Digitalisation and the “Internet of Things” is rapidly gaining in importance, becoming the touchstone for the future viability of many companies in the window and façade building industry. What radical changes are already happening? That was the subject for several experts’ discussions at SWISSPACER’s ‘fenestra-vision: smart windows, façades and innovative materials’.
With the Symposium in its third year, SWISSPACER invited leading industry experts to Salzburg for the Symposium. Experts including window and façade builders, window systems companies, planners and scientists, discussed the looming changes to the industry.
All agreed that digitalisation is inevitable. ‘Digitise or die’ was even the topic for discussion during a presentation by Jochen Wilms, Founder and General Manager of W Ventures.
Smart Homes: The dangers and risks
Keynote speaker Dr. Eckhard Keill, Chairman of the Board of Roto Frank AG, discussed the technology behind the latest smart homes, and the potential obstacles and risks. According to a recent study by Gartner, the demand for smart homes and the public perception and understanding of them is approaching its peak – yet the market will not be ready for new developments for another 5 years.
Dr. Keill says: “Homes will only get smart once they have learned our everyday behaviours. There are vital aspects and risks that we cannot lose sight of on the road to smart homes. What happens if the smart promises cannot be met?”
Stumbling blocks include smart home suppliers disappearing from the market or apps that are simply discontinued.
Digital systems that can be operated conveniently while on the go need efficient protection from hackers. Safety, in particular, is a key argument for purchasing smart homes. But how safe are the systems around the world from cyber criminals? What happens during computer system downtimes?
Nevertheless, Dr. Keill is convinced that "Living with smart technology will become standard. Concepts that span multiple disciplines are a basic pre-requisite for a sustainable business model, or we will end up with systems that are no longer compatible with one another.”
Particular emphasis was placed on the abilities of the individuals involved along the ‘value chain’, right down to the window installer. Experts at the Symposium were all in agreement that new, attractive professions will be created in this new era, such as System Integrators.
Documentation of the life cycle
Andreas Bittis, Product Manager at Saint-Gobain Building Glass, outlined an exciting scenario in terms of intelligent products and processes during his presentation. The focus is not only on smart solutions, such as switchable glass, but primarily on communication between components, disciplines and users, as well as the availability of more information resulting from this. An intelligent RFID chip, for example, makes seamless documentation of the process possible – from the production of a window, to user behaviour, maintenance cycles, all the way to disposal. Based on this information, Andreas is convinced that new business models can be created.
The discussions at the Symposium showed that there is still plenty to be done when it comes to controls in particular. "If it takes 17 different apps to operate a single window, that is clearly too many," stressed Dr. Keill. Bluetooth and WiFi will establish themselves as the standard form of transmission, but it remains to be seen who will assume overall control when it comes to building control systems. "Everything needs to be integrated in a single system", he summarised.
Digitise or die
"The window industry will not be able to enjoy the stability of recent years for much longer," warned Jochen Wilms, founder of W Ventures. He highlighted graphically for participants just how quickly a market can turn: within five years, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and more have replaced industry heavyweights like Shell or Texaco as the most valuable companies in the world.
A similar trend could also be looming in the construction industry. "The Internet of Things will soon be 10 to 20 times larger than it is today. And you can assume that digital companies will be very interested in the construction industry – entire business areas may disappear," Mr. Wilms concluded.
The window and façades industry will take on special responsibility here as it could control buildings via the building envelope. Jochen encouraged the construction industry to form a "Star Alliance" to adequately address the pending upheavals.
Maarten Verhezen, Manager at Nest, the smart thermostat, highlighted the shift in perspective his company has experienced. The brand, which belongs to the Google parent company, alphabet, has taken a user-centric point of view as the focus of its business model. People should feel at home – with home automation products that simply work and are visually attractive. Some 1,000 engineers work on smart home solutions at Nest, across sectors such as energy, online or retail. He claimed that "Nest wants to create a construction industry network."
Schüco, an aluminium window systems manufacturer, has already made one giant leap towards digitalisation by launching Schüco Digital as an independent business unit that bundles all these activities. Prof. Winfrid Heusler, Senior Vice President Global Building Excellence at Schüco stressed in his presentation that “components across various sectors are needed to successfully tackle interdisciplinary challenges. Combining the real and virtual world will have a disruptive impact on the construction industry.”
Digital building twins
The benefits that a ‘digital twin’ offers were highlighted by Prof. Klaus Sedlbauer, Head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics (IBP). ‘Digital twins’ can be used as a basis for planning, to simulate aspects of use and coordinate technical construction solutions that can mimic the reaction of external conditions.
The strength of digital planning is also apparent when it comes to Building Information Modelling (BIM). Lars Anders, Managing Director of façade consultancy, Priedemann Fassadenberatung, sees this as the future of planning and constructing buildings and something to which the industry needs to adapt. "Digital transformation is a strategy and not a technology. Procuring software is not enough," he underlined in his presentation. “Façades, for example, would only be innovative if they are built that way in the first place.”
He mentioned the Priedemann Project RMK Headquarters, Yekaterinburg, as an impressive example: from the 3D printed model, through the 3D CAD engineering to the multi-axial cutting and robotic welding, the entire process chain was digitalised.
New materials for intelligent building envelopes
Prof. Klaus Peter Sedlbauer introduced the topic of smart building materials. Building envelopes of the future will manage functions like a human body, and it will be the façade that controls the building. Intelligent components, such as textile façades, will also make a contribution here.
The final panel of experts, moderated by Prof. Sieberath, head of the ift Rosenheim Institute, discussed possible developments in relation to PVC as a profile material. There was a strong consensus that this is one material will not be replaced even in the coming decades. Arno Bender, Head of System Support at Aluplast, comments: “The benefits of recyclability are great – ultimately, all PVC frames removed can be recycled in full.”
The experts also came together to cast a first glance towards the Fensterbau Frontale trade show, where there are new developments in adhesive technology and new BIM solutions from Aluplast, as well as 76 and 88mm systems from Profine that provide a better solution with components.