Imagining the Future of Construction with Alex Walzer
Episode 10313th September 2023 • Construction Disruption • Isaiah Industries
00:00:00 00:55:21

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“I live along those lines of open innovation, and… you can learn something from anybody. Don’t let your ego or disposition get in the way. So, imagine, you know, like you know already what you have in your mind and the values you stand for. Plus, imagine you can also learn 20% of everybody around you. We would be unstoppable, right? So, this is the kind of industry I think we need moving forward. So, speak up, connect with other folks.”

-- Alex Walzer, Researcher at ETH Zurich

As a researcher, Alex questions the potential of construction to positively affect our lives, economies, and planet. While many innovations we enjoy daily make life easier, we still have tremendous unexplored potential and profound needs. Listen in as Alex shares several ideas and opportunities for construction’s future.

Innovation needs adoption, and the construction industry is notoriously difficult to win over. New ideas are slow to percolate, but skipping out on new technology only limits growth. New techniques like digital fabrication and 3D printing may change building forever.


Topics discussed in this interview:

- Why does construction appeal to Alex?

- What do future solutions look like for current problems?

- Will energy consumption drive innovation?

- Digital fabrication and implications for building

- How will robotics affect new construction?

- Interesting possibilities for robots in daily life

- Tailoring robots for human users

- 3D printed buildings and aesthetics

- Entrepreneurship and construction

- Solar power and energy independence

- Open innovation

- Outside sources of inspiration

- Gamification and construction labor

- Rapid fire questions


You can reach out to Alex on LinkedIn and learn more about the DFAB House at dfabhouse.ch


This episode of Construction Disruption is sponsored by TrueLook, the easiest way to view, secure, and document your jobsite. Get your free, no obligation quote at TrueLook.com.


For more Construction Disruption, listen on Apple Podcasts or YouTube

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This episode was produced by Isaiah Industries, Inc.



This podcast uses the following third-party services for analysis:

Podtrac - https://analytics.podtrac.com/privacy-policy-gdrp
Chartable - https://chartable.com/privacy

Transcripts

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Hey, Ryan, we have some pretty exciting news, I think. Construction Disruption now has our first ever paid sponsor. There's this company that approached us about getting in front of our audience, and we're so pleased to have them now as a sponsor.

Speaker:

Ryan Bell: That's right, Todd. That company is TrueLook, and what they offer is pretty awesome. They've made it incredibly easy to view, secure, and document job sites with their construction cameras.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: You know, a lot of times I think we think of construction cameras as, you know, just being there for security. But with TrueLook, they also have features like custom time-lapse videos and remote live viewing.

Speaker:

Ryan Bell: Yeah, you know, a term we throw around a lot here on Construction Disruption is game-changing and TrueLook certainly falls into that category. Being able to document your progress on job sites and then go back and show your clients that high-quality, in-progress video is certainly something that I would call game-changing.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: You know, I absolutely agree. And at TrueLook, they also have unlimited users, free forever media storage, 24/7 support, no-contract service plans, lifetime equipment, warranties, and no limits on 4G LTE data transmission.

Speaker:

Ryan Bell: And they integrate seamlessly with project management tools like Procore and Autodesk.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: You know, I don't think anyone makes construction cameras as hassle free or feature-rich as TrueLook. Anyone can go and schedule a free no obligation quote at truelook.com. That's truelook.com.

Speaker:

Intro/Outro: Welcome to the Construction Disruption podcast, where we uncover the future of design, building and remodeling.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: I'm Todd Miller of Isaiah Industries, a manufacturer of specialty metal roofing and other building materials. Today, my co-host is Ethan Young. Ethan, how are you doing today?

Speaker:

Ethan Young: I'm doing pretty good today. I'm definitely happy that it's Friday, but doing good. How about you?

Speaker:

Todd Miller: I am looking forward to the show, actually. This is one that we booked a couple weeks ago and I've been looking forward to it ever since because we just got some cool stuff we're going to be talking about, looking out ahead into design and construction. But I did have something I wanted to share first, and this was, sometimes we have jokes. I'm sorry, I don't have a joke to share today. Maybe I am the joke, I don't know. But this is a quote that I read. It's attributed to Warren Buffett. You know, you see these quotes on the Internet and who knows if this is really who originally said this. But I still think it's a pretty cool quote to live by. So let me read this real quick. "You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you. True power is sitting back and observing things with logic. True power is restraint. If words control you, that means everyone else can control you. Breathe and allow things to pass." I love that. I think that's a good reminder for all of us to kind of approach life and just have that sort of. What was the word you used, stoicism?

