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4 Research and Development in Construction Research and development (R&D) in construction includes a broad range of activities directed toward improving quality, pro- ductivity, and efficiency of the materials, equipment, labor, and management of construction. The value of R&D activities is well accepted as means for improving productivity and generating new ideas in electronics, telecommunications, genetic engineering, and other technical fields. The linkages between construction research and application, however, have been more difficult to document, de- spite advances made during the twentieth century in new equipment and materials, largely because of the great number of mostly small- scaTe builders and equipment and materials producers. For this same reason, the construction industry has greater difficulty mobilizing resources needed to support substantial research programs. As a result, the committee observed several troubling trends: . Other countries appear to be putting more effort than the United States into construction R&D; . Other countries are working hard to improve the "hardware" of construction by improving construction methods and developing technology for automation (including robotics); . A more innovative environment exists in most foreign firms because R&D has been integrated into overall operations; 55
56 BUILDING FOR TOMORRO W . Other countries are willing to back longer-range research ef- forts through the slow but methodical methods needed; ~ R&D in other countries tends to be proprietary to the com- pany sponsoring it, leading to some duplication but increasing com- mercial rewards for success; . Vertical integration within large foreign construction firms has made easier the utilization of research results by the operating units of their companies; . There is less emphasis on research related to the "manage- ment" of construction by firms in other countries, since they tend to acquire these technologies through joint ventures with American firms or by sending their young professionals to U.S. universities for training. U.S. CONSTRUCTION RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT Accurate appraisals of R&D investments in the U.S. design and construction industries are stubbornly elusive. Available statistics are scarce and often recorded in a manner that can be misleading. In another study* done by the Building Research Board the following observations were made on R&D expenditures in the U.S. design and construction industries: . Construction contractors (both general and specialty)-$54 million . $838 million million Manufacturers of construction materials and equipment Federal agencies (both consumers and nonconsumers) $200 All other sectors (based on estimate) $111 million Total annual construction-related R&D $1,223 million Based on a total volume of construction of some $312 billion in 1984, these estimates represent about 0.4 percent of sales invested in R&D, far less than other mature industries such as appliances at 1.4 percent, automobiles at 1.7 percent, or textiles at 0.8 percent. (This expenditure level is also well below Japanese construction R&D expenditure rates.) U.S. contractors, architects, end engineersinvest less than 0.05 percent in R&D as a group, a fraction of the amount they spend on liability insurance alone. ~ Construction Productivity' National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1986.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT IN CONS TR ACTION 57 Both lack of resources and competing priorities are factors in this low level of R&D expenditure. Faced with intense price compe- tition, many designers and constructors find it difficult to appropriate substantial resources for R&D. Tax regulations that may require cap- italization of R&D expenditures increase the demands R&D would make on current cash flows. The natural aversion to risk of many businessmen makes R&D spending that may yield no immediate commercial benefit more difficult to justify even when business is good, and easy to cut when times are bad. Not one of the many nedium and small firms can afford a meaningful research program, and there are few mechanisms to facilitate joint funding of research that will yield distinct benefits to the participating firms. What the optimum level of U.S. construction R&D spending ought to be is a complex question for which the committee found no ready answer. Observation of U.S. performance in introducing technological innovation and an eroding competitive position make it apparent that the level of spending viewed either as an investment for increased productivity or as an indication of openness to new ideas is too low. Direct government involvement in construction research is lim- ited but significant: . The National Science Foundation (NSF) has been a principal source of support for university-based research activities for the U.S. design and construction industries. Through the NSF, National En- gineering Research Centers are being established, such as the Center for Advanced Technology for Large Structural Systems (ATESS) at Lehigh University. In addition to NSF funds of $10.4 million over a five-year period, other state-related institutions and the private sector are providing matching funds. The major goal of the ATESS center is to do research and develop technology benefitting U.S. structures-related industries in design, fabrication, and construction, and inspection and protection of structures in service. The federal government laboratories such as the Army's Con- struction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL), the Navy's Port Hueneme Civil Engineering Laboratory, the Tyndall Air Force En- gineering and Services Research Center, and the National Bureau of Standards' Centers for Building Technology and Fire Research conduct research on a diverse range of topics with military and civil applications.
