Reusing asphalt or making a movable bridge deck out of biocomposite material are just two examples of innovation in the world of civil construction. Municipalities, provinces and other major infrastructure clients are in a position to push for such innovations in their tenders. But new techniques can come with construction risks that companies are not always willing to take. Bart Lenderink examined how the procurement strategies used by clients and contractors can best be used to promote innovation in civil engineering. He was recently awarded a PhD from the University of Twente for his research.
The construction and infrastructure sectors are major consumers of materials, and responsible for some 23 to 28 percent of total CO2 emissions. Construction also needs to become greener. Both sides of the industry – construction companies on the one hand and major public clients on the other – are aware of these issues. But how do you influence management processes as early as the tendering phase to encourage the implementation of new, more effective construction techniques and innovations in material use?
Grip on innovation and risks
Innovation carries financial risks for construction companies, and the research by Bart Lenderink and his colleagues in the Department of Construction Management and Engineering shows how essential it is to get a grip on this aspect of construction. The integrated contracts that are widely used tend to place a relatively high level of risk with the market actor. Combined with demands in the field of innovation, this can lead a market actor to withdraw from an assignment. The client can overcome this by creating greater scope for flexibility in the design requirements. If testing ends up casting doubt on the practicality of a radical solution, a construction company should still have the option of reverting to a more conventional approach. Lenderink argues that these recommendations call for the public client to play a more active and leading role during the project.
In addition, to ensure that this process stays on track, Lenderink and his colleagues Halman and Boes has developed a method for assessing innovations in tenders. It determines whether an innovation has already been widely adopted or is so radically new that it increases the chance of failure. Lenderink also considers the scale of the innovation: in the case of a bridge, are we talking about a key structural element or a railing? This allows those involved to assess the innovation risk more accurately in advance.
Cycle bridge in Ritsumasyl
For his PhD, Lenderink focused on a number of projects, including the construction of a new cycle bridge in the Frisian village of Ritsumasyl. This particular project was subject to a requirement from the province of Friesland that the road surface be made of an eco-friendly composite material, in line with the province’s sustainability goals. Once the tender process had been completed, engineers discovered that the mechanism for moving the bridge had to be modified because the bridge settled lower under its own weight than a conventional bridge deck. Due partly to the ‘space for solutions’ incorporated in the brief and the focus on developing and applying innovation as part of the design process, this bridge was nonetheless successfully completed.
Lenderink hopes that his recommendations will find their way to purchasing professionals and contract managers in the public sector, partly through the procurement expertise centre PIANOo. He points out that clients need to be aware of the considerable influence they have on innovative potential in the construction sector. In other words, the key to greener civil construction lies partly in their hands.
Bart Lenderink (Apeldoorn, 1989) conducted his research in the Department of Construction Management and Engineering at the University of Twente’s Faculty of Engineering Technology. He was recently awarded a PhD for his thesis entitled Innovation Encouraging Public Procurement in Civil Engineering: Different roads leading to different Romes. His supervisors were Professor Joop Halman, Dr Hans Voordijk and Professor Andre Dorée.