After attending our webinar “How 3D printing is changing design”, we spoke exclusively to Paul Mullett – Group Engineering and Technology Director at the Robert Bird Group …
Question: Can you share some of the recent work done by the Robert Bird Group to advise on major engineering projects?
The Robert Bird Group is a global construction and construction company and a member of the Surbana Jurong Group. We focus on creating value by combining great design with engineering and delivery expertise. Recent projects include Battersea Power Station in London, Brookfield Place in Dubai and Crown Sydney.
Question: In your experience, how can innovation technology improve and speed up construction plans?
In one word. Value. Technology must demonstrate value while taking into account the actual cultural and systemic barriers that exist in the industry. The industry wants more productivity, less risk and more security. Technology can deliver it, but only if we ask the right questions and work transparently with all industry stakeholders to deliver it.
Question: You have worked to ensure that the industry welcomes 3D printing with open arms as an example of the potential for innovation. What do you see as the technology’s long-term potential?
As we see with the introduction of a technology, we need to go beyond the innovators (where we are now) to reach early adopters and then the early majority. Here we can achieve scalability and better integration into our existing construction tools and really exploit the potential. I see opportunities for value creation in low-cost, mid-size housing developments, community housing, or in areas where access to labor or supply chains is challenging, but as technology develops, the opportunities will increase.
Question: Construction is seen as a rigid industry that is detrimental to innovation. To what extent do you agree with this characterization?
This is a “half full or half empty” glass question that is very much determined by perception. It is a fact that many of our design and construction paradigms have changed little over the past century as our projects have grown larger and more complex. Technology has brought significant incremental benefits in terms of efficiency but has yet to really change how or what we deliver, partly due to barriers to innovation. In recent years there have been developments in both technology and collaboration mechanisms that suggest that the status quo will soon change. It’s an exciting time for the industry.
Question: What are the main barriers for you to adopting 3D printing in the construction sector?
First, I don’t think technology is an obstacle. There are certainly technological limitations, but these do not reduce the potential benefits. The main obstacles are systemic and structural – the way we fund innovation, how we procure, how we manage risk, and how we work together. All of these things are currently focused on short-term goals or gains, and we need to find a way to move those to a longer-term focus.