Each year in February, the precast industry meets at the BetonTage congress held in Neu-Ulm. 2020 saw the 64th edition of this leading industry forum, which featured new types of content and formats in order to reach out to new audiences, as well as an additional congress day. From 18 to 21 February 2020, almost 2,300 participants attended the long-standing event at the Edwin-Scharff-Haus Congress Center, despite the splendid weather favoring construction projects and fears over the corona virus outbreak. Under the heading of “Concrete Construction of the Future – Lightweight, Resource-Efficient, and Carbon-Neutral”, this year’s event provided attendees with comprehensive information on latest trends and developments in concrete construction.
Insights into the construction of the future
One thing is for sure: The construction of the future will fundamentally differ from what we are seeing today. The precast components of tomorrow need to be more resource-saving, energy-efficient, lightweight, slender, and recyclable. But how can the construction industry tackle the challenges it is currently facing while at the same time reducing resource consumption? How can building materials and construction processes be optimized further in order to mitigate CO2 emissions? These crucial questions were also in the focus of the technical program of the 64th BetonTage congress. A large number of speakers from industry and research presented ground-breaking developments in concrete technology as well as process and production engineering. To name but a few topics, the congress program included presentations on fiber-reinforced structural concrete components, novel types of concrete, alternative binders and admixtures, and recycled concrete. Taken together, all these presentations gave a first impression of where the industry will be heading.
The special panel on 3D printing with concrete also enjoyed a large number of attendees, which underscored the strong interest in topics that will shape the industry’s future. In this panel, leading universities presented latest research findings relevant to the field. Likewise, the sustainability panels on the practical application of carbon-reinforced concrete and on reducing the carbon footprint by implementing environmentally friendly concrete construction methods enjoyed such a high demand that a large number of attendees had to stand in the room because there were too few seats available.
In his co-opening speech, Dr. Martin Schneider, of the German Cement Works Association, outlined the efforts the cement industry, as one of the largest CO2 emitters globally, is currently making in order to reduce its environmental footprint. Dr. Schneider said that the industry was clearly committed to “turning the switch” in order to push forward completely new decarbonization technologies.
Prof. Anders Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, opened the second congress day by outlining why the emerging physical changes brought about by climate change, even when seen on their own, inevitably require a strong decarbonization effort to drive down CO2 emissions “to zero by 2050”. Dr. Dominik von Achten, the new CEO of HeidelbergCement AG, directly responded to the introductory facts-based speech by referring to specific building material options suitable for reducing CO2 emissions and presenting carbon-capture technologies as a disruptive approach that could enable decarbonized cement and concrete production by capturing and storing as well as converting and reusing CO2.
Denmark as a role model for construction with precast building systems
This year’s guest country, Denmark, impressively demonstrated how value-adding precast construction is breaking new ground in the country. Claus Bering, executive board member of the international CRH Group and CEO for Denmark as well as president of the Danish and the European precast federations, outlined the process adopted in his own company. He also referred to the large number of examples of state-of-the-art sustainable construction that will be on the agenda of the BIBM Congress to be held from 15 to 17 November 2020.
Expertise for the precast industry
Once again, the product-specific afternoon panels provided important technical guidance for precast producers as the core audience of the BetonTage congress. These panels were organized and held with the support of the relevant industry associations. The range of topics included presentations on structural precast, concrete products for road construction, landscaping and gardening, civil engineering and sewer construction, as well as lightweight concrete, cast stone, and small wastewater treatment plants. Innovative production processes and latest developments in concrete technology and standardization were outlined in the sessions. Selected project reports from Germany and abroad complemented the agenda. One of the landmark projects showcased in this part of the program was the National Museum of Qatar in Doha pictured on the front page of the 64th BetonTage proceedings. In this project, about 80,000 thin façade panels consisting of fiber-reinforced concrete were installed to replicate the sculptural shape of a desert sand rose. Prof. Dr.-Ing. Thomas Winterstetter, of the Werner Sobek design office, personally presented this project in his capacity as lead designer.
Joining forces with the construction industry
The “Zukunftstag Bauwirtschaft” (Construction Industry Future Day) was held for the first time in order to reach out to new audiences such as construction contractors and to incorporate content of relevance to all stakeholders in the value chain of building with concrete and precast components. For this purpose, the congress organizers partnered with the Baden-Württemberg Construction Industry Association, whose president, Markus Böll, delivered the welcoming speech and launched the solid unit initiative, a new network for advocating innovative methods of concrete construction in the German State of Baden-Württemberg.