58 BUILDING FOR TOMORROW ~ Grants from the Army Corps of Engineers have produced ma- jor new research programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Tech- nology and the University of Illinois. The Construction Industry Institute at the University of Texas at Austin is an outstanding example of research without direct gov- ernment support. More than 65 organizations representing owners, contractors, and 25 academic institutions have combined their re- sources to tackle advanced construction research. The institute then represents an important model for broader public-private partnership in construction research. OTHER EFFORTS NEEDED An exarn~nation of research ideas for addressing societal needs, undertaken by the Technical Council on Research of the American Society of Citric Engineers in 1979, indicates a long list of research suggestions, most oriented toward improving the methodology of engineering. The list includes a large number of projects related to improving methodology, many of which could be valuable in the international arena.* The architectural research community is based almost exclu- sively in universities, so that the potential exists for linking such research to teaching programs. The civil engineering research com- munity is also largely based in universities, but there is some me- chanical, electrical, or electronic research of direct relevance to the construction sectors being done by these other departments. To a limited extent both architectural and civil engineering research in- stitutions do projects related to mechanical and electrical systems. Most research institutions have projects tied to computer-based de- sign and engineering, but more work is needed, particularly to bring new results into practice, through teaching and professional outreach programs. While spending on research often exceeds U.S. rates, the work going on in construction sector research programs in other coun- tries tends to mirror programs in U.S. universities and government laboratories, with three major exceptions: *Addrc`sing Societal Needs of the 1980's Through Civil Engineering Research, The American Society of Civil Engineers, New York, New York, 1979.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT IN CONSTRUCTION 59 . The work supported by the Swedish government on behalf of the building industry tends to be much more people-oriented, describing user requirements and how these requirements should be accommodated in design. However, there does not appear to be any better match between the research programs and the teaching programs in the universities than in the United States. . The Soviet Union has six major research units within its con- struction agency Gosstroy. Five of these units do traditional science and engineering research of the type done in government building laboratories around the world, but one research unit concentrates on "cybernetics." Not much is known about the work of this unit, but it potentially could represent an interesting area for collaboration. With their government's strong encouragement, the six large, integrated Japanese construction companies all support research by internal units. These programs include hundreds of people, excellent facilities, and a broad spectrum of subjects (see box). This committee has not undertaken to recommend a complete agenda for research in construction and design, and planning of such an agenda by a single centralized body would in any case be unproductive. However, committee members feelthat certain types of research are clearly needed, such as these two examples: 1. The general subject of "diagnostics" is talked about within the architectural research community as an area for methodological improvement. Work on this subject could be greatly enhanced if uni- versity researchers and practicing architects worked in parallel with firms that are in the business of designing and marketing diagnostic instruments. A program that provides special funds to research units (as contrasted with individuals) within universities that had already obtained an agreement for matching funds from instrument compa- nies would encourage vertical integration between the architectural sector and the equipment-producing sector. 2. The development of safety methods for structures during the construction phase could benefit from case studies. For example, the NBS Center for Building Technology has just completed a study of the collapse of L'Ambiance Plaza in Bridgeport, Connecticut, a building which was being constructed using the lift-slab method. This collapse could serve as a case study for a structural engineering faculty to develop a continuing education course for engineers in practice, thus providing a link among a federal laboratory, university research, and professionals. While this subject is unique and timely,
60 BUILDING FOR TOMORRO W
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT IN CONSTRUCTION 61 _ ~--- ~ ~' ~--~ - _ _ the concept is to have this work serve as a model for similar projects on a range of structural safety problems and solutions. As will be discussed further in Chapter 6, the development of advanced concepts for infrastructure poses an international challenge of enormous proportions. The present practice of dealing with urban transportation, water and energy supplies, waste management, and communications is based on inventions developecI nearly a century ago. In the largest cities of the world these old inventions are clearly not well suited to dealing with present problems, and in the small communities of the developing world there has always been a kind of hand-me-down, makeshift quality to the nature of infrastructure investments. New technology for infrastructure could possibly help the United States avoid the endless cutting and patching of our lO~year-old sys- tems, and could also provide whole new market