If there’s one thing that our visit to InfraTech vakbeurs learned is that, albeit being neighboring countries, Belgium and the Netherlands are part of a totally different universe with regards to their vision on public infrastructure. This immense difference in vision is felt in the way public authorities behave, as well as designers, engineering offices and contractors. As a result we look back at a week that was very rewarding, but on the other hand also very worrying. The general vibe at the fair was super positive. Main topics were sustainability and durability towards structures and civil assets. Both are considered from the conceptualization and design phase, over the construction, commissioning as well as operations and lifetime extension, even re-use. Interesting examples were the re-use of structural elements in new bridges, an alternative to simple destruction or recycling attempts. Also multiple examples of sustainable materials and methods such as green alternatives for cement and renewed interest in the use of wood where showcased.
For Zensor, the presence in Rotterdam served two goals:
- On the one hand we wanted to feel the vibe in the Dutch market related to Smart Monitoring of civil assets such as bridges, tunnels... as a tool to reduce total cost of ownership. It had been 4 years since the former edition of this event, so things might have changed.
- On the other hand we assisted in the launch the SmartSheetPile product of @ArcelorMittal on the Dutch market with a dedicated demo on the company’s booth and a series of lectures on this new product as well as Green steel.
A striking difference
Walking around and talking to various people in the corridors, an interesting story unfolded:
- When chatting with a procurement, design or project role at a Dutch contractor about smart monitoring (combining data and analytics) as solution to reduce the total lifecycle cost of a civil asset, their interest was almost immediately triggered. The conversation soon moved in the direction of possibilities of such an approach, like allowing for smart and proactive maintenance, or building a more resilient, de-risked structure. The women and men we talked to actively followed-up on how such a concept can be implemented and immediately came up with a number of potential cases (actual projects) where it could make an impact.
- A number of visitors in Rotterdam crossed the border from Belgium. With them, the response was totally different. Almost pure disinterest: stating that as long as the contracting authority is not explicitly requesting such a solution, they will not even consider it. “Maybe, one day…”
It is clear that over the past 4 years the striving towards durable and sustainable construction has become really embedded in the mind of the Dutch infrastructure professional. As an outsider we can only guess, but most probably the early adoption of the DBFM-type (see here) projects as well as the extended use of the EMVI (the concept of selecting the most “valuable” bid, instead of the cheapest on, see here) approach has really paid off. Professionals in the field genuinely acknowledge the importance and potential impact of more durable construction, while really thinking in the long term and actively seeking to embed new ideas and innovative approaches in active and upcoming projects.
Why is this so important?
This approach of selecting a winner in a tender has been employed by almost all contracting agencies, such as Rijkswaterstaat, the Provinces, Unie van Waterschappen (Dutch Water Authorities), even cities and towns. Looking at the long term this is expected to have a significantly positive impact on the way the taxpayer's money is spent. Focusing on this side of the border: in Flanders this mindset isn't emerging at all yet. Here a significant amount of work still needs to be done to really change the philosophy behind spending of public infrastructure budgets. This not only to make sure that taxpayer’s money is used for the best, but foremost to ensure that our local businesses are ready to, at least, compete, but even to set the direction in the future, more sustainable world.