31. August 2020
The Center Building and Infrastructure Engineering (CBI) in the Construction Cluster started early last year with ten enrolled companies. Today, 22 companies from various sectors of the construction industry are actively involved in the CBI. The mission of the CBI is to find ways for more efficient implementations of innovations and technology transfers in close collaboration with the industry, accelerating the process between the lab and the construction site. Find out more about the CBI in our interview with Managing Director Dr.-Ing. Carl Richter.

What is the purpose of the Center Building and Infrastructure Engineering (CBI)? And what exactly do you offer enrolled members?

The many competences of the four RWTH institutes, which are Steel Construction, Solid Construction, Highway Engineering and Building Materials, are all bundled in the CBI. In partnership with our enrolled members from the construction sector, we work on the practicable implementation of innovative construction methods, materials or processes in close cooperation with the relevant government bodies. This method allows us to accelerate the often time-consuming processes of technology transfer to actual construction sites. A distinctive advantage here is most definitely the early involvement of relevant government bodies, who contribute their experience. In effect, we are able to comply with official requirements alongside technical specifications right from the start. That is why we offer companies full-service certifications for new products in addition to consortial project involvement.

The Center Building and Infrastructure Engineering (CBI) was founded in early 2019 – how was your start and what is your assessment?

The initiation phase of our center was a real challenge. The campus concept, meaning a non-competitive and cross-sector collaboration was a completely new idea for the construction sector. A lot of persuasion was needed initially to get potential partners on board. The topics were initially also very broad and varied, making it difficult to define the specifics of our first projects. This preparatory phase offered a special benefit for everyone involved, as constructive discussions brought to light new impulses. In January 2019, the CBI, alongside the four RWTH institutes and ten companies, finally left the starting blocks under the supervision and with the involvement of various government bodies. Within the first half year, we were able to initiate four technical projects focusing on the key topics of bridge construction, building construction and road construction.

Which four projects were those?

We focused on increasing acceptance for modular bridge construction, Shear capacity of reinforced concrete slabs with openings, for continuously reinforced concrete pavement and for hot-dip galvanized reinforced steel. All ten companies were involved in these projects to varying degrees. Two of the projects were completed within just four months. The other two projects are now in a further elaboration phase. To date, the number of enrolled members at the CBI has more than doubled and now stands at 22. That is partly due to the fact that the CBI has additionally gotten involved in the area of modular construction, for example with a project for the verification of fire protection for modular structures based on steel construction.

What projects are you currently working on? Could more companies still get involved at this point?

In addition to the five projects running right now, we are at the initiation stage for three projects focusing on infrastructure requirements for automated driving, industrial prefabrication and associated digitization needs.
In the area of modular construction, the CBI is working closely with enrolled members and the Ministry for Regional Identity, Communities and Local Government, Building and Gender Equality of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia on a practical guide for the verification of fire protectionproperties of modular building structures. There is a lot of uncertainty about this topic in the market, which will hopefully be resolved on the basis of our best practice guide to be published in late 2020. Another topic from the sector for bridge construction is working on increasing acceptance for modular bridges in Germany. The CBI has developed an initial draft with enrolled members, and is now heading in the direction of standardization. Other projects focusing on infrastructure requirements for automated driving or for industrially segmented construction are set to go underway in parallel. We are always open for new partners interested in our current topics or those, who would like to get involved in CBI promoting their own ideas for the construction sector of the future.

The Construction Cluster has its own temporary reference construction site on Campus West, which deals with research in construction sites of the future. How does the center utilize that construction site?

The reference construction site offers our members an additional opportunity to verify new applications in the sectors for bridge construction, building construction and road construction in a much larger scale.

How important is the RWTH Aachen Campus ecosystem for the construction sector and therefore for your enrolled members?

RWTH Aachen Campus offers the construction sector a center, industry and company-independent networking and collaborative opportunity – in other words: entirely new perspectives and potential. It allows us and our enrolled members to benefit from new solution strategies and options, topics, products, or areas of application far beyond the construction sector that nobody even thought about before.

Where does the road lead for the CBI and the construction sector?

The Corona pandemic and the resulting intensified use of digitization has given the industry an opportunity to become more aware of the potential resulting from that digitization, and has forced faster and more implementations of this method. Other sectors, e.g. Production technology, are still a step ahead of us in that respect. We want to create optimal framework conditions for accompanying businesses in the construction sector in the development and implementation of innovations from the initial concept to product development and later national or international certification.