Catalyst for change: Ireland’s new Construction Technology Centre

by | Sep 4, 2022

The centre will be hosted by NUI Galway and includes a consortium of Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and University College Cork working with the Irish Green Building Council, pictured above are some of those involved in the project

What will Ireland’s new Construction Technology Centre mean for the industry here? Enterprise Ireland’s Technology Centre Programme Manager, Declan McGee tells Construction Magazine about the rationale behind its establishment and its potential to support innovation and the adoption of emerging technologies in the construction industry

Declan McGee describes how Enterprise Ireland has worked with IDA Ireland on the Technology Centre Programme for over a dozen years. Technology Centres are making a measurable difference to companies in specific sectors like food, pharmaceuticals and microelectronics, he says.

Centres with mandates in manufacturing, data analytics and learning technologies are also having significant impacts across a broader range of companies. Lessons from Technology Centres in different industries show the potential impacts for the construction industry, though McGee notes “there is no like-forlike comparison”.

Nonetheless, the capacity to improve productivity in manufacturing could have important lessons for the construction industry.

“We’re now looking to harness the successful role of Technology Centres and their ability to solve sector wide innovation challenges to support the technology transformation of the entire construction and built environment sector,” he adds.

“This initiative has been a long time coming,” he says. And one thing that has become clear is the scale of work that was needed to get here. The construction industry poses unique challenges for this type of project, McGee believes.

“It is such a complex industry in terms of the number of stakeholders, the variance in types of companies and the large proportion of relatively smaller players in it.

“To ensure that the specification for the centre will meet the needs of the sector, we looked at best practice across the globe for construction innovation initiatives and we looked at current and emerging technology trends.

“In Ireland, we surveyed and spoke with companies and stakeholder groups right across the sector’s supply chain. Going through this process, confirmed just how much expertise there is out there. The level of support and willingness to contribute and collaborate on the process was very reassuring,” he adds.

The centre will be a single source of entry for all stakeholders in the industry to access expertise to deliver innovation.

The five research priority pillars for the centre are:

• Productivity, Affordability & Cost
• Quality & Safety
• Collaboration
• Sustainability
• Skills & Training

Pictured at the announcement of the contract for the new Construction Technology Centre are Frank Kelly, CIF President; Leo Clancy, Enterprise Ireland CEO; Tánaiste Leo Varadkar; Dr Magdalena Hajdukiewicz, Co-Director of Construction Technology Centre and Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at NUI Galway, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, President NUI Galway and Johanna Varghese, Irish Green Building Council

The centre’s will be hosted by NUI Galway with a consortium that includes Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and University College Cork working with the Irish Green Building Council.

McGee says: “This is not a closed shop for the four universities involved. These partners are eager to work right across the third-level ecosystem to find solutions for industry. Collaboration is going to be key to provide companies with a watering hole for innovation where they can come to work on shared challenges.

“A key benefit will be to demonstrate the value of industry-led research in improving productivity and meeting sustainability and climate change targets,” he explains.

“Ireland’s population hit five million last year and will continue to rise in the coming decades. Increasing population leading to increasing residential and infrastructure needs while meeting sustainability targets is a real challenge and ranked as the top priority for the stakeholders and companies we surveyed.”

Creating a sustainable industry

The Construction Technology Centre (CTC) exists in a wider context of initiatives and programmes aiming to create a more sustainable construction industry, economically and environmentally.

McGee discusses how in the context of the National Development Plan, with a record €165billion spend to the end of the decade, “any cost savings, quality improvements, and efficiencies that can be made, even incrementally, within the industry through the work of this centre will be critical.”

As an added benefit, the CTC will be able to inform and advise on the future skills required by the industry, ensuring that the training for workers in the industry will take account of emerging technologies and match future requirements.

That is not to say that the CTC is a silver bullet for all the challenges facing the industry. McGee recognises this saying: “Planning, procurement and contracts, regulation, education and skills shortages were all recognised in an economic analysis of productivity in the sector commissioned by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

“The Innovation and Digital Adoption Subgroup, led by PJ Rudden, has been critical in progressing a number of recommendations from that report in a very collaborative way.”

The CTC, on its own, isn’t going to magically solve every challenge but it can have a significant impact. It can be a catalyst for change and, together with other government initiatives such as the Build Digital Project launched in March and the Housing for All Demonstration Park to be developed at Mount Lucas, Co. Offaly, as well as Enterprise Ireland’s Built to Innovate programme, it will all contribute to a more competitive, sustainable and digitally enhanced construction sector.

The challenges for the sector are immense, but there is momentum behind a number of initiatives that, through collaboration, can help transform the entire sector and deliver an industry that is fit for purpose for decades to come.

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