February 23, 2012

Quebec City – the city of white tents

Hundreds of years ago, when the first French settlers arrived to the riverside of Quebec in eastern Canada, they faced serious problems. After the first winter most people had died of various sicknesses, mainly due to improper housing conditions.  The French had build their houses just like at home from stones and without insulation, however, the way houses were build in France did not give the right protection during the tough winter times. Adaptation to the local nature was hard, again, it did not take many winters when the settlers looked at how Indians lived and figured out how to build houses that function also during winter. The key was the adaptability on local conditions.
What paid my attention last week when visiting Peikko office in Quebec City in Canada, was again conditions for construction. In today´s economy the construction is done 12 months/year and the way how the Canadian builders have to face the weather conditions is very unique. Canada, a land of extremes has summer temperatures up to + 40 C and winter temperatures down to -40C. How the building sites have to tackle with coldness and snow is extreme. Distances to places are long by any measurement, affecting material flows to the building site. All in all, things could be easier.
In order to survive one has to adapt to the environment. I hope we at Peikko can do that, by presenting the right set of products  to our customers in the right way. Looks like we have been successful, e.g. this spring we are delivering Deltabeams for a high-rise building in London, Ontario. This is the highest ever building to be made by Deltabeam in Peikko´s history.
And talking about snow, here is picture how every driveway in front of houses in Quebec City looks like – cars have white tents during the winter time. When there have been half a meter of snow during the night time, it is so much easier to go for work, without using the snow-remover.  Canadians are creative and can adapt – there are many things for us to learn !

February 21, 2012

The curse of Eurocodes, energy saving and seismically safe buildings

Why is the European construction materials industry lacking drive and innovation? This I have discussed with many from the industry, from various countries. When asking about great innovations during the last 5 years there are not many that people can mention. From the European perspective, there are at least three things to blame why companies seem to be slowing down with their R&D, at least in the fields related to building frame construction. And these drivers are very real.
Firstly, it takes forever for companies to work with Eurocodes. Individual products need new calculations; there are new requirements for CE-markings, new types of lengthier processes for product approvals, such as the famous and almighty ETAs (European Technical Approvals). Luckily Europe is becoming one market place; nevertheless, the price of it is a huge burden for R&D personnel.
Secondly, energy efficiency is the focus of today. This is fully understandable - heating and air conditioning is major driver for energy usage and many concepts need to be adapted because of this. And companies are eager to fulfill these demands, sometimes so eager that they waste their money on needless consulting studies offered by companies that do not even know themselves what they are doing. But it certainly sounds fantastic and eco-friendly.
Thirdly, there are now earthquakes everywhere. Again, nothing bad to update the norm and norms to be update with new information has to be done. But why is e.g. some city in North-West Russia belonging all of a sudden to some seismic zone, when the area is in all seismic maps whiter than white – not red like New Zealand?  There are certainly cases were politicians have overreacted, thus putting the focus of the companies in slightly, or in some cases totally, to wrong direction.
I am pro unified European market, I am pro energy efficiency, and I am pro safe structures for seismic areas. But how to combine all that and to keep the industry dynamic with new innovations? Sorry to say, I do not have an answer for this difficult formula.