Speaker:

Ethan Young: Kind of a stoic attitude about it, yeah.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Yeah, I like that, so. Good, good advice, I think. Well, let's go on into the show today. So it's kind of interesting, when we first developed construction disruption and hard to believe, Ethan, it's been nearly two years already since we started the show, but when we first started, our goal was really to what we call uncover the future of design and building and remodeling. And I think we've lived into that well, you know, over the years we've looked at industry disruptors and we've also looked at a number of individuals and companies who are trying trying hard to live into the future and also to shape the future of our great industry. Today we're going to do something a little different. We're going to focus a little bit more on what I call the intangible. We're going to dream and scheme a bit on where our industry may be going and really what it's going to take to get us there. To help us to that end today, we have Alex Walzer. Alex is from Zurich, Switzerland, and he is a doctoral researcher with ETH Zurich, which is the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. He is studying and working on construction entrepreneurship with a focus on digital fabrication and also on robotics and construction. Alex has broad experience in architecture and engineering, and he has, really just has this fascination with where our industry may be going and how it's going to get there. So Alex, what a pleasure to have you today as a guest on Construction Disruption. Thank you so much for joining us.

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Thanks, folks. The pleasure is mine. And in general, I would say I'm very happy to connect with you and talk about such timely topics, maybe pointing towards the future, maybe pointing towards just tomorrow. And also, congratulations on your podcast and the website looks really great.

Speaker:

