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By James Galvin
January 17, 2018
Recent research has found a widening gulf between construction academia and the culture of the construction industry that the group seeks to represent. This movement across all sectors has resulted in a proposition by the Australian Federal Government to measure the practical impact of academic research on the industry.
This practical impact will then result in further funding from the government. It is going to be measured in two ways.
The first method involves the understanding of fundamental knowledge of what plays a crucial role in the early phases of the innovation process in a specific industry, yet is unlikely to be invested in by a business.
The second method involved the development of human capital capabilities. These are needed in the process of opening people’s minds and their education, and results in the skills to generate and implement new ideas.
Martin Loosemore, a Professor of Construction Management at the University of New South Wales, Sydney discusses the shift: “Not only does academic research often take too long to produce any findings, but the results can be too theoretical to use and can raise more questions than answers or be too radical to implement in the real world.
“It’s not surprising, therefore, that recent research showed that the main source of information for decision-making among some construction professionals is the internet, followed by trade journals and magazines. Academic peer-reviewed papers rank a distant last.” (UNSW Newsroom)
This disconnect is suggested to be a result of academics having an in-depth knowledge of smaller areas of expertise. Everyday practitioners, on the other hand, rely on having a vast area of expertise, even though they are generally not as knowledgeable about any specific area.
Although it’s important for universities to offer students and academics the options to conduct innovative research, it’s also crucial this innovative research is relevant to the needs and requirements of the industry today.
Martin Loosemore provides examples as to where this shift has already happened: “China has been particularly proactive in promoting the role of its burgeoning universities in driving its innovation ecosystem, enhancing the competitiveness of its construction industry in the process.”
“Disappointingly, the Chinese construction industry has also been the first to adopt new technologies being developed in Australian universities that local construction firms have been reluctant to support. For example, China has become the world’s largest producer of solar cells on the back of technologies developed in Australia which were not able to be funded by our own entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.”
A prime example of a positive Australian initiative to combat this widening gap is the award of AUD$5 million by the Australian Research Council to Monash University. In a move to revolutionise the Australian construction sector, Monash University will set up a nanomaterials research hub with a multidisciplinary team to research new-age construction materials.
The Nanocomm Hub is a joint Australian Research Council and industry-funded initiative aiming to be a pioneer of research into materials such as cement additives, concrete structures, high-performance construction materials, polymer composites and structures.
Professor and Nanocomm Director Wenhui Duan discusses the goals of the research centre and the aim to discover innovative new products: “This is only the start of our journey to truly transform the way construction materials are manufactured in Australia. Through our work and our close connections to the industry, we are ensuring future advancement of the sector.
“We are at an exciting time in the field of nanoscience and nanoengineering. The Nanocomm Hub researchers and partners will be able to use this ground-breaking technology to transform the way we live.” (Architecture and Design)
So far there have been 38 Nanocomm Hub projects reported to have research teams already filing one patent with more in development. There has been some reportable success in the construction of lighter, stronger frameworks with fewer materials, resulting in a faster construction time at a lower cost of labour and material. The research has also had success in the development of a membrane that filters and separates wastewater for acid waste recovery.
The advancement of these building methods and materials and further innovative and relevant research is necessity for the Australian construction industry to adapt to the changing industry and consumer perception. Universities and research are now more relevant than ever to ensure the construction workforce is knowledgeable and protected.
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