Algonquin launches cutting-edge construction research facility

The business of construction is going high-tech at a new Algonquin College research facility.

The college officially launched its Construction Research Centre on Friday, a multimillion-dollar project designed to give students practical experience using the latest building and design equipment.

Alex Yang, the centre’s project manager, said the construction industry in North America tends to lag behind some other parts of the world when it comes to adapting new technology, something Algonquin hopes to help change with the new facility.

“Canada and the States, our competitiveness hasn’t been keeping pace with a lot of European countries,” he said. “This is a response for industry to say, ‘Hey, everybody, we need to bring ourselves up to modern standards.’”

The centre received a total of $1.6 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, an independent, federally funded body dedicated to improving research infrastructure, and the provincially backed Ontario Research Fund. Private industry paid for the rest of the $3.15-million tab.

The Construction Research Centre contains about $2.8 million worth of cutting-edge research equipment and software to support applied research projects which bring together students, faculty and industry clients to solve everyday challenges. The equipment and software will largely be used by students in construction and media and design programs.

The equipment includes a professional 3D laser scanner used to create 3D digital models of structures; a HoloStation, an immersive environment to visualize 3D models using 3D glasses and a hand-held remote; a sophisticated 3D printer that can produce parts with a high degree of accuracy; powerful infrared cameras that can take video of thermal images and measure traffic flows to buildings; and a lab outfitted with powerful Mac and PC computers.

The laser scanner, which works from up to 120 metres away, creates 3D computer images of portions of buildings. The images are then automatically melded together to provide an accurate 3D model of an entire structure that can be manipulated by a computer.

The HoloStation, which is about the size of a typical office cubicle and has four screens, allows a range of students and construction professionals to virtually check their work before actually doing it.

Interior designers, for example, can see what their colour schemes will really look like on the walls, while architects can spot potential problems in building plans, such as water pipes being installed in the same place as air ducts.

Mr. Yang said the facility has applications beyond construction. It can be used for forensic analysis of car crashes, for example, or to scan facades of buildings that are being restored as part of heritage projects.

He said he expects at least a couple of hundred students a year to use the facility, where they will work together with private-sector businesses to develop real-world problem-solving and communications skills.

“Our goal is really to engage as many students as possible with industry partners from the construction sector,” he said.

Part of the project also includes a residential living lab at the college’s Perth campus, which will feature similar technology on a smaller scale.