SIH-North helps construction with digitization effort
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SIH-North helps construction with digitization effort

After industry, the Smart Industry Hub North now wants to inspire the northern construction sector to invest in a factory of the future. Together with construction organizations BuildinG and Bowinn, a nice first step was recently taken to this end. 'It is easier for the construction industry to step in than, say, ten years ago.'

It is Friday, October 1, around noon when Hans Praat walks out of the Bowinn campus Noordoost Fryslân building in Dokkum in good spirits. There, at the place where knowledge and innovation in construction come together, a promising kick-off has just taken place. The kick-off of a collaboration between the Smart Industry Hub Noord (SIH-North) and the northern construction sector, to be precise. And yes, of course the business developer of the NOM and also quartermaster of SIH-North could not be missing there. 'It was a more than successful morning with seven enthusiastic companies,' says Hans. 'Exclusively manufacturers of building components, such as facade systems, window frames and prefab components. Classic manufacturing companies where digitization is very relevant and becoming more and more relevant.'

The enthusiasm of the companies present at the first meeting of the Smart Industry Hub North for the construction sector at Bowinn, campus for innovation in construction in Dokkum, reflected well the need to start sharing knowledge cross-sectorally together with the manufacturing industry in the process of industrialization and digitalization of the overall production process in construction.
Martin van der Veen, director Bowinn

Digital opportunities

For some time SIH-North has been firmly committed to supporting industrial companies in the Northern Netherlands in the development of Smart Industry or Industry 4.0, as the far-reaching digitization of production means, devices and factories is called. To this end, a vision and various services have been developed on the basis of previous projects, including the well-known Northern Fieldlab Region of Smart Factories. 'We want the thinking of the Smart Industry community to be rolled out across the region,' Hans argues. 'Especially in sectors that are important to the Northern Netherlands economy and where digitization is playing an increasingly prominent role. So the first sector where we are going to do that, after the manufacturing industry, is construction. Thus, together with BuildinG and Bowinn, we want construction companies to take advantage of digital opportunities to strengthen their position. The goal of the crossover is to transfer experiences from the manufacturing industry to the construction sector. At the same time, we introduce companies to solution providers who can help accelerate the transition to a smart factory. Initially, as mentioned, we are zooming in on manufacturers of building components.'

Strong sector

Indeed, led by numerous innovative companies, construction has become a strong sector for the Northern Netherlands economy. To maintain this upward trend, it is important to strategically anticipate the upcoming wave of digitization. Although, actually, it is already in full swing. Just look at the rapid rise of digital technologies such as 3D printing, artificial intelligence, robotics and sensoring in the sector. All technologies that allow for more efficient operations and significantly reduce failure costs. That's great, especially now that the construction industry faces the enormous social task of building many tens of thousands of homes a year and making them more sustainable. Yet it is proving difficult for many construction companies to make the digitalization transition.

'Construction is of course very traditional and sensitive to economic cycles,' Hans explains. 'After the financial crisis in 2008, for example, the sector was in a prolonged dip; now the growth is barely keeping up. These dynamics did not make it any easier to invest in digitization for a long time. Currently, many solutions surrounding Smart Industry are already fairly crystallized and others are rapidly taking shape. So it is easier to step in than say ten years ago. And that is precisely where we can and want to offer support.'

The major challenges facing the construction industry call for smarter and more efficient work. Digitalization and industrialization are key. This development is important for an economically vital building chain from manufacturer to architect and contractor, but also essential in the context of sustainable and circular construction. In this regard, construction can learn a lot from other sectors and it is great that we have been able to take this first step in the cooperation with the SIH. For us an important connection in BRAINR, learning network for intelligent construction.
Rolf Koops, director BuildinG

Smart Industry Assessment

Back to the kick-off last October 1. What specifically did that morning look like? And especially: how to proceed? 'First of all, we told the participating companies, based in part on experiences from the manufacturing industry, about the possibilities of Smart Industry and how they can apply smart technology to create new business opportunities,' Hans looks back. 'After that we did a mini-assessment, a light version of the Smart Industry Assessment that we are conducting in the follow-up process. It is a proven instrument to gauge in a structured way where manufacturing companies stand in terms of digitization, where they want to go and what needs to be done to become a smart factory. The evaluation of the mini-assessment made it clear that the participating building component manufacturers still have a long way to go. While they are all frontrunners in their fields. During such an assessment you are held up to a mirror and confronted with the facts. But above all you gain insight into the possibilities for improvement and you notice that the gains are there for the taking.

Nice base

So soon after the kick-off, the participants will go through the "real" Smart Industry Assessment under the guidance of SIH consultants. The assessment encompasses the entire business operation, with a wide variety of questions to be answered on 35 topics. This is followed by a meeting between Smart Factory solution providers and the construction industry. Besides discussing the results of the assessments, there will then also be an extensive debate about the challenges facing the sector and, of course, what solutions are possible. 'But during that meeting we will also take stock of ideas for further cooperation in the future,' Hans emphasizes. 'At least during the kick-off in Dokkum we laid a nice foundation for that. We are now still working individually with about seven companies, but construction and contracting companies that still want to join this process are very welcome. We want to reach the entire northern construction industry as soon as possible. It is our ambition to accelerate at least 300 regional companies in the North towards Smart Industry.'