Innovation is one of our corporate values. We encourage continuous improvement by remaining open to innovation with a creative and inquisitive mindset. All employees are closely involved in this process, because innovation can and must originate from everywhere within the organisation. We are specifically committed to the following four points:
• Innovation in the construction process
• New technologies and digital construction
• Business transformation
• Business model innovations
We want to be and remain a successful actor in the construction sector. As a consequence, we are committed to continuous improvement and efficiency gains in our business processes and organisation. After all, it is only by continuously focusing on innovation that our Group can stay prepared to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
Tom Willemen, CEO
Innovation in the construction process
Even a small improvement marks one step towards innovation. One thing we can do is continuously improve our working methods, and we encourage our employees to help us do so through our innovation competition.
The innovation competition is organised annually by the Strategy & Innovation Policy Cell and gives all colleagues the opportunity to come up with and implement progressive concepts. The competition runs across several different categories, including safety, the environment, internal operations and the application of innovative products on and off our sites. The best proposals are rewarded with a cash prize by the jury.
Drainphalt® is an in-house development of Willemen Infra and a product of our innovation contest. It is an open asphalt surface that allows rainwater to drain directly into the soil or temporarily buffers it inside the asphalt surface. The rapid drainage of rainwater renders sewage, water trenching, discharge grids, buffer basins and canals redundant. In other words, Drainphalt® allows for significant space savings on location and provides a concrete solution to persistently falling groundwater levels. Plus, the new asphalt mixture is rotated at a low temperature. This not only reduces the CO2 emissions of the production process; the asphalt also emits fewer hot gases while being laid, making that activity more enjoyable. And last but not least, this new asphalt type requires much less maintenance.
Meanwhile, we continued to develop Drainphalt® so that it can grow to become a genuine system solution with the addition of Drainpipe: a lateral drainage system that facilitates substrate water drainage. drainphalt.be
All innovative projects are followed up by the Strategy & Innovation Policy Cell, and the knowledge gained is centralised and shared via the Willemen Innovation Hub digital innovation platform. To ensure we focus on the right innovation projects with sufficient support, added value and potential, various working groups have been set up that meet on a quarterly basis. These working groups are subdivided according to different themes and expertise:
- Execution of construction works
- Execution of road construction works
- Work equipment and machines
- Real Estate Development
- Asphalt production
- Concrete production and recycling of raw materials
New technologies and digital construction
As a modern construction company with a strong drive for innovation, we are constantly on the lookout for solutions to help us build more efficiently, plan better and drastically reduce our failure costs. That's because in a competitive sector like ours, it is absolutely essential that we find ways to close the gap between the planning phase and the construction process. For that reason, we are fully committed to the latest technologies.
Photogrammetry, virtual and augmented reality, drones, blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning, wearables and so on don't just help to digitalise processes and construction techniques; they're also useful for improving them in an innovative way. The person responsible for new technologies and digitisation is constantly researching high-tech concepts that can make a difference by reducing failure costs and delays as much as possible. Further research and development is often recommended. To realise this, we work closely with various knowledge institutions and we participate in co-creation processes.
Our Group wants to be the leader in construction process management in all its aspects, from design all the way to the maintenance of construction projects. Our Business Transformation SC is responsible for making sure this process stays on track. This team maps all processes, internal structures and data flows of our construction group. The processes that we are familiar with today are due to change radically. Trends that are specific to the fourth industrial revolution, such as 5D building and its associated technology, challenge our organisation to look creatively for new ways of working with these new technologies. As a Group, we resolutely choose to see these challenges as opportunities, and to embrace them and incorporate them into our current practices.
Business model innovations
Our innovation coordinator is constantly monitoring various innovations, trends and evolutions. This enables him to encourage and assist business leaders in a timely manner in analysing their business models and adjusting them if necessary. He also helps structure new business units for developinginnovation projects. Another aspect of his role is to provide business leaders and employees with the tools and supervision required to get started with innovative applications.