Representatives of the construction and building materials industries, as well as universities, research institutions and chambers of architects and engineers, joined forces with the aim of pushing forward innovations in research and development by establishing closer ties between the individual partners, and of increasingly implementing such innovations on-site. At the very heart of this initiative are so-called network teams collaborating in very specific fields, including CO2 emission reduction, resource management, or digitization on the construction site.
Dr. Nicole Hoffmeister-Kraut, Baden-Württemberg Minister of the Economy, then delivered her introductory future day speech, further elaborating on this important step: “Products and manufacturing methods with a low environmental impact can considerably enhance the competitiveness of our construction industry. In addition, more efficient construction also make a major contribution to mitigating climate change and to creating affordable housing. In this regard, initiatives and networks such as solid unit can add significant value.” In so doing, the entire range of building materials should be considered in order to fully benefit from the advantages provided by all construction methods, according to the Minister.
The accompanying exhibition has long been an essential part of the BetonTage congress.
Innovation platform for the supplier industry
Businesses from the supplier, engineering, and software industries use this forum to present their products and services. The 160 exhibition booths were once again fully booked. Villa Rocca GmbH, based in Viernheim, Germany, received the award for the most attractive booth design. The best new product developments were awarded with the Innovation Prize of the Supplier Industry for Structural Concrete Products. This year’s winner is BPB Beton- und Prüftechnik Blomberg GmbH & Co. KG, Blomberg, with its environmentally friendly pellets applied as a protective layer for the transport and storage of terrace and sidewalk slabs. The second prize went to Vollert Anlagenbau GmbH, based in Weinsberg, Germany, for its MOTUS construction system, which is a newly developed, earthquake-resistant method for producing prestressed hollow-core floor slabs.
Moderated by BFT editor-in-chief Silvio Schade, the new “Innovation Forum” presentation platform provided space for exhibitors within the official program for the first time. They were able to deliver short presentations of their products for the precast industry. These innovative presentations attracted great interest among attendees.
New momentum for architecture
Not only is the BetonTage congress a continuing education platform for the precast industry; it also familiarizes architects and designers with building with concrete and precast components. On the fourth congress day, about 150 structural engineers attended a dedicated panel while approximately 500 architects participated in the Concrete in Architecture panel. Renowned international practices, but also aspiring architects featured their completed projects and reported on their experience in dealing with concrete. The two high-profile opening speakers were Prof. Dr.-Ing. Werner Sobek, of Werner Sobek AG, and Michael Rathgeb, Managing Director at ingenhoven architects, Düsseldorf, who introduced sustainable architecture as the key topic of the day.
Besides companies from the supplier industry, the fourth congress day also, for the first time, provided space for precast producers to present their products in the accompanying exhibition as well as in short presentations at the “Innovation Forum” moderated by BFT editor Karla Knitter. This approach received positive feedback from participating companies; it is thus to be improved further for the next congress edition.
Looking outside the box
Again, the program of the 64th BetonTage congress opened up the opportunity to look outside the box. Neuroscientist Dr. Henning Beck delivered the first-day keynote and provided fascinating insights into the most error-prone yet most innovative structure in the world: the human brain. He transferred pertinent brain research findings to everyday topics in a very entertaining and hands-on way and demonstrated how we can use the tricks of the brain combined with artificial intelligence in order to improve our thinking and to come up with new ideas.
The special contribution held on Wednesday evening also demonstrated how important common sense is. Internet expert Cem Karakaya illustrated the topic of cybercrime in his very entertaining speech. He held up a mirror to participants and proved that the “human firewall” is the biggest risk. According to him, it is not the Internet that is dangerous but humans using it, pointing out that the latter are the weakest link in the chain. Despite all the humor and entertainment, the smile thus froze upon the lips of at least some attendees.
Yet the BetonTage congress is more than just a knowledge transfer venue.
Long-standing industry forum
Sharing experience and expertise and personal views with colleagues from Germany and abroad is also at the heart of this professional yet welcoming industry event.
In this spirit, the 64th BetonTage congress also provided ample opportunities for networking – at the exhibition, during coffee breaks, over lunch, at Café BFT run by BFT International, the BetonTage media partner, as well as at the “Fairbinden” exhibitor gathering and the relaxed evening event held at Hotel Maritim, where each of the about 600 participants received a pack of premium Bulow liquorice from Copenhagen as a sweet gift from the Danish industry federation.