From 23 to 26 February 2021, the BetonTage congress took place in a first-of-its-kind online format. The leading precast industry congress had previously attracted over 2,000 attendees per year to the Edwin-Scharff-Haus Congress Center in Neu-Ulm; this year, it had to be shifted to a 100% online format for the first time. Towards the end of last year, the organizing team had to look for an alternative to the usual face-to-face gathering owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. Within an incredibly short period, a small number of dedicated people transitioned the congress, complete with the accompanying exhibition, to a fully virtual environment, and very successfully so.
On each of the congress days, about 500 participants logged onto the platform to follow the large number of presentations and to visit the virtual exhibition. Spread over four days, this year’s BetonTage included a high-profile program with over 120 speakers from a wide range of sectors, including universities, research institutions, precast producers, architects’ and designers’ practices, and construction contractors. The overarching theme of “Building smartly – Megatrends in Concrete” was reflected by virtually all of the key topics on the agenda, including digitization, climate-friendly construction, the decarbonization of cement and concrete, serial construction, the use of recycled and carbon-reinforced concrete, and process innovations such as the 3D printing of buildings and structural components. The digital plenary sessions and several parallel panels covered all these aspects in many different ways.
The virtual BetonTage event continued to follow the principle of engaging attendees with topics of societal relevance. For instance, the first keynote speaker, Dr. Jörg Wallner, of the Leipzig-based 2bAHEAD think tank, referred to the implications of the digital transformation. “Those who are determined to master it have to develop an understanding of the future while being aware of and closely monitoring the trends in the respective industry and taking action on their own initiative – and the time is now,” stressed Dr. Wallner, identifying many of the previously mentioned megatrends as the key drivers of the construction industry of tomorrow.
In his co-opening lecture, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Manfred Curbach, of Dresden University of Technology, also discussed future trends and developments while advocating a climate-friendly and resource-saving approach to construction. According to him, we need to rethink the way we build completely, developing a “21st century building” mindset. The challenge we are facing is to become more creative in the design, construction and operation phases. He added that there were many ways of achieving this goal, including in the design and construction phases but also with respect to materials and production processes as well as digitization. He called upon industry and policymakers to promote and implement research on a larger scale and highlighted the opportunities arising from such initiatives referring to the example of carbon-reinforced concrete.
On the second congress day, Commerzbank chief economist, Dr. Jörg Krämer, and Dr. Mathias Jacob, Vice President of the Federation of the German Construction Industry, outlined economic trends and prospects amid the pandemic and post-Covid-19. In the “certain extra bit” speech after the second-day program, renowned coach and author, Peter Holzer, talked about the right leadership qualities needed in turbulent times such as these. As previously, a major portion of the program concentrated on topics relevant to the precast industry.
Focus on precast elements
The product-specific panels compiled together with the relevant industry associations played an important part in conveying the corresponding technical aspects. Presentations covered the complete range of topics, including structural precast; concrete products for road construction, gardening and landscaping; civil engineering and sewer construction; lightweight concrete; and cast stone, referring to innovative production and prefabrication processes, latest concrete technology advancements such as R (recycled) concrete, infra-lightweight concrete and UHPC, and the design and finishing of exposed concrete surfaces. In addition, speakers presented a select range of landmark projects to outline the wide variety of design options and innovative applications of precast elements.
The panels entitled “Building Environmentally Friendly with Concrete”, “Potentials of the Precast Elements of Tomorrow” and “From Research to Practice – Focus on the Construction Site” featured a range of groundbreaking developments. Lectures on novel types of concrete and cement, innovative aggregates and production processes presented solutions for building sustainably with concrete.
The “Business and Law” panel provided updates on the legally sound drafting of contracts for work and contract addenda, as well as on the labor law amendments required amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Future Day of the Construction Industry
Once again, the Future Day of the Construction Industry provided a shared knowledge platform for construction contractors and their precast business partners. At last year’s event, the establishment of solid UNIT – Netzwerk innovativer Massivbau [innovative network for solid construction] had been announced in the presence of the Minister of Economic Affairs of the German State of Baden-Württemberg, Dr. Nicole Hoffmeister-Kraut. One year later, Markus Böll, President of the Baden-Württemberg Construction Industry Association, reported on first positive results of the initiative. The following presentations dealt with sustainability criteria for buildings, the use of recycled concrete in precast applications, and serial construction. The speakers also outlined areas of activity essential to achieving the decarbonization of cement and concrete and highlighted opportunities opened up by additive manufacturing with the aid of 3D printing in research and practice. In the afternoon of this day, several parallel panels included a range of lectures on building construction, civil engineering, and sewer construction. In addition, Composites United, one of the BetonTage partners, hosted a panel dedicated to carbon-reinforced concrete to inform attendees of its use on the construction site and at the precast plant.
Virtual exhibition experience
Like in the face-to-face setting, the virtual BetonTage format also included a supporting exhibition: 55 companies from the engineering, supplier and software industries demonstrated their loyalty to this long-standing event and showcased their products and services in three virtual exhibition halls. Some of them also presented their newly developed products personally at the Innovation Forum forming part of the congress agenda. Once again, Silvio Schade, BFT International editor-in-chief, moderated the forum. The BFT International industry magazine continued to be the official media partner at this year’s 65th BetonTage edition.
In the virtual exhibition booths, visitors had the opportunity to obtain comprehensive information and, in some cases, to engage in direct online chats with exhibitor representatives.
For the first time, the BetonTage congress hosted the ceremony to present the Concrete Architecture Award, which the Informationszentrum Beton had offered jointly with the Association of German Architects (BDA). Renowned architects and designers such as Alexander Bonte, member of the managing board of Max Dudler Architekten, and Sven Plieninger, of schlaich bergermann partner, sbp gmbh, Stuttgart, delivered the opening presentations showcasing impressive, lightweight yet durable concrete buildings, followed by the awardees’ presentations of the winning entries.
Positive outcome and new outlook
The organizing team were pleased with the outcome of the event. Dr. Ulrich Lotz, managing director of FBF Betondienst GmbH, ends on a positive note: “The virtual BetonTage congress proved to be just as successful as its face-to-face counterparts. We have received a lot of positive feedback, so it was definitely worth taking the plunge. As a matter of course, however, we are also very much looking forward to meeting in person again next year. Yet this transition to an online format also opens up new avenues towards a hybrid event setting in which we will be able to permanently interlink the physical with the digital world in an innovative way”.