February 21, 2012

The curse of Eurocodes, energy saving and seismically safe buildings

Why is the European construction materials industry lacking drive and innovation? This I have discussed with many from the industry, from various countries. When asking about great innovations during the last 5 years there are not many that people can mention. From the European perspective, there are at least three things to blame why companies seem to be slowing down with their R&D, at least in the fields related to building frame construction. And these drivers are very real.
Firstly, it takes forever for companies to work with Eurocodes. Individual products need new calculations; there are new requirements for CE-markings, new types of lengthier processes for product approvals, such as the famous and almighty ETAs (European Technical Approvals). Luckily Europe is becoming one market place; nevertheless, the price of it is a huge burden for R&D personnel.
Secondly, energy efficiency is the focus of today. This is fully understandable - heating and air conditioning is major driver for energy usage and many concepts need to be adapted because of this. And companies are eager to fulfill these demands, sometimes so eager that they waste their money on needless consulting studies offered by companies that do not even know themselves what they are doing. But it certainly sounds fantastic and eco-friendly.
Thirdly, there are now earthquakes everywhere. Again, nothing bad to update the norm and norms to be update with new information has to be done. But why is e.g. some city in North-West Russia belonging all of a sudden to some seismic zone, when the area is in all seismic maps whiter than white – not red like New Zealand?  There are certainly cases were politicians have overreacted, thus putting the focus of the companies in slightly, or in some cases totally, to wrong direction.
I am pro unified European market, I am pro energy efficiency, and I am pro safe structures for seismic areas. But how to combine all that and to keep the industry dynamic with new innovations? Sorry to say, I do not have an answer for this difficult formula.

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