ARCHIVED - President's Insight
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December 08, 2008— Ottawa, Ontario
The construction sector has an important impact on the Canadian economy.
It represents 12 percent of our gross domestic product and involves more than $5.5 trillion in built assets and $146 billion in capital expenditures per year. Moreover, it is Canada's largest employer, with one million employees who are involved either in construction, manufacturing of building products, engineering or architecture. Unfortunately, because of the small size of the average construction company, less than 0.1 percent of the revenue of this sector goes to research and development. Some of the areas where additional research could be of benefit are energy conservation, waste management, building materials and greenhouse gas emissions.
These days, the sector faces many issues such as reduced productivity, increased costs, shortages of skilled trade workers, and challenges related to the integration of new materials and technologies – not to mention international competition for projects, expertise and labour, resulting from globalization.
Since 1947, the NRC Institute for Research in Construction has conducted research to address the needs of the industry in the areas of fire, infrastructure, building envelope and structure, and indoor environment. NRC also supports Canada's building regulatory system through the development of national model building, fire, plumbing and energy codes as well as the evaluation of new and innovative products for use in buildings. This work is complemented with an extensive program to deliver technical knowledge to the construction industry.
In the context of the NRC Strategy, the goal of our Construction Key Sector Plan is to draw on the full-breadth of NRC expertise to support the Canadian construction sector through the creation of new, horizontal opportunities. One of these new initiatives involves efforts to understand barriers to the integration of fuel cells and hydrogen technologies in buildings, and then develop the knowledge needed to help remove these barriers. On that front, a scoping study has been conducted and a workshop is being organized to bring together the hydrogen and building sectors, analyze the study results, and provide guidance to NRC on future needs. Results from both the scoping study and the workshop will also be of value to the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell National Program, which is being developed jointly by NRC, Natural Resources Canada, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.
Another initiative, undertaken in collaboration with the NRC Information and Communication Technology key sector, involves the use of sensor networks to enhance indoor environments in commercial buildings. This project will enable NRC, in collaboration with external partners, to work on the integration of sensing hardware, a wireless communication interface, and software based-analysis and feedback systems into a demonstration system for the construction sector. The better we can sense the "right things", analyze their impact and have building systems respond appropriately, the better we can manage our energy consumption and deliver improved indoor environments.
In the area of prefabrication, modularization and preassembly, several NRC programs are involved in a two-phase study to ascertain and better define the barriers relating to technology, business or markets, and to identify opportunities for NRC. With regard to productivity, the NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program will undertake a study to better understand productivity issues and niche opportunities. Finally, the NRC Centre for Computer-Assisted Construction Technologies, located in London, Ontario will develop computer-assisted tools to help improve the sector's productivity in niche areas. The Centre will also study the use of interactive visualization tools for transferring construction knowledge to practitioners.
While NRC is well positioned to respond to many technology needs facing the construction industry, we are also building new alliances and networks to meet emerging opportunities. For example, we are collaborating with Health Canada on research related to the indoor environment, and with Infrastructure Canada to work with stakeholders on the state and management of Canada's core public infrastructure.
In conclusion, because of the sheer size of Canada's construction sector, the sum of NRC's efforts, in partnership with construction industry stakeholders, will help the federal government meet its goal to enhance Canada's S&T capacity to improve the lives of ordinary Canadians, their families and communities.
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National Research Council of Canada
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