Ethan Young: And I did want to mention, before we get into the rest of the interview, we are doing our challenge words this episode. So yeah, keep it, keep an ear out. See if you notice any kind of interesting or unique words coming from us. And we'll let you know at the end of the episode. But, anyways.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Thank you, Ethan. I so often forget to say that. I appreciate your throwing that in there. So our challenge words are just these words we challenge each other to work into the conversation so, we encourage our audience to listen to that. So Alex, let's jump into things. I want to start with sort of an overview question. I'm just kind of curious, what is it about construction that fascinates you and makes you want to be a part of that journey into the future of construction?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Well, it's a great question. So it will be more anecdotal now this part, but I'm trained as an architect, and I guess soon throughout this education, I realized I'm actually more interested in the process of constructing or construction. Because I think it's actually quite a beautiful tool to learn and see how basically our built environment is is planned and built around us and also how it regenerates as we aconstruct new stuff. That being said, I think there are also big, big challenges faced today and maybe or not, some of today's problems actually come from yesterday's solutions. So in general, you know, as a curious mind and rethinking, it's just wandering, basically. And I must, in that sense, believe that tomorrow needs to be different from today.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Very interesting. And your history is kind of interesting to me because we had another architect on the show once who, you know, he was trained as an architect and he just loved construction. I mean, he wanted to be the guy picking up the hammer. And so he kind of got into sort of a design build thing. But one of the things he told us was that original architects were also builders. They weren't just the ones sitting around designing. And I thought that was pretty fascinating. So as you look at the construction industry, Alex, what do you see as some of the biggest opportunities for growth or, you know, change or challenges that that the industry is going to continue to face?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: So if you ask me, maybe a few years back when I was younger, I'd probably have started answering just with with some solutions, right? So with robotics and automation, maybe something fancy around computation, a 3D design or something. But the problem is it doesn't sit there, right? So I think that it's pretty easy to forget that we are currently in a transition period of our industry. It is a very rough industry to actually work in today. Mostly it always has been very stressful for for most and also for some actually very heavy on their bodies, right. So I would say that these are some problems we actually have to face. And if it was possible, in an ideal scenario, we could make this kind of everyday life for every stakeholder in the construction value chain and and, you know, adjacent industries much better, and this is a big challenge. But yeah, I think in short, what I see is that there is construction industry changing as we speak. Very slowly, though, and there are many loose ends we have to tie up here. That being said, also, I think the bottlenecks are social processes and people and not necessarily technological ones. So we cannot move the problems basically by just hiding them. We need to solve them. So I would say let's discuss what symptoms we have. And then let's discuss what the root causes are and how we can change them and how we can kind of solve the pain of the industry there and not start with the solutions upfront. I guess this is something I see often in my field in research.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: That's very interesting. So if some of the problems or challenges we're facing are more social process as people, those types of things, I mean, it kind of sounds like any, you know, ongoing change that we do have in the industry probably isn't going to be, you know, like quantum leaps real fast. I mean, things that are usually driven by technology are probably will be more slow and gradual and more through adoption. Is that kind of what you think also?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Yeah, exactly. I mean, look, of course, I wish. An inner part of myself wishes for disruption. And wishing for things to destroy. And your I think your podcast has a very fitting title here, but it is maybe not as disruptive as we would wish for because it's a social process. It's a social experiment. And so technological change and innovation takes time to just materialize. I think also so far, if you look at the innovations in construction, they have been very incremental so far. Yet maybe, you know, I'm thinking of lack of regulations and the discussion more recently about embodied and emitted carbon. I think this actually might change the way that existing companies are competing. You know, making revenue might in turn maybe lead to new materials and processes throughout this transformation. So it is really a little bit like a carrots and sticks approach, you know. And that being said, this is a very big industry. It plays in different markets, very decentralized, very networked. So it's also, for me, a bit difficult to, for example, compare the US environment to the European one, to Asia-Pacific, Global South. But there are different markets out there. Different markets require different solutions; there's different problems sometimes. And I think we just have to internally test many, many ideas at the same time. And it's a great time right now to probably do that and just also maybe want to add up. So, yes, maybe it is less of a quantum leap, a disruptive kind of transformation that will happen as we speak. But we also should not underestimate second order effects. So I think about how, for example, the hardware of a smartphone enables us to actually develop apps and platforms and marketplaces. So you can see that maybe without smartphones, we wouldn't have ridesharing platforms or dating apps, whatnot, all these kind of players. They require this hardware in the first place. And so this is, I think, quite interesting. Maybe not something we had in mind when we were having just early Nokia phones. And I guess the point I want to make here is that maybe hardware enables new ecosystem building eventually and then but if you then consider not the smartphone manufacturing world and consumer electronics, but the construction industry, we are pretty much in the same place we've been 100 years ago. Maybe we have better windows now, but they are still the same type of products. And also maybe to give you an example from the automotive space, I always like to think in other industries, right. What kind of transformation have they undergone? And if you think of automotive space, maybe around, let's say 50 years ago, you know, aerodynamics also did not really matter that much. Or passenger or pedestrian safety did not play a big role. So that's, the cars back then, they had a different radius because maybe of manufacturability, not of outside external factors. So that's quite important. I think this is a shift for sure. And as you can see today, leading car manufacturers in the world are leading in those fields in aerodynamics and passenger safety. So putting regulations and just values in society upfront will actually, might actually condense the goods innovation to move forward. And we are all part of this big experiment. So we will see. We will see eventually and did see in hindsight then forecasting how we will move ahead in our industry.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Very interesting. When you think about the challenges that are going to drive change in the construction industry, are most of those challenges you think have to do with, you know, some of the things we think about energy, carbon footprint or do you think there are other big challenges on the horizon that are going to be the drivers of change also in construction going forward?