Climate change, resource conservation and recycling—but also future working and living models—present the construction industry with major challenges Hence, the Fraunhofer Building Innovation Alliance and its member institutes are continuously researching and working on innovative products and system solutions.
Two research projects of the Fraunhofer Alliance for instance deal with the greening of urban surfaces: in the BUOLUS project, the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics IBP is investigating how publicly accessible surfaces such as settlement, traffic and, above all, building surfaces can be used for a better urban climate, while the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT is taking a closer look at the buildings themselves and is working on the vertical greening of buildings in urban areas. This is where the modular system “Vertical Green” comes into play, which is suitable for air purification in the city and achieves good environmental balances by improving the urban climate.
Construction research also focuses on effective recycling methods: Fraunhofer IBP is demonstrating how the principle of electrodynamic fragmentation can be used, for example, to selectively separate old concrete into its individual components and use them to produce new, high-quality concrete. In the future, this could help conserve finite resources, such as sand. Another example from product design is programmable insulating materials made of shape memory polymers that can change their shape depending on the outside temperature—achieving an insulating effect at low temperatures, while at high temperatures the facade is back-ventilated, thus reducing the room temperature. This joint project of various Fraunhofer institutes is part of the Fraunhofer Clusters of Excellence Programmable Materials CPM.
Other research projects are based on the increasing digitalization in the construction industry. Here, everyone talks about the “digital twin”, i. e. the virtual copy of a building that is created digitally before its actual realization. For an improved live effect, so-called demonstrators not only enable the visual reality to be experienced three-dimensionally, but also aspects such as the indoor climate (temperature, air flow or air quality) or acoustics. Even room elements such as furniture can be simulated. Such a digital twin, for example, enabled physicians and nursing staff to be involved in the planning of the clinic “Flugfeldklinikum” in Sindelfingen/Germany.
Another pilot project also demonstrates the usefulness of digitalization in construction planning: the Digital Room Book developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF was used for the first time during construction work at the Garching location of the Fraunhofer Institute for Casting, Composite and Processing Technology IGCV. This software guides through the recording of specifications. For example, it suggests sample rooms to an institute's building officers, from which they can select the ones that are suitable for them. The great advantage: the idea is to prevent that every new project, every budget plan, every cost estimate has to be started from scratch. Thanks to the digital room book, planners can learn from past construction projects and, for example, better estimate the costs of a new building based on similar buildings that have already been realized.
So, the construction industry carries great potential for change and innovation. For this reason—and in response to the findings of a study on the future—the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft decided to develop construction research into a lead market with the aim of offering a point of contact as central solution provider for the construction industry.
Text: Dipl.-Ing. Melanie Schlegel