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Innovation in Vertical and Horizontal Construction: Lessons for the Transportation Industry

1. Objectives

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), as a facilitator of innovation for state and local transportation agencies, is interested in understanding the methods by which innovative technologies, processes, and methods come about and are implemented in the "vertical construction" arena, i.e. buildings and related similar facilities. FHWA hopes to identify from that understanding elements that could help achieve advances and enhanced performance throughout the process of planning, designing, bidding, contracting, constructing, and maintaining highway systems.

To that end, FHWA initiated a Vertical Construction Scan program, whereby organizations such as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Transportation Research Board (TRB), State transportation agencies, and others as appropriate were engaged in a process of discovery facilitated by the Civil Engineering Research Foundation (CERF) through a series of meetings, visits, and discussions with leaders of the vertical construction world.

In that quest to understand why and how innovation happens in the vertical construction world, the key issues initially considered were:

  • What drives innovation?
  • How does innovation happen?
  • How are all those involved informed and educated on new technologies or processes?
  • How are barriers to innovation removed or overcome?

Additional relevant questions that were considered included:

  • Is the adoption of innovation in vertical construction faster than in highway and bridge construction?
  • What are the similarities and differences between vertical construction and horizontal construction with respect to moving new technology, materials, systems, and processes into practice?
  • Are long term life-cycle costs as important in vertical construction as in highway and bridge construction?

This scanning project was based on the assumption that sectors can learn from other sectors. Organizing meetings with leading members of the vertical construction world created the opportunity for the FHWA-sponsored Scan Team to listen to presentations that distilled the accumulated experience and wisdom of their vertical construction colleagues, "pick their brains" and have a meaningful and substantive exchange with them, observe and analyze illustrative examples of the technological and process innovations the vertical construction world has achieved, and stimulate the thoughts of the Scan Team members and the discussion among them.

In the course of the meetings, discussions and visits that were part of this project, it was expected that a number of innovative technologies, materials, systems, and processes recently adopted in the vertical construction world would be encountered. An auxiliary objective was therefore the compilation of selected innovations, followed by the identification among them of those with a strong potential for transfer or adaptation to highway construction.

A final objective of this project was to outline a plan for experimentation with, or for direct implementation of, promising innovative ideas culled from these interactions with key vertical construction industry leaders, and to disseminate information about them to the broader highway community.

The format of a scan program is such that the discovery of promising ideas depends to a large extent on the group of companies, people, and projects featured in the scan trips, and also on the members of the scan team, their professional background and experience, and their areas of interest. The results of a scan program are therefore unpredictable, and can never be definitive or repeatable. These limitations notwithstanding, a scan program has the undeniable advantage of stimulating the free and mostly unplanned exchange of ideas among participants with a diverse background, away from the daily pressures, and without the restraints imposed by the competitive nature of the business or by the client-contractor relationship. On balance, a scan program can be a cost effective way of questioning and taking a fresh look at the way we operate, of exploring a topic, and ultimately of contributing to the enhancement or updating of the tools and practices of highway and bridge project construction.

The methodology adopted for this Scan project is presented in Chapter 2. The key findings resulting from it are summarized in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 provides conclusions and recommendations. Appendices A through D provide details of the scanning trips and an expanded discussion of promising ideas identified through the Scan program.

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Updated: 06/27/2017
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