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Yes. So I like to think of this kind of carbon discussion and material discussion, I guess as we if we think of food, these are the calories. So we need to know how much we should consume, what is healthy and what is not. What's the ideal breakfast? It's a stupid comparison, but, you know, like, we need we need to know like what's in this building, what does it represent, what energy went into it, and maybe how can I say it again in a circular economy environment. However, I think also moving forward, big challenges are actually our infrastructure that we've built over the past decades is falling apart, plus the pressure of declining available workforce. Or let's put it in other words, maybe this is interesting for your listeners. I'm not sure if we have a declining workforce, but there's a declining number of people willing to work for the salaries this industry pays. Maybe that's a different perspective to look at it. But anyway, we need more people, probably higher salaries, new technologies in this environment as well. And but by adding new technologies, maybe we can reskill existing workforce or attract also like a new supplementary workforce as well. It is, I said before, right, like a very unpleasant work environment and not many people really want to work in it. We are actually in here. I don't know why, but it is interesting. But it's still unpleasant, right? So it has to do with unrealistic deadlines, I would say ad hoc workflows, a lot of waste in general as well, like both in terms of labor and also materials. And, you know, by doing this, we're not generating a really high performance, high quality environment for high performance, high quality products. But as the opposite trends, it's a race to the bottom sometimes. And nobody in the manufacturing industry, for example, would behave or do projects the way we do it, right? So maybe, maybe we are missing a little bit of like management skills and education to actually work through these big complex projects. And maybe in general, I would see I'm also a big fan of moving away from projects to products. Because I don't quite know, even as an architect, like why 99% of the buildings actually need to be unique and designed from scratch. Why can't we just use the same plans again and industrialize the way we build as well? That in turn might also help reducing housing prices, but now it opens up a lot of cans of worms. But I think it's all connected in a way, and let's move away from having done it in the past to something maybe a bit nicer and more environmentally friendly moving forward.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Yeah, I think that's all interesting. And one of the things I thought of when you said that, you know, why does 90% have to be unique? Kind of funny, my wife and I live in a home that was built as a custom home about 50 years ago. But this was a home design that was out there and lots of folks were building. So it's cool, I may be in someplace completely different in the country and see my house, so that's kind of cool. But so, you know, speaking about products, I know that one of the things that you study is what's called digital fabrication. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I as I understand that that's kind of basically where data is used to drive the design of equipment to make new products. Is that kind of a loose, good, decent understanding of that?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Yeah, it's a nice description. I think it's one of the better ones I've heard so far. It's also cool you looked it up, so thanks for doing the background research. I mean, for some of your listeners, some folks out there familiar with kind of workflows relating usually called CAD, computer aided design and manufacturing, where basically you have a component where you design stuff on the computer. As I say, you use building information modeling, but then also something that is related to the manufacturing, the production process, and they are actually linked. So the beauty of that would be that you can actually make fabrication data available for the design process upstream, opening new kind of avenues to streamline these kind of processes from design to production, right? It also means technically, as you again said before, like back in the days, architects were also the builders and in this case, in this kind of narrative of digital fabrication, we can see a world where the separation of planner and engineers and fabricator is a bit blurred trying to become the same person, maybe to become this medieval master builder again, that that would be one possible future. So just imagine having a shop downstairs where you can just, you know, you draw some stuff, you run it through the machines or some simulation or so nowadays and you can realize how much it costs, how much, how long it takes you, what kind of inventory you need to have, and so on. But it's a bit more disruptive approach, I would say. And maybe because if that's not too many companies to actually take advantage of this because it has to be absorbed by the industry as well. Digital fabrication, from our understanding, also can lead to a new product architecture as in a sense, new processes usually also inform new products and vice versa. And maybe one good examples for the listener. The name is a bit obvious, but it's called the DFAB House in Switzerland, digital fabrication house. We can maybe then put the link or so in the description later. It is a full-scale research demonstrator, kind of a joint venture between the university academic research and some curious and ambitious industry partners that was built around maybe five years ago. It's still standing, still runs. Quite cool, it combines elements of 3D printing, robotics, prefabrication. It is, of course, the connected smart home as well. But it's interesting to see these kind of components come together where everything is actually digitally fabricated and not just a particular element like a column or something. So that that could be quite interesting maybe for some to see.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Very cool DFAB house. So there's a website for it I assume, or something, right?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Exactly, dfabhouse.ch.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Very good. So another area I know where you study, Alex, is robotics and construction. Would it make sense to you that as robotics are used more in construction, it's going to be more through offsite construction, you know, in factories and so forth, rather than individual job site construction? Or do you see a little bit of both happening, or how do you see robotics coming into play?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: That's a good point again, right? So that's also for me sometimes very tough because in my little brain to draw the line between like the way how I think about or we think about robotics and the way we think about digital fabrication, it is somewhat interlinked, right? It comes together. But so robotics also comes with software and firmware and all these kind of things, right? They need to be integrated in the production system. So this tends to go towards automation and so on. But I think yes, so both will happen, right? They will materialize probably different, differently. I guess that offsite prefab allows just for higher throughput and thereby enables maybe to achieve economies of scale faster, which then also in turn justifies higher capital expenditures of such a facility in the first place. But then eventually you get into inventory bottlenecks, right? So you may want to look for methodologies, as you can find in the Toyota production system from the automotive industry, very old, where you produce basically and keep a small inventory and produce parts just in time. Then in contrast, on the job side, I think we're more towards talking about collaborative environments. Because we have smaller batch sizes and it's going to be very similar, I think, to using cranes and tools nowadays just to be more sophisticated and more smarter tools. That's going to assist the professionals on the job site. And in this regard, we see a lot of developments actually more recently in terms of drones, other types of robots. And in in our kind of research at university, we also try a little bit to understand how professionals eventually perceive these machines. And maybe trying to understand if they, actually if we can increase acceptance and adoption rates by testing different designs of those machines or at least understand which kind of design is the most hated one to avoid sense of threat. Because if the users don't like it, they will not use it. So that's a bummer then. And yeah, I think there's a lot of people already working on this. And both I think both are viable options today already. It might actually move quite fast. So if you think of self-driving cars, they were science fiction rides until like some companies introduced kind of self-driving cars almost ten years ago already, or semi self-driving enabled by electrification of that industry and that kind of product. So it's also kind of smart from a business perspective if you think of construction robotics, because as you can basically book a one time sale or you do like a robot as a service lease model or something, you can also generate recurring revenue through subscription models, right? So you have maybe like a remote mode and autonomous mode and you have to pay monthly for that or so. So and then you can airdrop updates to the machines or something like this. This might happen. So it's quite interesting, I think, because we're just at the cusp of this taking place. So it still sounds crazy. When we meet in five years, we will see more of those machines, I guess, on the job site.

