The construction industry needs innovation. Do constructors need it?

Construction quality improvement and innovation seem to be different topics, but every year they are becoming more and more interrelated and impossible without each other. Still, they are developing in a parallel way. And, unfortunately, until they are realised there won’t be great progress in the construction complex.

 

According to old patterns

Presently, all advanced construction technologies are available in Russia. However, they are not widely used. According to Ilya Ponomaryov, member of the Public Council of the RF Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities, one of the reasons is the industry’s excessive deregulation, “We have overdone with it”. There were 20,000—30,000 design and construction organisations in the USSR. In contemporary Russia there are over 200,000, and they are difficult to manage. 

Construction in the USSR was safe and reliable; in the countries where Soviet builders worked it is also remembered with gratitude. But, presently, both safety and reliability are often disregarded.

In 2016 the construction industry worked at a 5.9% efficiency while  inflation constituted 5.4%. It is a very disturbing index when the construction capacities are only 60% loaded. Without innovations the construction complex will have a hard time.

The economic principles of territorial planning should also be afforded attention. By now, there are no criteria of the process’s efficiency. Housing project designers do not know the integrated result of their planning. The urban development plan serves only as a referential document. So, why should they introduce innovations if nobody demands efficiency, Ilya Ponomarev asks. 

 

Ilya Ponomarev: «In 2016 the construction industry worked at 5.9% efficiency while the inflation constituted 5.4%. It is a very disturbing index when the construction capacities are only 60% loaded. Without innovations the construction complex will have a hard time»

 

One of the greatest challenges for the implementation of innovations is the system of project design and expert evaluation. Designers make projects but there is no guarantee that they will be implemented in their original form. Construction design documents may be cardinally changed when compared with the project design. Technological innovations initially included in a project might disappear at another stage; their implementation depends greatly on contractors.

The creation of end-to-end project management appears to be important in such conditions, and accordingly the demand for innovations will increase. 

Meanwhile, municipal administrations have no ambition for the provision of new technologies. They are trying to allot land plots for construction on the outskirts where there is not any engineering infrastructure already in place. Constructors, on the contrary, prefer to build in habitable areas where there is work and housing is demanded. As a result of such a policy construction companies have to suffer additional expenditures, and they have more important things to think about than innovations. Finding enough money for the connection to engineering networks becomes a problem. This is why new regions are constructed that are based on old patterns.  

 

On a rotten foundation

Any construction process starts with a geotechnical investigation. If it is of high quality, it is half the battle for the whole project. But, according to Mikhail Bogdanov, President of the Coordinative Council of the Association for Engineering Survey in Construction, an integral regulatory framework has not yet been formed in this sphere. More than that, new regulatory documents result in an increase of the construction cost.

 

Mikhail Bogdanov: «The situation is aggravated by the low quality of the engineering work. It is explained by the fact that,  actually, any company can enter the market. Self-regulating organisations are inefficient, and everybody may get a license. Not so long ago there were 6,000 approval documents, whilst presently there are 14,000»

 

These are just some of the examples. According to the new regulatory documents, it is stipulated that construction should be carried out as in earthquake zones, despite the region being seismically safe, and this results in additional unreasonable expenditures.

The situation is aggravated by the low quality of the engineering work. It is explained by the fact that, actually, any company can enter the market. Self-regulating organisations are inefficient, and everybody may get a license. Not so long ago there were 6,000 approval documents, whilst presently there are 14,000.

The way the status of an expert is granted is not clear either. And,  consequently, half of all expert evaluations are carried out with payoffs. It is easy to imagine the quality of such evaluations. According to Mikhail Bogdanov, up to 80% of all expert evaluations are invalid to a greater or lesser extent.

 

Future becomes present

The situation might improve due to the use of BIM technologies. On April 12, the RF Government signed a road map for informational modeling implementation in construction. “This means that BIM technologies will work in Russia” — Ivan Shtayer, Head of the Informational Technologies Department of the BIM Association, exclaims.

Not so long ago BIM technologies were considered to be a long distant future. Now it is clear that they will shortly and cardinally change the whole construction industry.

 

Ivan Shtayer: «One must understand that BIM technologies are not a panacea, their efficiency depends on the general level of the digital development of the construction industry»

 

BIM technologies provide an opportunity to alter the concept of a building throughout its life cycle. They make it possible to focus during the pre-investment feasibility study. It then becomes clear if the project is worth investing in and how to make it cheaper, and what materials and new technological solutions should be used. All these make it possible to predict how the structure will “behave” at the operational stage.

One must understand that BIM technologies are not a panacea, their efficiency depends on the general level of the digital development of the construction industry, Ivan Shtayer warns.

 

Standards and prospects

This optimistic forecast might get broken against a backward normative system.  

According to Pavel Goriachkin, President of the Estimator-engineers’ Union, although the issue is often spoken about, it proceeds too slowly.  Many advanced technological solutions cannot be introduced to a project because the expert evaluation will not adopt them. Following him, some work is being done, of course, but it resembles its imitation and not real work. The RF Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities introduced new norms and standards to the prices in 2000, and the document itself is based on drafts from the middle of the 1950s.

 

Pavel Goriachkin: «Though the issue is often spoken about, it proceeds too slowly.  Many advanced technological solutions cannot be introduced to a project because the expert evaluation will not adopt them»

 

Meanwhile, there are no unsolvable issues for the creation of a really modern regulatory base. If the base appears, it will provide the impulse for the implementation of innovations, improving the quality of construction work, and its primary cost decrease. Presently, it is often the other way round: construction companies, profiting by the imperfection of the regulatory documents, and raised prices. And there are quite a lot of examples. 

Dmitry Philippov, Director of Technical Regulation Department of the Russian Constructors’ Association, agrees that the regulatory base is a lame duck. It is both backward and too regulated. Another approach to the issue should be developed. It should be based on the cancellation of the strict regulation and norm setting for flexible methods in the use of regulatory documents. All the countries that have succeeded chose this way.

The regulatory system’s reformation is based on the choice of the way of its functioning. In Russia, a prescriptive (or a directive) method is mainly used, and is characterised by heavy regulations of all processes. On the contrary, a parametric method giving an opportunity to treat the normative regulations’ flexibly is used in the world for norm setting. 

 

Pavel Goriachkin: «The RF Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities introduced new norms and standards to the prices of 2000, and the document itself is based on drafts from the middle of the 1950s»

 

Additionally, many norms are actually out of sync with each other. The reason is that the RF Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities, and the RF Ministry of Industry and Trade, are regulating the construction complex, and they are constantly having an interagency scramble.

Meanwhile, our partners in the EAEU are well ahead in the sphere of norms and regulations. For example, Belarus introduced euro-codes which helped to arrange the export of 36 types of construction materials to the EC. And in Russia these issues must be solved urgently, as the condition of the whole construction complex depends on them.

 

Dmitry Philippov: «Besides, many norms are actually out of sync with each other. The reason is that the RF Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities and the RF Ministry of Industry and Trade are regulating the construction complex, and they are constantly having an interagency scramble»

 

The topic is becoming even more timely in connection with the grandiose project concerning Moscow’s residential housing reconstruction. If it is fulfilled by the new regulatory and technological foundation, a real opportunity is likely to appear to make the project significantly cheaper: to build quality housing at much lower prices. 

The question, however, is if it is profitable for everybody? Does everybody want to achieve these goals?

Vladimir GURVICH

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