By SOMLUCK SRIMALEE
The group has budgeted an average of 0.3 per cent of its revenue annually to invest in the research and development of innovative products over the past 10 years, he said.
Following its strategy of producing innovative products, the company managed to boost the revenue contribution from such materials from 6.6 per cent of its income in 2014 to 7.9 per cent – or 337 million euro (Bt13.35 billion) – last year.
“We target this rising to between 8 and 9 per cent this year,” he added.
Borgarello said the company would usually introduce four or five innovative products a year, out of an average of 10 innovations being developed by its R&D operations each year.
“Normally, we take two years to develop innovative products to the market, focusing on energy-saving construction materials that are also environment-friendly to serve strong demand in the global market, such as in the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia,” he explained.
Although innovative products cost more than normal construction materials, in the long term the trend is for most countries to recognise global concerns about the environment, and to create legal and environmental standards for new building, especially in regard to energy-saving systems, water treatment, and recycling, he stressed.
There is a challenge, therefore, for makers of construction materials to develop innovative products that serve this growing demand, the innovation director said.
For example, last year 2015 Italcementi Group introduced its i.active Biodynamic cement in the construction of Palazzo Italia, the Italian Pavilion at “Expo 2015”, which was held in Milan.
The architectural design of the pavilion, by Nemesi & Partners, envisaged the construction of a complex structure whose exterior and some interior spaces recall the shapes of branches in a thick forest.
The entire outdoor surface and part of the interiors consisted of i.active Biodynamic cement panels, obtained using Styl-Comp technology from the new material developed at i.lab, the heart of Italcementi’s research and innovation.
The product’s name is a summary of its innovative characteristics. The “bio” component is given by the product’s photocatalytic properties, originating from the active principle TX Active, patented by Italcementi.
In direct sunlight, the active principle contained in the material “captures” certain pollutants present in the air and converts them into inert salts, helping to purify the atmosphere from smog.
Additionally, the mortar is made from 80-per-cent recycled aggregates, part of which consist of scraps from the cutting of Carrara marble, and therefore provide a superior brilliance compared to traditional white cements.
The “dynamic” component is a specific characteristic of the new material, whose particular fluidity allows the creation of complex shapes like those found in the Palazzo Italia panels.
Thanks to its high workability, i.active Biodynamic is able to penetrate in the frameworks, designed one by one and manufactured by Styl-Comp, and form the final design of the panel, ensuring an extraordinary surface quality.
Further back, in 2010, the group introduced i.light – a precast concrete panel that can transmit light – to the market.
Obtained by bonding special resins in an innovative mortar, i.light not only lets natural and artificial light in, but also allows the seeing images or objects placed behind the panel by creating a surprisingly transparent effect.
This is just one of the products resulting from the continued commitment of Italcementi Group to developing innovative solutions for the construction industry, Borgarello said.
Italcementi’s i.light was created at the request of the architect in charge of designing the Italian Pavilion for “Expo Shanghai 2010”, who wanted a cementitious material capable of transmitting light.
Italcementi developed a completely new material, demonstrating that the building-material industry is only apparently traditional.
The company expects the product to change the typical mindset of those who see walls as darkening elements, by enhancing their value as an innovative way to transmit light.
The Italian Pavilion for “Expo Shanghai 2010” was the first building ever made with i.light.
Meanwhile, i.idro Drain – an innovative concrete formulation capable of draining water – combines the strength of a concrete pavement with a drainage capacity 100 times greater than that of natural soil.
It is regarded as one of the most environmentally sustainable products on the market today, he said.
The drainage capacity of i.idro Drain varies as a function of the particle-size distribution adopted for its formulation.
“Most of our innovative products are developed under the requirement of architects and designers who need innovative products to serve their design, and they also need products that are friendly to the environment. Our challenge is to [continue to] research and develop innovative products for the market,” Borgarello said.