I just came back from Brändön, north of Luleå which on the latitude 65.6 degrees North. Fantastic. When people up here say "Winter, ", they're not kidding. Luleå is where my second workplace is, Luleå University of Technology (aka LTU). For almost fifteen years, the researchers in timber structures at LTU have developed their group and their research from structures and engineering details to the processes of the timber housing manufacturing industry. The research subjects now span from client decision-making to efficiency in design. The common denominator in all work is Mode II research on efficiency in systems building.
Brändön looked like this in January 2012. Eight degrees below freezing, overcast, snowfall, no wind, no sound. Beautiful.
At LTU, apart from structural engineering, the main strength areas are production, systems building and supply chain management. The main ability of this group of researchers is to be able to identify problems and propose solutions for the companies, and use the empiric material gathered to address gaps in the academic literature.
All work is done in close collaboration with the industry. The plan has been set in motion to move from housing manufacturing to general systems building, based on other types of platforms and systems. My regular workplace NCC is one of a handful of companies that spearhead this development in general construction. Hence my position as adjunct professor at LTU. My job is to connect the two.
At the meeting we just concluded, we agreed that it is time we decided on what our image is for the future of the sector. The contemporary trends in the construction sector are beginning to be sufficiently established so we can extrapolate them into a scenario for the future. Trends where the LTU research would be relevant include increased demands on commercialization of research (innovation) and on reduction of production costs. They also include the current struggle with value chain integration, the emerging renovation sector and the rules and regulations for construction being emerging fields of focus, the ageing and increasing individualism of the clients, and the climate issue substituting energy as focal point. We are going to pool our resources and write these trends form the viewpoint of what we should be doing in 2022, and in the years leading up to 2022.
If we can agree on such a scenario, we could deconstruct it into tasks that our research group should focus on. What is our role in this development? What can we contribute to the sector? Which projects are needed? Who should we connect with, work with and learn more from? The scenario would in effect function as our strategic – and maybe even operative – compass.
Personally, I think that LTU timber structures are a research group unparalleled in Sweden when it comes to giving research-based practical advice on systems building for the construction industry. We should be more outspoken with what our thoughts on the current developments are. I am honoured to head the work on our scenario for the future. Maybe me having been the main author of the ECTP Vision for 2030 (pdf) had something to do with it. Anyways, we decided that a decade is a suitable time-frame, so the future scenario will look to 2022. We’re going to flesh out a draft and then discuss it with colleagues in the sector. Reality-check alert.
We are looking to create a situation where our work is pulled from the needs of the recipients even more than it is now. We’re also widening the scope by including the general construction supply chain and its clients. In the past, we have tended to polarize between systems building (which we called industrial construction and everybody seemed to misunderstand) and traditional, project-based construction. The latter is still the overwhelming majority of all construction and evolves only slowly. Putting it down because it is not radical enough only alienates people. Our plan for the future is radical, but the first step towards it is likely not. So, we’re increasingly focussing on the slow evolution of traditional logic to a situation where construction has a coherent supply-chain, the habit of small recurrent improvements, and all the other traits of systems-based building. Maybe our niche is to give advice to companies on how to take each step to get to that 2022 future. We might even be able to push a few companies over the the crest of that hill. We’ll see. The work on the scenario is a start.
Anyone else out there doing anything similar? I’d love to hear from you.
¡Viva La Evolución!
Images by Dan Engström, Creative Commons.