Speaker:

Ethan Young: That actually made me think of a couple of things. One, that just put the picture in my head of like going down to the local like, you know, rental place for like a forklift or whatever yard tool you need. I don't know if you know, what I'm talking about Todd. Aand just having a robot there, I think. Yeah, I think that's a really, that's actually kind of an interesting idea. And then the other point is, you published an article back in January. You and some others published an article back in January about perceptions of different robotic designs and how those effect, you know. I think where it was interesting for me too, was I read through the abstract, but do you think there'd be a difference in how people would perceive them based on or how like the most effective way we could design them? You know, comparing them for a job site or an office? Do you think there's a difference there?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: First of all, thank you for reading our papers. I'm happy somebody does. And I would say yes. So there are some functional requirements, of course, some architecture, certain requirements this machine needs to fulfill. And that depends a bit on the work task and the scenario, how they interact with the humans or not. That will change. These machines are modular as well, so you could change components on them. You could make up a new robot as you wish, maybe, like I say, as a platform, as a modular system. And then I think, let's say it, once we have found a good robot that we are or the drywall people are happy to work with, then I think it's not about the design in the sense of physical embodiment and materialization of that particular machine, but it's also about how this machine moves and talks and behaves. Like in your car you can probably press a button and it has a preset for your seat and maybe do the temperature you like and what not, and your radio station that is your favorite. Future construction machines might also have like maybe you have a personal key or something to log in to check for credentials, for training, etc. but then also to give you like a certain profile that you need. So maybe I'm weak in my left arm so the robot needs to compensate for this weakness. That could be one individualized scenario I could imagine moving forward.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: So as we think about robotics and construction, I mean, you know, one of the thoughts I think of is 3D printing of buildings. But certainly what we're talking about here goes beyond that as well. But, you know, 3D-printed buildings obviously have a different look to them. You think that the look and the way we design the aesthetics of buildings is going to have to change to accommodate more of this technology?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Look, architects will see 3D printing, aesthetics of 3D printing as a feature, not a bug. So it depends. I guess maybe like in the future, look, in the future, not so far. You will have, you will order your building in the configurator. That is probably some AI-driven engine and you will just select. Do you want the surface to look 3D printed or just not? And it's like as you bought a car and you just select the color of your interior or surfaces, right. It's that simple. And but what you said is interesting. So, we'll, basically, if we zoom out, will the machines that produce the building affect how the building looks? Probably, yes. So there are some constraints with 3D printing in terms of just gravity and details like this and just the process, if it works right. And then there's differences. Whether you do it as off site or on the job site, whether you move components, you can you can flip them or you print them as they should stand there. It depends, right? It depends also, then again, how this is all being assembled or disassembled. If you have this thinking of a circularity in here. I think personally, though, that the the robot is just means to produce the building, right? So it is more important to actually think about the psyche and emotions of the human user more than the technical capabilities of that particular machine that produces that particular structure. Once you know, in a lifetime, in like 100th of the lifespan, 1% of the time of that element. But I get the points of course. And so maybe here, I'd say like, going back to another industry like smartphones do have some economics that are important drivers as we use this kind of phones. And this would then inform the product design, which kind of, in a way, has to work with the production means that are available right soon. For example, I don't know if, for example, the construction context, if a nail. Not a screw, but a nail, informs the design of the hammer or vice versa. It's a causality dilemma. I don't know. It's a chicken-egg thing so you can't have one with. So I don't know if it's one of those kind of situations where we have to think through and it might just change a little bit the entire system architecture. So maybe both have to change eventually. They have to get closer to each other or some new technique comes out there and we don't print, but we spray or throw or something. But in general, also, I have some other thoughts on 3D printing. It is, it has been a very more recent trends in the industry. And I'm also personally actually very interested in this, agnostic to industries and application. But when I think about it a bit more, it is still the cement, right? Still concrete. It doesn't really solve the main problem about environmental impact and so on. So there will be issues here, I think, moving forward of increasing the market size here too much. And it is also at this point, I think still a somewhat unclear cost-benefit curve that we need to understand better. Critical voices might say that it is the solution looking for a problem. And since in my doctoral research, I study entrepreneurship in the construction industry, like this is the main application today where we see entrepreneural activities and startups in nurturing. And we will see what type of innovation here will basically succeed, right? There's some kind of startups in the US and have raised north of half a billion, I think, in the US. So we know people believe in it and it's kind of coming together. Technological barriers are being being basically overcome. But I think maybe we should put elements on the ground in general and do some stuff for the construction aboveground.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: You know, I thought that was really interesting where, you know, you have this focus on entrepreneurship in construction. And, you know, when I think of entrepreneurship, I think of more sort of the individual bootstrapping and doing something unique. But really you're kind of looking at bigger picture there that, you know, it's going to take these folks who do want to develop organizations, whether that's already scaled or to be scaled later, that want to develop these things to push things forward. I mean, do you see that? It sounds like you see that as one of the driving factors that's going to be required to make these changes in terms of social processes and people and so forth that drives us ahead, is that correct?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Yeah, it's certainly, like my focus would be more on this kind of technology and partnership rights, like pushing this forward. But it is very difficult. Look, it's still like companies are just basically a group of people coming together for a particular moment in time, trying to solve a particular problem at a profit. And there's many stakeholders involved. And 3D printing, for example, just because we just mentioned it, is also very unclear from the regulation and standards perspective. Is this going to be, does it suffice as it does, it fits to existing frameworks? Do we need new frameworks? Probably both is true, right? So it's an added challenge. And this is very interesting to study because the entrepreneurs that are so driven today are trying to overcome this challenge despite all the uncertainty. And it is highly interesting to study and hopefully it will work out because we need those kind of experiments in our construction. Otherwise we just fall back too to how we've done the things for the past 200 years, I guess.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Sure. Well, I want to switch gears a little bit, and I'd like to talk a little bit about solar and even specifically building-integrated solar. As you kind of look into your crystal ball, is there anything you see happening that's in that area that's going to continue to allow buildings to produce their own energy or be zero energy, however you want to look at it?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Yeah, I think it's a great example of technology that's using the built environment, but does not really, necessarily too much affect the construction process, meaning it is highly possible to retrofit existing structures with those kind of technologies, which is great. And yes, I mean, look, our grid sometimes in some locations is plagued by blackouts. And we, I think we have to make it more resilient. So one way to do it is basically through decentralized energy generation and also storage in that sense. And maybe it's also a combination of basically this kind of building, integrated photovoltaic systems, maybe some kind of type of wind energy source or geothermal heat pumps, you know, all these things all together to increase actually resilience. And I also liked the idea because I think it is a more recent discussion that to some degree puts back agency to building owners and operators away from utility companies. So there is sort of a freedom movement in there as well, which is I think quite, quite nice to see. And in the future, yes, I think that there might be a possible future where every building, every structure can generate store and maybe trades its own energy, which is also pretty cool in terms of like resource pooling and maybe lowering the price of this kind of commodities in a sense.

