10 Trends to Watch - part 3 of 4

Continuing Our 4-part Series on Developing Systems and Methods That Are Shaping the Future of Construction.
(see Part 1 3/20/12 and Part 2 3/22/12)

6. Advanced Fiber Reinforced Polymer CompositesThe new generation of fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) composites has been incubated by aerospace use -- composite materials account for 50% of the primary structure of Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner jets, including the fuselage and wing. As production capacity soars, prices will come down-to-earth, making architectural applications feasible.

In addition to advances in carbon, aramid, and other high strength fibers, new resins and finish coatings have been developed. For example, CCP Composites offers resins that can be used for fire-resistance rated walls; their impressive strength-to-weight makes this useful in high performance environments. 

FRP composites also create new opportunities in form-making and new construction methods.  One impressive example is the "bridge-in-a-backpack." It consists of arched FRP tubes that are made rigid by high-pressure inflation. They can easily be transported in a compact, deflated form, deployed quickly, and used as both formwork and reinforcement for cast-in-place concrete. This idea, invented at the University of Maine, is being used on a number of short and medium span bridges. 

Recommendation: Adaptation of materials developed in other industries can bring new solutions, but it usually requires outside the box thinking, too.

7. APP + BIM + CNC = WOW
The construction industry is challenged to find a way to integrate all our powerful digital tools into a cohesive process. Seeyond may be showing us the way with a clever system for tessellated partitions, ceilings, and other surfaces. What qualifies it for this list is not the product, but the process by which they connect the designer's vision with the company's digital fabrication process.

Using the company's "proprietary parametric design tool," in the company's words, "the user selects the feature type, then modifies its size, form and tessellation, and finally, chooses any relief or visual effects." The tool provides feedback on material, hardware, and manufacturing requirements. It further provides preliminary structural analysis so that designers can make informed decisions earlier in their project. And since it is parametric, each change in a variable automatically modifies the relationships among other variables within the design. Seeyond then uses data from the user's design to drive the manufacturing process, creating a unique specialty feature." 

Conventional practices require an architect to go through at least five steps to use a custom manufactured product. Each of these steps takes time and creates opportunities for error. The steps are:

1) Find info in catalog or by calling a sales rep. 
2) Interpret info and incorporate into a design.
3) Prepare bid and contract documents.
4) Answer questions about bid and contract documents.
5) Interpret shop drawings to make sure they meet design intent.

With Seeyond, the designer may be able, at least in theory, to do his or her work in just two steps: 

1) Use the interactive design tool.  
2) Press "play".  

That says, "Wow," to us.

Recommendation: The digital workflow is on the rise, and it will not-so-gradually become the norm.  It is time to make your products and services compatible with it, and take advantage of it. 

8. Solar Paint
Quantum dots work in two directions: running power through them generates illumination, as described above, and shining light on them generates power. A research team at University of Notre Dame is developing "solar paint" that uses quantum dots to produce energy. Their goal is to create an affordable coating that can be applied to conductive surfaces without special equipment.

"The best light-to-energy conversion efficiency we've reached so far is 1 percent, which is well behind the usual 10 to 15 percent efficiency of commercial silicon solar cells," explains one of the scientists. "But this paint can be made cheaply and in large quantities. If we can improve the efficiency somewhat, we may be able to make a real difference in meeting energy needs in the future." They call the technology, "Sun-Believable."
Two types of solar paint, coated onto optically
transparent electrodes.

Their work uses nano-sized particles of titanium dioxide coated with either cadmium sulfide or cadmium selenide. Nano titanium dioxide is already used in "self-cleaning" concrete, where it acts as a semi-conductor to convert sunlight into electrical charges that convert pollutants into relatively benign compounds.

Development of solar paint may cross-fertilize with other innovations. For example, WE Energies has developed electrically-conductive concrete that, when used with the new paint, could conceivably form an electrical generating and storage system that is built into the very structure of a building.

We should proceed with caution, as potential risks of nanoparticles are still being assessed. For example, the nanoparticles in self-cleaning concrete accelerate deterioration of concrete, and may be detrimental to fragile ecosystems if released into the environment through erosion or improper disposal.

Recommendation: Both of the materials mentioned here are products that multi-task.  It's a property often associated with the move towards greater sustainability.  It's worth asking yourself if the things you make could do more than they do now.