Fib – a bridge between research and practice

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On the occasion of the fifth “Betontag”, that took place at the Fribourg School of Engineering and Architecture HTA-FR, the current blog post is dedicated to the Swiss delegation of the Fédération internationale du béton (fib-CH). In an interview, we talked to Thierry Delémont, head of the fib-CH delegation, and Dr Patrick Valeri, who has also recently become a member of the delegation and head of the fib-CH Young Members Group. They present to us the organisation, its tasks, and goals.

In 1998, the Comité Européen du Béton (CEB) and the Fédération Internationale de la Précontrainte (fip) merged to form today’s Fédération international du béton (fib). The CEB, founded in 1953 with the aim of standardising regulations in the construction industry on an European level, published its first recommendations for a set of standards in 1964. In 1978, the publication “International System of Unified Standard Codes of Practice for Structure” followed in cooperation with the fip, which later formed the basis of the Eurocode for structural concrete. Since 1985, the CEB (and today the fib) has been located at EPF Lausanne. What is the role of the Swiss group (fib-CH) in the organisation of the fib?

What is the role of the Swiss group (fib-CH) in the organisation of the fib?

Thierry Delémont: Switzerland played a leading role in the founding process of the CEB and fib, and still forms an important part in the organisation despite the small size of our country. The strategic decisions of the fib are taken annually in the “Technical Council” and at the “General Assembly”. With three delegates, Switzerland is one of the most strongly represented countries. The fib-CH represents this delegation and aims to promote the objectives of the fib at a national level: Promotion of research in the field of structural concrete, dissemination of results in research and development, organisation of congresses, symposia and workshops, development of recommendations at a national and international level, and information of our members about these latest developments.

Our goal is to establish a connection between young professionals and experienced engineers so that the young generation can also play an active role in the association.

Patrick Valeri, you joined the fib during your doctoral studies and took over the position as head of the Swiss fib Young Members Group (YMG). What is the function of the YMG? Who can become a member? And do you have your own agenda and prioritised goals that differ from the rest of the fib?

Patrick Valeri: The core interests and goals of the YMG are the knowledge transfer, networking, the support of the task groups, and organising symposia. Our goal is to establish a connection between young professionals and experienced engineers so that the young generation can also play an active role in the association. According to Tomaž Ulaga, a member of the Swiss delegation,  every engineer used to be a member of at least one professional association a few decades ago. Nowadays, the hectic daily work routine takes up much time, and the number of association members is decreasing. The YMG is trying to counteract this trend.

The fib-CH Concrete day was hosted by the School of Engineering and Architecture of Fribourg HTA-FR.

On October 25, 2022, the fifth fib-CH Betontag took place at the Fribourg School of Engineering and Architecture HTA-FR (Figure 1). Since when has this event been organised? What are its objectives, and who is the target group?

Thierry Delémont: The main objective is to present the know-how of Swiss engineers to the international engineering community with a regular publication: Structural Concrete in Switzerland. Despite the fact, that very few Swiss engineers present their projects at fib congresses. In a second step, a regular event is established with the Betontag where industry professionals can meet and exchange ideas.

Patrick Valeri: This publication appears every four years, i.e. in the same rhythm as the fib Congress, which also takes place every four years. In addition, the Betontag establishes and maintains a link between the Swiss delegation of the fib and fib-International.

A selection of the most important projects is published in Structural Concrete in Switzerland and presented at the following Betontag. One of the first Swiss publications, called Spannbeton in der Schweiz, came about as a collection of Swiss contributions from the seventh fip Congress in 1974. This publication included a contribution to the design and construction of the viaduct over the Paudèze, and in this year’s volume, the modernisation of the structure was presented. The Betontag and the publication contribute to maintaining a high-quality construction culture in Switzerland.

Proceedings of the seventh fip congress in New York in 1974 with (b) a contribution on the design and construction of the viaduct over the Paudèze and (c) its renovation presented at the fib congress in Oslo 2022 and on the Betontag 2022.

What does the Betontag mean to you personally? Why do you participate?

Thierry Delémont: This day is always an excellent opportunity to meet colleagues you do not see regularly and make new acquaintances. It also offers the opportunity to discover projects from other regions of Switzerland of which you would not hear otherwise. I had the opportunity to present a project at a previous event, but nowadays I participate as an organiser.

Patrick Valeri: For me, the Betontag fulfils numerous functions. On the one hand, it serves as a hub for making new connections and maintaining and cultivating existing acquaintances. Ideally, planners, contractors, owners, and students meet here to exchange ideas informally. This exchange promotes innovation and quality in project planning and execution. On the other hand, we can also let us inspire by the presentations, getting an overview of where we are heading to as a society and on which topics we still need to work.

How have the fib-CH group and the Swiss society of civil engineers in general developed over the last few decades? And where do we want to go from here?