Speaker:

Ethan Young: Yeah, I think you made an interesting point there too. Just a, it's almost about adding that capability back to people so that, you know, like you said, if the grid goes down, they still have the ability, you know, they can still be lighting their homes, They can still be, if they have an electric car, they can power their car, you know, appliances, Internet, whatever it is for in that case. But it's like you said, it's kind of putting a little bit of that power back in the hands of the individual.

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Exactly. When I was living in the US last year, we had a few like power outs and one of my housemates had an electric car and we just basically we hooked up. We had like a huge fridge and we hooked up that fridge to the electric car for a few days. It's insane. But that's like this kind of empowerment that you get because you get all of a sudden you get creative. Like our neighbors don't have electric cars, so our fridge is the one on the street, you know, that survives.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Well, you know, as we talk about this looking forward, I mean, one of the things we think a lot of our audience members are folks who are fairly early in their careers in design and building and remodeling. You know, you're still a young guy and you're building this amazing career in the in a great industry. Do you have any specific career advice for other young folks who are getting involved in this this business?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Yeah. So I'm not as young as you might think, but thinking new ideas keep me young, right? It's just a mental note. But I mean, I have I have this body to use, right? So that's it. And I would say that's maybe one advice I would like to give also my younger self, if I was in the same position again, is basically to start connect with your peers and just talk to people in the industry. Don't assume that that your current superior, that is only there anyway for a certain amount of time, probably a project, you know, maybe for this one employment whatnot. They are not just single point of truth. So network, move across the firm boundary, knock some walls down ourselves. I think the industry could really benefit from more transparency and you will also then receive transparent feedback as well. And from there you can actually build trust, you can make teams operate more efficiently. And maybe this also has to do actually, in fact with de-risking innovation as well, right? It is a methodology called open innovation. And basically if you are able and willing to share comfortably ideas, no matter which stage, it can be stupid, it's fine, right? But I really live along those kind of, in my personal life and it gets me sometimes also in trouble, I'll tell you that. But I live along those lines of open innovation and I can recommend and I would say that in general, you can learn something from anybody. Don't let your ego or disposition in the way. So imagine, you know, like you know already anyway, what you have in your mind and the values you stand for. Plus, imagine you can also learn 20% of everybody around you. We would be unstoppable, right? So this is the kind of industry I think we need moving forward. So speak up, connect with other folks. Try startups. You have to be only right once. That's it.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: I love that. And I remember earlier you spoke that you tend to look outside the construction industry for ideas and inspiration. And I had seen you being interviewed someplace and you said, you know, I really don't read construction books. I tend to read other industries. And you mentioned earlier automotive or vehicles. Are there other industries that you think in particular folks ought to be paying attention to or looking to for inspiration and ideas?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Yeah, you know, we live in a time of aliens now, so I'm not sure when this podcast will come up, but we just discovered that kind of stuff. So I think that space exploration is also highly interesting. Like this is pioneering work, right? People build new technologies to go to places where nobody has been before and very costly, high risk, maybe a bit too much, but aerospace engineering, super interesting. And okay, so some simpler examples. Maybe here it's easier analogies. I think I would also like to think a bit of more like, construction is a physical activity where, like lots of professionals, millions of them, in fact, every day burn calories on the job sites. So maybe there's a way to think of some more healthy practices for physical health. Also mental health, of course, but also maybe think about more about our construction professionals actually as athletes and cheer them up and, I don't know, build teams, you know, where they can be more productive, more efficient so they don't have to. I don't know why it has the situation that it currently is, and the industry could be so much better. So then I think about nutrition, food and cooking, because Indians, workers, professionals out there together are cooking or baking a house, if you will, right? They're mixing ingredients. They put it in the formwork. It's just a massive cake. So it could be nice, you know, could be healthy, too.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Well, I love that. And I know that you talk some about, you know, gamifying things. So that kind of plays in with that. Also, how how can we make something fun, something healthy out of work? It's a great concept.

