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Innovation in construction: wood and steel

Innovation in construction is vital – helping the industry to solve problems and meet new challenges; maintain safety standards; and to work more efficiently, cost-effectively and sustainably. Here’s a roundup of recent industry innovation, with a focus on construction materials.
 
Concrete
 
Each year 29 million cubic metres of pre-mixed concrete is used on construction projects across Australia. The demand for concrete makes this construction material ripe for innovation – particularly in relation to performance and sustainability. Current trends include the introduction of recycled tyres and glass to the concrete mix, and the quest to achieve more durable, and maintenance-free concrete products.  
 
Tyres
 
Partnering with industry, The University of South Australia and RMIT have developed a residential concrete that incorporates recycled tyres. In tests, reinforced Crumbed Rubber Concrete (or CRC) achieves better fire resistance than traditional concrete. CRC also provides a valuable recycling opportunity for some of the 56 million end-of-life tyres generated in Australia each year. Another benefit of introducing rubber to concrete, is that it can replace some of the natural sand aggregate currently sourced from finite sources like rivers and beaches. 
 
Glass
 
Recycled glass is now being turned back into sand and introduced into polymer concrete. This innovation is proving to enhance the quality, strength and water resistance of this type of concrete, whilst also providing a sustainable way to divert glass jars and bottles from landfill. Cullet (made from crushed glass) is another effective fine aggregate substitute for beach and river sand.
 
Durable, low maintenance concrete
 
Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have developed a new high performance concrete called Superhydrophobic Engineered Cementitious Composite (SECC) – specifically designed to improve the performance of bridge decks joints, where the asphalt meets the concrete. Researchers estimate that this innovative, highly durable, crack-resistant and waterproof concrete will have a service life of 120 years or more.
 
Wood
 
Deakin University is investigating the use and limitations of Australian made Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) as a more sustainable and efficient construction material. As the name suggests, this engineered timber is manufactured by layering laminated wood in opposing directions.
 
 Known benefits include:
 

  • Exceptional strength to weight ratio
  • CLT is manufactured to required measurements, producing less waste
  • Prefabrication of CLT  allows panels to be manufactured and assembled offsite, improving the speed of construction. 
  • For improved environmental performance, wood for CLT can be sourced from sustainably managed forests. It also requires less water, energy and fossil fuels to manufacture than concrete and steel.

 
Steel
 
Engineering students at Monash University spent over six years researching and developing lightweight, ultra-high strength steel for use in construction. Today Coates Hire is partnering with university to apply this innovative steel to the world’s safest and most efficient ground support systems.
 
Throughout this partnership, Coates Hire will support PhD projects focused on developing lighter, but stronger temporary engineering solutions, pioneering the deployment of this steel innovation to the Australian construction industry.
 
Prefabrication
 
Prefabrication and offsite construction techniques continue to grow in popularity. The Melbourne School of Engineering predicts that prefabrication will account for 15 per cent of the Australian construction market by 2025.
 
Highlighting the importance of this construction technique, the Australian Government recently announced a $2M investment into prefabrication innovation. This investment will be channelled into a collaborative innovation laboratory (or ‘Prefab Lab’)  support to manufacturers in designing more sustainable and affordable prefabricated building solutions. 
 
Which construction industry innovations excite your business? Where should innovation be focused in our industry? Please share your thoughts and feedback via LinkedIn.
 
 

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