Thierry Delémont: From a personal point of view, I regret that the majority of practising civil engineers in Switzerland is not particularly interested in participating in international exchange through associations such as the fib. Presumably, Switzerland’s privileged position does not encourage engineers to get involved abroad. In contrast, the two technical universities and some universities of applied sciences are very active, thanks to the initiative of their professors, who are much more aware of the importance of international exchange. Therefore, I would welcome it if more practising civil engineers from Switzerland would get involved in fib task groups since they can not only contribute but also learn a lot there.

Where do you locate room for improvement in exchange and cooperation on an international level and between industry and research?

Patrick Valeri: Through digitalisation, we have experienced a general acceleration of our society in recent decades. In my opinion, this can potentially lead to a split between research and practice because standards, guidelines, and market-ready products cannot always be at the latest state of knowledge. Additionally, sometimes different goals are pursued in research and practice (project planning, product manufacturing) because other market and financial forces rule.

The fib-International consists of university professors and engineers, who are active in research, project planning, and product development. The cooperation of these people, who sit down at the same table, tries to counteract this division between research and practice. We have two mechanisms for this: firstly, upcoming research topics can be tailored to practical requirements and market expectations. And secondly, a multitude of scientific publications can be transformed into guidelines suitable for practice (fib Bulletins). In this sense, the fib forms an international framework so that research and practice can work together in synergy.

We live in a globalised world with problems that affect the whole planet. Therefore, solutions also need to be thought of on a global level.

My colleagues are participating this year for the first time in the Betontag. For some of them, this is their first contact with the fib. How important is it to be actively involved, particularly for younger engineers?

Patrick Valeri: In my opinion, it is important for at least two reasons that the young generation is actively involved in an association. First, the established generation will step back and retire in the future. The earlier we, as young engineers, join the association, the longer we can extend this transition phase – and learn a lot from each other during this time. Secondly, association work is also more or less the opposite of our everyday professional life, where projects are handled and completed. In the fib, as in other professional associations, we can share our professional knowledge with our colleagues in a structured framework to benefit from it in the future. In this sense, our work for an association is overarching and an inspiring alternative to our everyday project work.

Thierry Delémont: We live in a globalised world with problems that affect the whole planet. Therefore, solutions also need to be thought of on a global level. It is becoming increasingly important to foster contacts with the entire international engineering community, e.g. through associations like the fib. Therefore, the YMG offers young engineers an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas with colleagues from different countries and, at the same time to make proposals which are heard by the whole fib.

I would like to address one last topic – it is one that concerns me personally: sustainability in the construction industry. The construction industry has an enormous carbon footprint. According to the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), greenhouse gas emissions from cement production alone account for 35% of industrial emissions – this corresponds to around 8.7% of total Swiss emissions (2020, FOEN). Prof. Muttoni clearly expressed the urgency in his closing words at the Betontag. What did you take away from this closing speech, and what would you like to share with the readers here?

Patrick Valeri: It is a topic that concerns us all, or at least it should. In essence, Prof. Muttoni appeals to us civil engineers to use resources intelligently and to be innovative. One of the examples he gave was about slab design: a slab made of reinforced concrete with a low cement content, a careful choice of cement type, statically sensible geometry and recycled building materials, especially the reinforcing steel, has a comparable CO2 footprint to a wooden ceiling. With optimisations, it is quite possible to save 80% kg CO2 equivalent, which is considerable. Timber structures are also very much in vogue. However, one should not forget that wood is in limited supply and cannot replace concrete in all its functions. This is the case with most road and railway bridges, earth retaining structures, earthquake bracing of high-rise buildings and the like, to name just a few examples. Nevertheless, the trend towards hybrid reinforced concrete and timber structures is positive. The fib actively supports this trend: at the Conceptual Design Symposium 2021 in Attisholz, several contributions were presented on the design of timber-concrete hybrid structures, such as the Holliger Tower presented by Dr. Neven Kostić (see video).

What should also resonate from the closing words is the importance of a holistic engineering approach as a means for more sustainability. Overall performance competitions are excellent methods for project optimisation and provide room for innovation and material savings. It would be essential to evaluate and take into account the ecological impact of construction projects. In this sense, however, all those involved, i.e. the owners, engineers, contractors, and cement producers, must work towards a more sustainable goal and innovative and efficient solutions.

Tena Galkovski

The interviewees:

Thierry Delémont
Ing. Civ. Dipl. EPF / SIA
Delegationsleiter fib-CH
Managing director at T ingénierie sa

Dr. Patrick Valeri
MSc ing. civile PoliMi / SIA
Delegationsmitglied fib-CH
fib YMG-CH Vorsteher
Projektleiter Dr. Lüchinger+Meyer Bauingenieure AG