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Might as well, right. It's almost for free to be in a good mood and to do it healthy and smart and do it properly. So thanks for doing all the background research guys. It's really good stuff. So gamification is, I think, the key to unlock a lot of things in construction as well as in other industries, of course. And then I can see the conference of some sort of gamification with robotics where it becomes like a video game or something. You know, when you receive some tokens or you are like the most productive in the fields. So everybody knows your credentials because you have this particular status or sound on your machine or whatever it could be, right? It's maybe too simplified and people don't agree, but something is there that I think we could integrate in the construction industry. And robots have been out there in other geographical regions, like for example, Japan in the eighties as well. They disappeared because I think more macro factors and stuff, labor got cheaper again, maybe something around this, right? However, if you wanted to see interesting construction sites, which I like to see them. Go to Japan, they're amazing, they're very clean. They're completely wrapped up. No dust leaves the construction sites. They will spray water, the trucks, before leaving. So you don't affect the neighbors, right? They will have a screen there measuring and displaying the sound levels visible of the construction sites. I think it's very nice. It's one step further into the future and it's there already. So some kind of gamification with some robotics in a nice environments is how I think we could be more productive and create generally a nicer, better, more fun environment and maybe eventually build better products. Might even increase your margin, I don't know. But, you know, the race to the bottom has not worked out so far with 3% pretax profit margin. That's not enough to help.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Good point. You know, we're blessed. We sell a decent amount of our roofing materials in Japan. And one of the things that always strikes me is, their roofing installers wear white gloves. I can assure you there are not too many roofing installers here in the States wearing white gloves.

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: They should wear suits and, you know, kind of athletic outfits.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Yeah, absolutely.

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Because they are doing critical work, you know.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Absolutely, I agree. Well, you know, someone like you who spends so much time thinking about the future of, you know, focusing on this industry, I have to imagine that you have had some pretty out there ideas that have come to you over the years. I'm just curious, is there anything that you'd want to share with us as far as a real wildest dream idea or something you've played with in your mind about construction?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Yes. I really think this kind of gamification approach, it's more like approach methodology, than the product or so. I think that could really work. Well, I can also share it with you. I have one crazy idea. It was actually my undergrad thesis I did with with two friends and a nice set of very supportive supervisors. We were trying to propose to them to use the solar energy and bundle the light, basically with a large lens to melt desert sands. And we would mount this kind of mirrors on drones, on a swarm of drones and it would solidify layers of desert sands. And just recently, last week, I came across a scientific research paper that finally actually tells us that this really can be done. We did small scale tests, you know, but we were young students with limited resources, and they actually gave us some good indication of what can be done. So if anyone out there wants to solar singe desert sand, imagine. This is abundant material that today cannot really be used for cement because of the aggregate's texture or something, size, geometry of that. It doesn't need external energy as well. That could be quite interesting. So in short, 3D printing with desert sands using solar light to crystallize and melt, to glassify basically the sand, that would be quite crazy, too.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Goodness. Remember everyone, you may have heard it here first. I love this.

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Hit me up, and we'll build it.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Sounds good. Well, thank you so much, Alex. This has been fascinating. We're going to have to have you back sometime. I know there's a lot more we can talk about, but we are kind of close to wrapping up what we call the business end of things. Is there anything we haven't covered today that you'd like to share with our audience?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: So maybe it depending on your audience, right? So maybe one thing we could talk about just briefly is investments in our space. This is something I also tend to spend quite some thinking time on it. And I would say just for investors and partners and people willing to do joint ventures and so on, I would say that there's a great opportunity to invest in hardware ventures today and hardware solutions like new materials, robotics and so on, because for many people, many people are blinded by returns of software investments. And there has been crazy examples in our industry already, exits and acquisitions and so on, less so in the hardware domain. However, people tend to underestimate that once you have developed a hardware product, you can sell it forever. You have to only develop it once. Even if the capital expenditures are higher, you can just keep selling it for decades if you're smart and have good IP protection. So the return could be very high. I think there should be more investment into this domain. I'm biased, right? So that's just my personal recommendation and I think that's it. Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Well, that's very interesting advice. I love it. So before we close out, though, we're not going to let you get get away too quick here. We have to ask if you're willing to participate in something we call our rapid fire questions. So these are seven questions that we ask our guests. We kind of switch them up, ask different questions of different guests. All you got to do is give us a quick answer or long answer, whatever you like at each question. So are you up to the challenge of rapid fire?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Let's go. I'll get in trouble.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: It's harmless. Well, we'll alternate asking. Ethan, you want to ask the first question?

Speaker:

Ethan Young: Yeah, I can do that. Alright, wuestion one. Can you think of a product that you've bought recently that's been a disruptor or a game-changer for you?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: I'm biased because I'm looking at the table. I would say smartwatches.

Speaker:

Ethan Young: Okay.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Okay.

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Changes everything. Phones are disappearing, guys. Quote me on that. I mean, quote anybody. I'm not the first person to have this idea. But phones are disappearing. Smartwatches. Okay, now we're getting somewhere. Sorry, long thought. The communication construction smartwatch. You know, like you can build. I haven't seen a construction app being built on a smartwatch. What the hell? Costs like a few hundred bucks and you can deploy this to millions of people.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Very cool. I remember the first time I took a call on my watch in front of my mom, and she's like, What are you doing? Okay, question number two. What would you like to most be remembered for?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: I think giving back. Ideally, I would like to be remembered for somebody who gave or gives back. I'm a trained paramedic, so I've done my few hundred missions already. But that's how I also think of the work I do that I'm basically helping. However, now I wouldn't like to be remembered as the one that helps when it's too late, you know, as paramedics sometimes do, but one that actually helps early in the process as a nutritionist or something, if you will, and writes for construction or any other processes.

