Innovate or stagnate: ecobuild visitors see latest technologies to hit sector

THOUSANDS of construction industry professionals attended ecobuild 2018 to see the latest innovations, products and techniques to hit the sector. Held at London’s ExCeL, the event featured over 450 exhibitors and 500 speakers who debated a range of issues including sustainability, the best ways of delivering much-needed new housing and the role of offsite manufacturing.

The exhibition kicked off with a session on the challenges of delivering the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDG), the New Urban Agenda and the Paris Agreement. Former Scotland First Minister, Lord Jack McConnell, who co-chairs an All Party Parliamentary Group on SDGs, called on everyone to take responsibility for turning the goals into reality.

Launches included the Structural Timber Association’s site check pocket guide, RIBA’s consultation for the Building in Quality initiative, and the BREEAM UK New Construction scheme.

Bill Robertson, Business Development Manager for Smart Architectural Aluminium in Scotland, was at ecobuild to help launch a number of new products for the supplier of aluminium systems. Smart opened a new showroom in Bothwell last year, which Bill said has helped give the firm an important edge in a competitive market.

“Growth in Scotland has been good,” he said. “Our showroom is now getting regular visits from architects, who are also encouraging clients to visit. The aesthetics of our products are so important, and the showroom provides a great opportunity for visitors to see the products in the flesh. It’s unique in Scotland for a systems company to have that facility. We’re now firmly established in Scotland and here to stay.”

The Smart stand

Bill praised the quality of meetings that had taken place with customers and potential customers at ecobuild, adding that a number of clients had come down from Scotland to see the company’s latest innovations. “The show’s been good for us,” he added. “We’ve been really pleased to welcome many architects to our stand, and to have had such positive conversations with them. This is an exhibition people will actually book up and let you know they’re coming down to. In effect it’s a launch platform. We’re showcasing our new Designer Door and Orangery Roof systems at the show, as well as launching a new 80mm version of our Ultraline window system, new casement options for our Alitherm window range and new Alitherm Heritage French door and window options. For our door ranges, we have a new Visoglide Plus sliding door and Visofold 6000 Slide and Fold door, as well as a new Smart Wall Auto Slide door – the UK’s first such door to be fully tested to PAS 24.”

Bill stressed the importance of bringing new products to the marketplace. “You’ve got to. If companies don’t innovate, then they’ll just stagnate. Our business growth has been really impressive over the past year and we intend to carry this momentum into next year.”

Amanda Brackey, head of marketing and communications at the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) told Project Scotland they were at the show to raise the profile of their members and educate consumers. “One of the key challenges for us at the moment is recognition of the sector,” she explained. “We recently announced a collaboration between CITB and NRFC to launch an accreditation scheme which will see an accredited roofer certification/qualification come about over the next four years with the aim to accredit 5,000 roofers. The other challenge is educating the consumer so that they understand that using a quality roofer in the long run will save them money, there will be less defects, and there will be a better quality product as well.

“This is a good platform for us to engage on a one-to-one basis with people across the construction industry. These trade events are extremely important. The construction industry is huge across the UK but it can be very spread out. It’s very important that people can come and see the latest innovative products because the majority of our contractors are up on roofs all the time so a show like this can give them a one-stop shop (to sample) some of the new innovations that are out there. It also gives them context around what else is happening within the construction sector around sustainability, innovation, new legislation (and) potential opportunities for large new developments.”

Kieran Fields, marketing manager at precast specialist FP McCann, explained ecobuild 2018 was the first time they’d exhibited at the show for about eight years. “The show (previously) had too vast an array of companies doing everything from solar panels to beehives,” he said. “Over the past couple of years we’ve been watching it because it’s very important for us as a company to make sure that any money we invest in a show, we’re going to get a return.”

Kieran said the firm was attracted back by the regeneration drive and an increased focus on the different methods of construction. He pointed to the number of key speakers talking about offsite construction.

“One of the main reasons why we’re here is because we’re heavily involved in offsite,” he added. “We’re pushing it as a company and trying to influence associations where possible. With that in mind, ecobuild was an obvious choice. You’re open to a wider audience, you’re getting to chat to architects, specifiers, engineers, and they’re all coming on and asking really good, probing questions. They’re not the superficial questions you get about the cost of this compared to that. It’s all about ‘How do we do this?’ and ‘How do we overcome that?’ and that’s what our guys are really interested in. These are exactly the sort of conversations we want to be having with people.

“The message is quite clear: offsite is the way forward and if you’re looking to have a good, sustainable home, this is where you’re going to find out about it.”

FP McCann acquired a manufacturing site in Uddingston last year. Kieran said having a Scottish factory has allowed the business to better service the market north of the border and new drainage and agricultural products have been introduced to further meet the needs of the Scottish marketplace.

Futurebuild Events – the new owners of ecobuild – declared the event “hugely successful” and have announced major plans for the exhibition’s future direction. Futurebuild 2019, as it will be known, will feature six dedicated hubs: Buildings; Energy; Offsite; Materials; Urban infrastructure; and Interiors.