The Engineering and Construction Industry's innovation ecosystem is increasingly globally intertwined, as major firms operate in many countries, sourcing and promoting new technology and ideas across geographic boundaries more quickly than ever. This October, we met with french engineering, construction, and concessions company, Vinci, a $63 billion firm, at their Leonard Innovation Center to learn more about just what innovation in the Buildings and Infrastructure sector looks like to a firm of this size. Listed among our 2022 Global Innovators, the firm also recently released a 2023 Yearbook, containing a comprehensive rundown of some of the hottest trend areas in innovation in infrastructure today mapped to some of the initiatives Vinci is undertaking in each. Here is a quick rundown:
Thinking About the Many Ways Cities Need to Be More Resilient
Smaller engineering and construction companies tend to look at innovation through the lens of the discreet end markets they serve, but not Vinci. Even as Vinci drills down into the component parts of our cities, they are thinking about how to impact major issues such as how to make cities more resilient against natural disasters, how to create cities that promote physical and mental health, and how even to support the development of technology that better insulates cities from threats of cyber attacks.
Water: Better Solutions for the Other 70 Percent of Our Planet
Even as the team at Vinci's Leonard is rethinking our approach to urban planning, mobility, and agriculture, they are also focused on what they call the Blue Economy which promises major opportunities for innovation in solutions for our oceans and seas, which cover 70 percent of the planet's surface. Citing no fewer than half a dozen ways to generate energy from the sea, Leonard has experimented with pioneering everything from drones that can inspect offshore wind turbines to seawater air-conditioning systems.
Mobility: Connecting and Decarbonizing
Pierre Delaigue, Vinci's director of connected, autonomous, and electricity mobility projects at Leonard works across Vinci business units on the future of how goods and people move via roadways. In an age of smart infrastructure, this effort means being able to think about how autonomous technology is influencing the future of passenger car, bus, and track traffic. It also means thinking about technology's abilities to better predict and manage circulation in cities.
Energy: Promoting the Development of Green Hydrogen
France has actually developed four gigafactories to produce "green hydrogen," a potentially abundant source of energy that can be made in a more ecologically sound way than current commercial methods through a process called water electrolysis if, at scale, that process can become economically competitive and if, also, the hydrogen can effectively be transported. It is a daunting task, but progress is being made, and the result for the world's energy options could be profound.
Future of Design: Beyond Our Physical Universe, Lies the Metaverse, and a Vast Digital Twin
Citing ambitious digital twin projects such as Metaverse Seoul, Vinci is pushing the bounds of building modeling for use in everything from promotion of collaboration among construction teams via a startup called The Wild to working with the City of Paris to help drive more effective maintenance of the City's sewer and water system.
Materials: Through the Reduce and Reuse Lens
Carbon reduction is a clear priority for this European construction leader, and accomplishing that means reduction of carbon emitting concrete on job sites. Because it is so ubiquitous in construction and also because it is such a high energy, carbon emitting product in its traditional form, rethinking concrete is a major priority for the industry. Beyond building materials, though, Vinci is thinking about prioritizing reuse and recycling of impaired land sites in urban centers as way to combat urban sprawl and to promote ease of mobility in cities.
For more on Vinci's commitment to innovation in circular economy, read this latest report "Circular economy: Leonard presents solutions for taking action in construction" produced in association with Circul'R.
Workforce: Redefining Workforce Health by Leveraging Technology and Going Beyond Prevention of Physical Injuries
Another major trend Vinci is tapping into is thinking beyond reduction of physical worker injuries. Even as the industry continues to combat workplace injuries, intention has increasingly turned to broader thinking about worker wellbeing in leading construction companies around the world. Companies like Vinci are looking at health and improvement of environmental factors surrounding workers and also the overall mental health and even happiness of the workforce. Leveraging technology to improve training and communication and to look for signs of disaffected workers has become a hot area of focus for the industry, in general, and Vinci has put the topic on their innovation roadmap.
Past Designing and Building, a World of Technology Leveraged Preventative Maintenance
Mega-firms like Vinci are typically involved in the full lifecycle of the buildings and infrastructure assets the work on, and Vinci is no exception. With that full lifecycle involvement come even greater opportunities to leverage data captured in digital twins through the design, construction and operations and maintenance of infrastructure. There is also enhanced opportunity to install sensor technology to capture data to help monitor the health of structures and to address issues in building performance more efficiently and before they have the opportunity to lead to added and more costly issues.
In summary, it is a sweeping look at many of the areas in which the Buildings and Infrastructure Industry needs to improve and some of the ideas and emerging technology that is helping enable that improvement. Leonard's team offer a road map that encompasses all structures on land and sea, all types of infrastructure, and also the full life cycle of projects from planning and design through construction and operations and maintenance. This is a breadth and depth of analysis rarely found in the United States, and it affords unique opportunities to foster solutions that are more robust because they are informed by a view of the forest through the trees.
For more on Leonard's activities, see their 2023 Yearbook, aptly entitled the New Worlds, and join us next June 25, 2024 when we will spend a full day at Leonard hearing from their team members and partners in greater depth about the topics referenced above and much more as part of four days of programming on the Future of the Built World's Industry's at our 2024 BuiltWorlds Paris Summit.
Additionally, there will be an opportunity to meet Vinci team members and learn more about what is in store at BuiltWorlds' Venture East Conference in November.