opportunities in the international sphere. There should be special programs to concen- trate on infrastructure development within the university research community. These programs should encourage university units that are skilled in the areas of the "emerging technologies" to explore ways of creating new or higher-performing systems for infrastruc- ture. Technologies such as new ceramics, advanced microelectronics, biotechnology, and genetic engineering should be incorporated into joint programs with the architectural and civil engineering faculties, and especially to provide graduate students from these technological areas the opportunities to work on infrastructure. In such programs universities could associate with trade and professional groups, such as the American Public Works Association, to introduce engineers in practice to new technologies and their capability. The committee recognizes that some engineering schools can best be encouraged to expend research and teaching in construction by
62 BUILDING FOR TOMORROW evidence of employment interest for their graduates. Programs may be needed to link employers with graduate programs in construction by having the university offer special graduate programs for mature employees of professional firms. As the Japanese mode! illustrates, university-based activity is not the only way that construction R&D can be accomplished, but in the United States, academic institutions have become the primary centers of research. This pattern is unlikely to change in the fore- seeable future, nor is it clear that it ought to change. What is clear to the committee, however, is that better mechanisms for linking research to construction practice are needed. There is a need as well to increase the speed with which ideas from one field of research are tested for their value in other fields, and with which ideas of value enter practice. The case of the Bell Laboratories (Case Study 4), drawn from an industrial situation very different from construction, is nevertheless instructive because of their great success in linking research to the market. In construc- tion, where the market is distributed among so many suppliers and buyers, projects built with federal government funds can be used to demonstrate new technology. A good example is the introduction to U.S. transit construction of precast concrete segmental tunnel liners (see Chapter 6~. The U.S. Department of Commerce has noted, "Over the next twenty years it is totally reasonable to expect that we will see widespread application of the following technologies: advanced mate- rials, microelectronics, automation, biotechnology, computing, mem- brane technology, superconductivity, and lasers."* Today and in the near future many other new technologies may be added to the list. Mechanisms are needed to expose these new technologies and con- struction to one another, and to produce design and construction professionals competent to make the connections required for inns vation. Besides institutional research, there must be training and education. *Effect of Structural Change in the U.S. Economy on the Uric of Public Works Scr~nccs, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C., 1987.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT IN CONSTRUCTION CASE STUDY 4: THE BELL TELEPHONE LABORATORIES 63 The invention of the telephone is perhaps the single best modern example of how new technology can alter building and infrastructure. The BeR Teieph one Laboratories have for more than 60 years been one of the leading U.S. centers of research and innovations that have changed how to design and build individual structures en c] cities, as weR as the more basic structure of the economy and society. The committee recognizes that the Be]] Labs are a product of a private sector monopoly company that had vertical integration and an ability to make elective decisions about resource allocation and management strategy, with greater ease than is the case in U.S. design and construction. Nevertheless, many characteristics of the Bed Labs can serve as a useful mode] for institutional arrangements needed to strengthen U.S. building research. It is instructive to look at the history and accomp~ishmeIIts of this organization: The invention of the telephone was not inspired by a pre-existent popular demand. Rather, it came about largely through the ingenuity and vision of one man Alexander Graham Bell. His belief that there was a great potential need for two-way voice communication over a distance, a need of which few men had been conscious, was confirmed by its immediate success and spectacular growth in spite of early technical limitations. By the end of the first fifty years a great new industry had been developed. There were nearly seventeen million telephones in the United States, almost twelve million of them in the Bell System. And in perhaps no other field had the force of scientific research in support of engineering development been so effectively demonstrated.* As the AT&T Company Annual report for 1913 said: At the beginning of the telephone industry there was no art of electrical engineering nor was there any school or university conferring the degree of electrical engineer. Notwithstanding this the general engineering staR was soon organized, calling to their aid some of the most distinguished professors of science in our universities. As problems became more formidable and increased in number and complexity, the engineering and scientific staff was increased in size and in its specialization so that we now (1913) have working at headquarters on the problems of the associated companies some 550 engineers and scientists carefully selected with due regard to the practical as well as the scientific nature of the problems encountered. *A History of Engined ring and Scicnec in the Bail System, Bell Laboratories, Murray Hill, New Jersey, 1975.
