Monday 11 November 2019

Ireland builds case for high-tech construction

Demand for high-tech construction expertise continues to grow in the Netherlands and the Benelux region generally. Stock photo
Demand for high-tech construction expertise continues to grow in the Netherlands and the Benelux region generally. Stock photo

Richard Engelkes

Demand for high-tech construction expertise continues to grow in the Netherlands and the Benelux region generally. This is being driven by major data centre and pharma projects for global players, including Google, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer. Other growth areas for high-tech construction include bio-energy plants, chemical plants, and production facilities for the food and beverage industry.

If that sounds familiar, it's because it mirrors almost exactly what has been happening in Ireland over the past decade and more.

And this gives Irish construction companies a distinct advantage in the world of on-time and on-budget high-tech projects in the Netherlands.

That advantage was on show in Delft last week when Enterprise Ireland led a trade mission involving 25 Irish companies from across the high-tech construction spectrum - from design and project management to main contracting, and mechanical and electrical engineering.

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The trade mission featured a seminar and panel discussion on the 'future of construction', where the Dutch and Irish industries had an opportunity to share insights.

Among those participating were Stijn Grove of the Dutch Datacenter Association; Maxime Verhagen from the Dutch construction association, Bouwend Nederland; Alan McHugh and Mark Danaher of Kirby Engineering; Mathew Vola of Arup; and Professor Paul Chan of the Technological University of Delft.

The seminar highlighted the high level of collaboration in the delivery of high-tech projects which exists between Irish and Dutch construction firms.

The Dutch industry acknowledges and appreciates the skills and know-how that the Irish industry can bring to the table, while the local knowledge and expertise of the Dutch industry has proved invaluable to many Irish companies.

The Irish industry is particularly well positioned when it comes to the latest innovations and developments in construction technology and methodology.

Irish companies are already working with building information modelling and are moving on to Construction 4.0, which goes much further and involves, among other things, the complete digital twinning of complex projects to ensure that the finished reality conforms to the initial design and concept.

The Irish industry's expertise in the construction of pharmaceutical plants and other highly complex process facilities dates back more than 60 years.

Contractors have worked with all of the world's leaders, including Pfizer, GSK, AbbVie, Takeda, Novartis and many others, on the construction of the latest generation of FDA-approved facilities.

Those projects involved deep collaboration between client and contractor, from initial planning through to final handover. The relationships formed have seen those global pharma giants turn to their Irish construction partners to deliver new facilities in Europe and further afield.

That pattern has been repeated, with Irish companies being chosen for both hyper-scale and co-location data centre projects in the Benelux region and throughout Europe.

Another important driver of high-tech construction in the Netherlands is the Paris Agreement on climate change, which mandates a 50pc reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, with a target of zero emissions by 2050. Promoters of new construction projects must ensure they fit in with the global commitment to climate action.

An example is the investment of Microsoft in 100 windmills in the north west of the Netherlands, to make its data centre sustainable.

Google has also committed to investing €600m in a sustainable energy supply for its facilities. Equinix works together with the community of Amsterdam on a programme to use the heath of the data centre for warming a part of the city. Amsterdam invested €1.2m in this project.

This is also driving the search for new and more sustainable materials, with Irish firms to the fore. One Irish firm active in sustainable construction in the Netherlands is Arup, which is working on the tallest wooden residential building in the country.

The HAUT is a 73-metre-high residential tower in the Amstelkwartier in Amsterdam, which will include 55 apartments, bike parking facilities and an underground car park.

Other opportunities in the sustainable space include the retrofit of homes to replace gas-fired heating systems, the construction of bio-energy facilities and new offshore wind farms. These are all areas where this country's technologically advanced and highly experienced construction sector can bring the Irish advantage to bear.

Richard Engelkes is senior market adviser, construction products and services, at Enterprise Ireland

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