Acoustics-based solutions in construction industry
June 30, 2023
The construction industry is considered to be among the major sectors that contribute significantly toward the emission of GHGs in the environment, which have a major effect on climate change. Construction and the wider built environment currently accounts for around 40% of the world’s global greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the report Future of Construction: A Global Forecast for Construction to 2030 by Oxford Economics, global construction output is expected to grow by 42% by 2030. As the sector grows, so too does the risk of greater pollution and waste. Thus, the construction industry has a crucial role in reducing carbon emissions and promoting sustainability. This article explores new types of eco-friendly technologies that construction companies can use to innovate their old ways of doing things and build sustainably.
While there are more known green solutions on the rise such as green roofs, solar panels, smart home technologies and so on, there is also a bit less expected and heard of approach to making the construction industry more sustainable and efficient – through acoustics.
Acoustics is a scientific field that deals with the production, control, transmission, reception, and effects of sound. It is applied in various fields, not just limited to music and audio reproduction, but also in noise control and construction, among others.
“Environmentally friendly products are often either very expensive or lack one or more technical features”, explains Mikko Paananen, CEO and Founder of Aisti. “There is a so-called harmonised product standard that includes four properties: fire safety, acoustics, bending strength, and indoor emissions”.
He admits that bending strength and acoustics have been challenging for environmentally friendly products as the options are either cheap and environmentally harmful but technically good products or expensive, somewhat environmentally friendly, and technically poor products. Typically, mineral wool or glass wool is used in acoustical panels.
However, Aisti has developed a completely new, environmentally friendly solution by mixing water, cellulose fibre, and foaming agent. The product is unique and has not been developed elsewhere in the world. Notably, it is carbon-negative, meaning the wood fibres have sequestered more carbon dioxide than is emitted during the production.
Disruptive potential of acoustics
While Aisit focuses on providing sustainable acoustic solutions for buildings such as offices and schools, another startup Supplyz utilises acoustics to identify micro-cracks in objects, particularly in factory assembly lines.
“In theory every industry can use our solution – from detecting cracks in metal parts to surveying the mechanical structure of satellites in space”, says Fabian Oberndorfer, Co-founder and CTO at Supplyz. “Nevertheless, our current focus is in the industry doing quality inspection for metal parts”.
The construction industry was one of the industries he analysed together with Felix Wassmann, Co-Founder and CEO, and Isaac Kargar, Co-Founder and CIO, to see whether their solution would create benefit. There are multiple use cases ranging from inspection of critical infrastructure to detecting whether concrete is curing properly. Regardless, they decided to start with quality inspection due to the high amount of traction in the industry.
Among other things, acoustics allows for a deeper understanding beyond surface appearances, reaching where visual perception cannot. Supplyz combines acoustics and machine learning algorithms to detect whether an object has any defects. The acoustic fingerprint refers to how an object should sound. You can identify it solely based on its sound.
“For example, if you tap two glasses, one filled with water and the other with oil, they will sound different. Similarly, a broken glass and an intact one, or a full and an empty glass, will have distinct sounds”, explains Aku Salminen, Regional Manager at Supplyz. “While humans can see and hear if there is a hole in a cup, they cannot detect micro-cracks”.
While Supplyz combines acoustics and machine learning algorithms, Aisti focuses on room acoustics – how sound travels in a given space. Everyone has likely seen acoustical panels embedded in walls or ceilings in places like offices, hospitals, and schools. The purpose of these panels is to absorb sound and prevent echo in the room.
“Our product has all the good qualities: it is as affordable and technically good as traditional solutions, while being extremely environmentally friendly”, underlines Paananen. “Once our factory opens in 2025, the product will replace all similar mineral wool and glass wool products. In the future, we can also use our product for insulation, where mineral wool and glass wool are widely used”.
Towards environmentally friendly construction industry
An acoustic solution is suitable for production lines that handle many identical products since each product’s acoustic fingerprint needs to be individually taught to the machine learning algorithm. The acoustic fingerprint of an intact product, such as a milled metal, is captured, and the machine learning algorithm is trained to recognize the sound of an intact item. Afterward, the algorithm can assess countless identical products and raise an alert if there is any defect.
By testing products in advance to ensure their integrity, one can ensure their safety and avoid waste. Thus, Supplyz acoustic solution compares favourably with camera based systems and X-rays, which are often expensive and cumbersome to use. Acoustics can also be used, for example, in measuring gas and liquid levels in tanks, helping to prevent waste.
“We are currently only starting to understand the possibilities acoustic inspection has”, Oberndorfer says. “In ten years, I see our company in the centre of a newly created ecosystem of companies solving problems using acoustics combined with machine learning”.
Paananen cannot think of any other environmentally friendly transformation that the construction industry has undergone. “If anything, we have gone in the opposite direction”, he says. “Mineral wool and glass wool were big things in the past”.
The construction industry has a significant impact on the environment, as it uses many environmentally harmful products due to the lack of available sustainable solutions or their high cost. Solutions like Aisti and Supplyz serve as pioneers for environmentally friendly alternatives, suggesting that the construction industry is gradually moving toward more sustainable practices.