sustainable issues and CO2 emissions
2. Environmentally-friendly concretes
3. Nanotechnology: Applications in cements and concrete
4. Recycled concrete aggregates
5. Porous concrete/no fines concrete
6. New repair materials
7. Polymer Concrete
8. Test methods for measurement of diffusion chloride ions into concrete
9. New cementing materials
10. New reinforcing materials
11. New composite materials
12. New grouting materials
13. New concrete coating materials
14. Use of wood waste in concrete
15. Shrinkage compensating admixtures
16. Shotcrete
17. Microwave curing of small precast concrete units
18. Life-cycle design analysis/predictions
19. State-of-the art papers on autogenous shrinkage
20. Stainless steel as a reinforcing material
21. New developments in superplasticizers
22. High-strength concrete
23. High-density concrete
24. Effect of curing temperatures on concrete
25. Self-consolidating concrete/self curing concrete
26. High-performance lightweight concrete
27. Fibre-reinforced concrete (new developments)
28. Concrete in marine environment
29. Under-water concreting
30. New construction methods
31. Roller-compacted dam and pavement concretes
32. Specifications
33. Non-destructive testing methods/near-surface tests
34. Non-conventional reinforcing materials
35. Case histories
36. How to reduce CO2 emissions in the manufacturing of portland cement

This list is just for advances in material sciences. If we were to add changes in structural engineering, material handling, and finishing, the list would double in length... And this is just one of the fields in which construction technology is rapidly changing. We would have a similarly long list for glass, polymers, ceramics, and many other categories of materials.

Building product manufacturers should be responding in three ways:

1. You can't afford to sit on the sidelines. Many of our clients are trouncing their competitors by introducing new technologies with clear benefits in performance, sustainability, and economy.

2. Advances require technology transfer. Even the best technology emerging from your lab or garage requires attention to make sure it is jobsite ready. Testing, building code approvals, certifications, and field trials are essential to develop customer confidence and reduce your product liability.

3. You have to support your customers. Changing technology gives your marketing communications, sales reps, and customer service team a chance to differentiate your company on the basis of how well you designers, builders, and facility managers make sense of the new technology.

With no slowdown in innovation predicted, I say, "Hang on, its going to be an exciting ride."