64 BUILDING FOR TOMORRO W It can be said that this company has created the entire art of telephony and that almost without exception none of the important contributions to the art has been made by any government telephone administration or by any other telephone company either in this country or abroad. By 1924 the technical programs of the Bell System had so grown in range and intensity, and in number of personnel, as to suggest formation of a single new organization to handle most or all of these activities. Such an organization was formed on December 27, 1924, and started operations on January 1, 1925, under the name of Bell Telephone Laboratories, Incorporated. This corporation had a dual responsibility- to the AT&T Company for fundamental researches and to the Western Electric Company for the embodiment of the results of these researches in designs suitable for manufacture. At the date of incorporation, the personnel numbered approximately 3,600, of whom about 2,000 were members of the technical staff, made up of engineers, physicists, chemists, metallurgists and experts in various fields of technical endeavor.... Technological innovation had formed the indispensable core for telephony's growth up to 1925, but was even more significant to the future because so much of it was fundamental: the way was being prepared for more powerful systems yet to come, which would be essential to the enormous expansion felt to be lying ahead. Perhaps more significantly, the application of scientific methods to solving the "system" problems of telephony set a pattern that influenced industrial research and development by demonstrating the power of these methods and developing techniques of management that encouraged their use. Backing up the work on systems, which had laid the groundwork for so much that was yet needed, were the successful management techniques which had been developed for conducting and applying research, the means for closely controlling the quality of manufactured product, and a type of organization providing close integration of the user, technical developer, and manufacturer. The Bell Labs have produced the transistor, the laser, the solar cell, and the first communications satellite, as we]] as sound motion pictures, the science of radio astronomy, en c] crucial evidence for the theory that a Big Bang created the universe. While they are a private laboratory (in the distinction made in the United States between government and private research work), their fin ancia] support was largely generates' from a kind of tax on every telephone in the United States (before the breakup of AT&T in 1984), which in turn was a]]owec! by their rate examiners (a public institution designed to monitor a monopoly utility). The potential for direct emulation by a government/industry research center is limited, therefore, but the operating principle of striving for increased systems performance by
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT IN CONSTRUCTION 65 teams of scientists, engineers, manufacturers, en c] systems operators is a good one. Today's telephone caller uses components Bell never dreamed of, today's driver depends on systems Daimler and Benz never thought of, and today's homeowner switches on a power and light system that Edison never envisioned. These discoveries have long since been em- bedded in mammoth networks of technology that no single individual invented. Technological systems evolve through relatively small steps mark- ed by the occasional stubborn obstacle and by countless break- throughs. Often the breakthroughs are labeled inventions and patent- ed, but more often they are social innovations made by persons soon forgotten. In the early days of a system such as electric light and power, inventors played the prominent role. Then as the system ma- tured and expanded to urban and regional networks, others came to the fore. Electric light and power systems today are not just scaled-up versions of the Pearl Street station that Edison introduced in New York City in 1882. By the turn of the century, for example, it was the utility manager, not the inventor or engineer, who played the major role in extending round-the-clock service to many different kinds of customers to the night shift chemical plant as well as the rush-hour electric streetcars.* *Thomas P. Hughes, The inventive continuum, Science 84, November 1984.