Speaker:

Ethan Young: Interesting.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Very good.

Speaker:

Ethan Young: Alright, next one. So looking back when you were younger, what was the silliest thing that you were afraid of?

Speaker:

Todd Miller: I was the kid that always thought there was a monster under the bed, I confess.

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: I think as a child, I really hated. So there's this kind of washing streets for cars. And I think I somehow thought that this thing would eat the car or something.

Speaker:

Ethan Young: Yeah, carwash, yeah.

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: And I hated it.

Speaker:

Ethan Young: That's funny.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Next question. What is the first thing you think about when you get up in the morning?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: I like to think about progress in a way that I want to be less wrong every day. And the first thing I'm, when I wake up, I'm like, Damn, okay, look, we're doing this again. What am I going to try to be less wrong about today? That's how I learn, basically.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Wow, good stuff.

Speaker:

Ethan Young: Would you rather have to sing along with every song that you hear or dance along with every song that you hear?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: I think both is bad, but dancing could be more fun.

Speaker:

Ethan Young: Yeah, nice.

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: For me.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: And you're burning. Hey, gamification, you're burning calories.

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Yeah, exactly, exactly.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Next question. You're trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. What one person do you want to make sure is on your team?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Damn, I love video games, as you know, and I love zombie movies. So what I need on my team is, I think, another MacGyver similar to my skills. But if it's supplementary, that can really source good materials and just create some kind of mechanisms that actually work so we can actually fight those zombies off, you know? And this person needs to be able to do the welding. You don't know about electricity, water. I like this question, it's the best I had so far.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: You want that resourceful person, good answer.

Speaker:

Ethan Young: Last one. What is something you've always wanted to do, but you haven't had a chance to do it yet.

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Alright, so this sounds very like superficial and stuff, but we are in a super privileged position. We are in the global north in industrialized countries, right? We have a full fridge and I cannot think, and I don't come from a good background or two good backgrounds, you know, but it was still very good if I compare it to other people's life in the world. So I think eventually, in a few years, I don't know, 1, 10, whatever, how many years, I think I want to help other people to do just better in life in general, I think. And maybe because construction employs so many people, it is putting food on the table for many, many millions of workers in the world. And they go to the jobs not knowing if to come back. But it's one of the most unsafe kind of working industries, I think is, I think the unsafest one, probably. Maybe oil and gas exploration or something is worse, but it's still pretty bad out there. So I think increasing somehow worker safety in industry that cannot be industrialized or automated yet, you know, like the other 80% of the world, I think we have to do some work there, too.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Very good, very good. Well, Alex, thank you again, so much. For folks who might want to get in touch with you or learn more about and keep up with what you're doing, how can they most easily do that?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Yes, so the easiest would be to find me on LinkedIn. My name is Alex, A-L-E-X, Walzer. That's also the name I use in LinkedIn. We have a construction tech discord, I will also send you the link. Where people just engage, we have conversations. We do also like some kind of jam sessions like this. We post open job offers, events. I think that's also quite nice and usually, I usually respond within a day.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: And we'll put that information in the show notes as well. And when you're looking for LinkedIn, Alex is the one with the upside down picture, which I love.

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Exactly.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: It's awesome. So I have to update everyone. I think we were all successful with our challenge words that we had to work into things. Ethan, your word that you had was?

Speaker:

Ethan Young: My word was lighting, and I did fit it in there. It took me a while, but I got it in there when I was talking about solar.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: You did a good job. I had the word hammer. I got rid of it really early on so I didn't have to worry about it again. And Alex, you did a great job. You had the word?

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: I had radius, but I also used hammer in the analogy of my tent. Sorry for snatching it.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Oh, you did. That's like.

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: I didn't know there's exclusivity for these words.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: That's like an overachiever. We love that. Well, thank you again, Alex. This has been just a real pleasure and does make for a great show. So thank you so much for your time here this morning.

Speaker:

Alex Walzer: Likewise, guys. Thanks for having me and hope to stay connected with you guys. And thanks for the listeners out there to maybe wake up and be less wrong tomorrow.

Speaker:

Todd Miller: Sounds good, I love that. Great way to think about things. And thank you to our audience for tuning into this episode of Construction Disruption. Please always watch for future episodes. We always have great guests and this episode was no exception to that. Please don't forget to leave a review on Apple Podcasts or YouTube. Until the next time we're together, keep on trying to be less wrong, but keep on disrupting and challenging things. Make things better for the world. And don't forget to have a positive impact on the people that you encounter along the way. Be kind. Do those simple things that change the lives of others in a very, very powerful way. So God bless, take care. This is Isaiah Industries signing off until the next episode of Construction Disruption.

Speaker:

Intro/Outro: This podcast is produced by Isaiah Industries, a manufacturer of specialty metal roofing and other building products.