3D printers, drones, robots: digitization shapes the building of tomorrow. Specialists discussed the consequences on November 15 at the KZA round of experts. Around 70 guests accepted the invitation into the office of Koschany + Zimmer architects KZA in Essen – and some of them gained quite surprising insights.

“In five years’ time, a 3D printer will cost less than 50 euros and it will be found in every child’s room,” explained Prof. Michael Schäfer from the Faculty of Computer Engineering at the Ruhr West University of Applied Sciences (HRW). He leads the HRW FabLab – one of 1200 workshops worldwide that introduce interested parties to new technologies of digital fabrication. In his presentation, Schäfer gave an insight into the possibilities of Industry 4.0 and showed what 3D printers can already produce today – hip joints made of titanium as well as colourful sugar decorations for children’s birthday parties or concrete walls.

Communication between man and machine 

The changes within the construction industry were then more closely discussed by Univ.-Prof. Dr. techn. Sigrid Brell-Cokcan. Her exploratory focus at RWTH Aachen University is how the construction process can be automated across the entire value chain. Robots play a key role in this context – and consequently the communication between man and machine is important, too.

“It goes without saying that architects must be able to program in the future,” emphasized Brell-Cokcan. At the same time, she dispelled the fear that people could lose their place in the working environment as digitization progressed. In the end, robots were only tools that executed specific tasks.

Drones open up new vistas 

Andreas Riem introduced the guests to the third major topic of the evening: drones. “Unlike helicopters, drones make it relatively easy to gain new perspectives,” the owner of Ultimate Rotors in Wesseling said. He produces bird’s eye images and videos for his clients. The change in his industry is immense: Already within the two years after the formation of his company, the technical possibilities have improved rapidly.

Nowadays, drones can service many parts of buildings that could hardly be reached before. Also, they can survey areas and accurately calculate routes on the construction site. And soon people or larger loads could be transported back and forth between logistics locations, as Riem explained.

Shaping the digital transformation

But do all these changes give cause for euphoria – or should they be questioned rather critically? Moderator Martin von Mauschwitz chose this question as a starting point for the concluding discussion. In the end, the speakers agreed that it was important to be as open as possible to the new technologies, helping to shape changes and to use the digital know-how of young people across disciplines. “Getting involved is the only way of doing it”, emphasized KZA’s CEO Axel Koschany.