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“Kijk bij industrialisatie naar het strategische geheel”

Platform PREFAB had een chat-interview met Prof. Dr. Daniel Hall, Assistant Professor Innovative & Industrial Construction, ETH Zurich, over zijn onderzoeken en de belangrijke thema´s binnen industrialisatie.

Hij pleit voor een ‘holistic and strategic approach’. “I think the most important challenge is creating interconnected manufacturing systems that enables offsite synergy but without relying on full integration.”

You are a professor of innovative & Industrial Construction at ETH Zurich. Is it true that you are one of the few professors in this field?

Yes, and in particular with a focus on industrialization, there are few professors. But the interest is growing!

What studies are you currently working on?

Our two main research areas are industrialized construction and decentralized and autonomous systems in construction (e.g. Blockchain).

How are other stakeholders, such as suppliers or builders, involved in your studies?

Yes, we have several industry collaborators. One in particular to mention is the general contractor Implenia AG, who is also a sponsor of my chair. We work with them to study and implement innovative solutions for construction. We have realized several highly successful master theses together, and have had many discussions about how Implenia can evolve to become a future leader of industrialized construction.

Your research area; industrialized construction, what is it aimed at specifically?

In general, we hope to illustrate that industrialized construction is more than prefabrication or offsite. I view industrialized construction as a holistic and strategic approach, which includes some form of industrialization of the production process. Specifically, we have four key current areas: 1) Resource Efficiency & Circular Economy 2) Configurators and Fabrication-Aware Design Tools 3) Project and Design management for Digital Fabrication and 4) New business models and entrepreneurship for offsite and robotic construction.

What is your ultimate goal in researching blockchain applications?

This one is more difficult, but I would summarize it like this. The future built environment will be made of digital twins, and we imagine blockchain as the best way to govern that cyber-physical space. This also moves towards ideas of Industry 4.0 and industrialized supply chains, but is not about the production methods. 

With regard to your research area in industrial construction, have these studies already resulted in pilot projects? What applications have been used to date?

Many of our early work has been descriptive. In many ways, there has been a lot of recent innovation in industry, and we have been trying to describe what is happening. Moving forward, we have started a new research project called “7DayHouse – Fabrication-aware Generative Design” that will result in a physical prototype.

Can you tell us a bit more about the 7DayHouse project. What is the aim of this project?

We try to radically reimagine the process for buying a home. We ask the question, what would it take to buy a house, and have it delivered within 7 days? In Day 1, you complete the design, receive a price, and then hit send to the factory. Fabrication and assembly follow in the next 6 days. To do this, we use generative design, but with one addition. We also model the constraints of the industrialized supply chains and prefabrication methods. 

In the end, we imagine a new customer journey where an immersive design process (maybe even in Virtual Reality) provides real time feedback on costs, aesthetic, and layout. And as soon as the customer clicks buy, the industrialized construction supply chain is mobilized for rapid delivery of the design. We are just starting, but the concept of a 7DayHouse provides the overarching challenge for our research. You can follow our updates here.

If we look at the macro developments surrounding industrialization, what do you think is the most important offsite building challenge worldwide?

The recent push has been towards vertical integration, which was the simplest way to integrate a design-to-production workflow, but is also very risky given the economics of our cyclical industry. I think the most important challenge is creating interconnected manufacturing systems that enables offsite synergy but without relying on full integration.

Is this also the theme for Europe?

Yes. Just in the last few years, I have seen new vertically-integrated timber startups emerge such as this in Austria and this in Spain. I have seen less emerge about interconnected manufacturing systems, but I think it is only a matter of time. 

Which organizations are real front runners in industrialization in your opinion and why?

It depends on if you look at a project orientation or companies with a product-platform orientation. For projects, I would have to mention our recent DFAB House completed at ETH Zurich. These are cutting edge innovations, but we are working now on translation of research invention to market innovation.

For companies, my answer starts with BoKlok in Sweden, a joint venture of Skanska and IKEA. They have been working in industrialized construction for over 20 years and have a lot of experience to share. In Switzerland, we have many good timber manufacturers such as ERNE, Renggli, and Blumer-Lehmann who will increasingly play a role in mass timber, and also innovations around 3D printing of concrete such as Mobbot.  I see other leaders in Europe including Bryden Wood, Goldbeck, and CREE Rhomberg, but there are just too many to name!

Which start-up should we keep an eye on?

You can look at any of the alumni speakers at the Stanford Industrialized Construction Forum to learn about who is doing interesting things. In particular from our 2021 event, I expect big things from Intelligent City in Vancouver and Canoa in NY. Google Sidewalk is rebranding their Mass Timber Factory approach, so you can keep an eye on them. For 3D printing of houses, ICON and Mighty Buildings are also doing some interesting things. There are also some interesting startups out there still in stealth mode, but with some impressive results. So, there are big things still to come!

Last question: What would you like to convey to our readers in terms of tips, tricks or inspiration?

If you think of prefabrication on a project-by-project basis, but without investing in stable processes and continuity of supply chain, you are only receiving a fraction of its potential benefits. Industrialized Construction requires a holistic approach and a commitment to continuous improvement!

Thanks for your time Daniel. Good luck with your research and see you soon.

Thanks so much for having me!

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