Collaboration is Key to Successful Construction Innovation

Finnish construction sector companies have gained a lot by collaborating with Aalto University. That was the overall sentiment at the Aalto Civil Engineering Day, which took place on April 25, 2024, at Dipoli in Otaniemi, Finland.

The afternoon event was packed with short presentations by both academics and businesses. Here are some of the ideas I picked at the event.

Think bigger!

Virpi Mikkonen, Account Lead at Business Finland, noted that construction industry companies could be more ambitious in their R&D projects.

Virpi reminded the audience that innovations in every industry are the source of growth and driver of exports and that the most innovative companies are also strong collaborators.

Collaborating with other businesses and researchers can reduce risks and speed up R&D efforts. Co-innovation is a sound strategy for gaining a competitive advantage and growing.

A consortium for innovation and research

The Building 2030 consortium, a group of 21 construction sector companies and Aalto University is an example of collaboration that has already yielded measurable benefits. Professor Olli Seppänen gave an overview of the consortium’s work that started in 2016.

The companies defined a shared vision for the industry and have used the university to provide them with the latest industry knowledge. They fund research and have a say on the topics of each year’s research agenda.

A similar group for building services started recently, with two Finnish universities and 14 industry partners.

Skanska scales for success

Two companies, Skanska and Granlund, presented their views on the benefits of working with Aalto University and other industry forerunners.

Skanska Finland’s Senior Vice President Jan Elfving (pictured) praised the collaboration within Building 2030.
Jan said that a word he doesn’t fancy is “piloting.” Anyone can do one successful pilot project, but what matters is scaling. He emphasized that collaboration within Building 2030 is part of Skanska’s continuous improvement process.

“Systematic innovation needs and ecosystem,” he said, “and Building 2030 is the most important ecosystem for us in Finland.”

Building 2030 has researched and promoted Takt production, a productivity-enhancing lean construction methodology that has become Skanska Finland’s core competency.

Granlund systematically invests in innovation

Granlund is a design and consulting firm that invests 6% of its net sales annually in innovation. For them, innovation is a critical element of the business.

Tuomas Laine, the company’s senior advisor, discussed their innovation strategy, which I have helped them devise twice.
Granlund collaborates with researchers in several international R&D projects.

The employee-owned company of over 1,400 professionals has seen remarkable growth driven by incessant and systematic innovation.

Tuomas Laine, Granlund

The key takeaway

It was inspiring to see how many-sided and high-level civil engineering research is at Aalto University, ranging from nano-level material science to AI for construction management.

As Jan pointed out, companies can collaborate with researchers to tap into this knowledge and gain remarkable business benefits with relatively small investments.

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