Smart concrete: A step forward towards smart cities
- Ottawa, Ontario
Building out of concrete is a common practice in our modern society because of its established reputation as a sustainable, versatile and affordable building material. However, despite all of these positive qualities, the risk of corrosion in concrete structure has drawn a great deal of attention from researchers in the construction industry. What makes corrosion in concrete so dangerous is that the early signs are rarely visible and once they appear, it is often too late for a quick repair and the corrosive parts weakening the concrete reinforced structure could be the cause of a building collapse.
Two Canadian researchers, Dr. Aali R. Alizadeh and Dr. Pouria Ghods have been tackling this issue head-on, and have found the perfect formula to help prevent such catastrophe. Together, they have founded Giatec Scientific Inc. and with the support of the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP), have been working on smart concrete technologies that can assess various parameters in concrete structures in real-time, including hardening and corrosion.
It all started when they met with IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) Mike Barré to talk about their research. Barré did more than just listen; he worked with them toward the incorporation of Giatec Scientific and helped them through their business journey. "Our ITA played a significant role in guiding us through various steps of our business development, strategic planning, and growth strategy", attested Dr. Alizadeh. "He also introduced us to seasoned business people. One of them works now as the CFO for Giatec."
A combination of business and research
Giatec's initial idea was to create devices that would help detect the first stages of corrosion in concrete structures. "We thought of creating tools that could accurately assess the extent of damage in a concrete structure and also assess the state of corrosion over time" explained Dr. Alizadeh.
But the challenge was to develop a strategy for hardware product design that would be compatible with a long-term vision of smart products. Barré connected them with two groups of experts, Design 1st and University of Toronto, through the Design Industry Advisory Committee (DIAC) program to better address the concept of a smart design. He also introduced them to technology and innovation representatives from other industries. "These are connections which we could not have otherwise made ourselves. They have resulted in on-going talks for strategic partnerships and one of these connections even helped us develop a partnership with a local producer of concrete products".
The relationship between Giatec and IRAP has been behind much of Giatec commercial market success. Combining their research with business techniques, the cofounders were working on implementing tools that could better help owners and builders save more time and money in their construction project. Giatec's first product iCOR, released to the market in 2015, exceeded expectations with $1.5 M of revenue. iCOR is the world's only wireless corrosion detection device of its kind. Using patented CEPRA technology, it measures the rate of corrosion in existing buildings without the need of a rebar connection. XCell, a wireless probe which determines the probability of corrosion, followed iCOR. Xcell's wireless probe significantly reduces the cost and time required to assess the condition of infrastructure, including bridges and parking garages. And finally, over 200 units of Perma, a lab test device which assesses the quality and permeability of the concrete mixture before construction, were sold worldwide resulting in over $ 500,000 of sales.
But perhaps, the icing on Giatec's cake is one of their most recent successes. Enlisting the help of their ITA's advisory services, combined with the sound expertise of engineers and technicians hired through IRAP, they have created wireless concrete sensors that are fully embedded in a concrete mixture. These wireless sensors are connected to mobile applications and can generate real-time reports, graphics and charts. In one click, owners and builders can now pull out daily reports about their concrete structures and can use that data to make critical decisions about their projects.
Contributing to the foundation of smart cities
The strong and solid technology behind Giatec's products resulted in immediate credibility in the market and helped the firm generate exponential sales of 300% year-over-year with 95% of it coming from exports to more than 70 countries.
"Without IRAP's help, we doubt we would have made it that far", said Dr. Alizadeh. "IRAP is unique in the sense that it's supporting ideas or projects that are revolutionary and cutting edge. The program has been pivotal in allowing Giatec to grow more rapidly in challenging areas and to become a global leader of IoT applications in the construction sector".
From the original 2 co-founders, Giatec has now grown to 25 employees. "IRAP was there at the right moment to experience their growth" said Barré, reflecting on Giatec's success. "Giatec was able to grow without any capital investors and now has the ability of becoming a much larger company. The latest device they've created will not only help Canadian companies to save time and money but also ensure better quality and safety for upcoming infrastructure developments."
While smart phones may be in all pockets, new and innovative smart technologies are emerging all around us and changing our everyday life for better. Giatec Scientific is following the trend by contributing to the foundation of smart cities. "The ultimate goal of Giatec Scientific is to build smart concrete structures that will be able to communicate with engineers, builders, and owners in real-time", concluded Dr. Alizadeh. "Many big companies are now investing into smart cities. This is the trend of the future and it's going to change the world."
"Without IRAP's help, we doubt we would have made it that far. IRAP is unique in the sense that it's supporting ideas or projects that are revolutionary and cutting edge. The program has been pivotal in allowing Giatec to grow more rapidly in challenging areas and to become a global leader of IoT applications in the construction sector".