In just three years’ time, one in three homes in the US and one in five in Europe will be a smart home. Russia’s advances are less impressive since merely 2% of buildings in the country may be qualified as smart homes. The situation will have to be improved by the authorities and since January 1, 2018 national developers will have to install ‘nearly smart’ heating and ventilation systems in new blocks of flats. Smart solutions may not just reduce heating and energy costs, but help in optimizing maintenance and repair expenses. A startup in Yekaterinburg offers to create a smart roof. An innovative online roofing diagnostics system ensures saving on building’s major overhaul and avoiding various routine failures. It appears the technology will be in demand since in Moscow and St Petersburg only aggregate surface of roofs is over 13 million square meters.
Million dollar idea
As is always a case, the idea of the roof structures moistureproofing diagnostics and monitoring system named IsoTest 2.0. came up much by an incident.
“I worked for an international company which developed dampproofing technologies and so for two years I was deeply involved with the market of flat roofs and waterproofing systems”, Alexander Dubrovsky, CEO of Electroengineering group of companies which develops the new technology, says.
He recalls that it immediately became plain that the problem of flat roofs diagnostics is most acute.
“The problem is pressing, roofing quality is low and roofs all leak. The problem is present everywhere where there is a hydraulic sealing”, Alexander Dubrovsky notes.
The inventors suggest to rectify the situation by employing high voltage diagnostics. The approach is simple, clear and, most importantly, inexpensive and highly accurate.
As Dubrovsky explains, “By recording short-circuit failure we can detect respective faults”.
The equipment fits into a compact handbag which a specialist takes to the site when roof diagnostics is required. An earthing cable is connected to a current conducting coating beneath a waterproofing layer wheresa an operator is working on top of it. Pulsed high voltage is applied to an exploring electrode and hence in spots where waterproofing layer is damaged short-circuit failure occur and are traced by the equipment.
The innovative idea emerged in 2014 and in 2016 patent applications were submitted regarding the equipment and the diagnostics method. Since 2017 the project is in operation at full capacity. According to Electroengineering, the solution is applicable to majority of roofing surfaces, but in case a roof has no nominal current conducting coating such as a reinforced sand cement screed, some adaptation will be required. For that, the developers offer Controlit, a material of their own make. It is manufactured in Ufa (Bashkortostan) at Satecma, while the diagnostics equipment is made in Yekaterinburg.
At the moment Electroengineering generates most of its revenues by performing roof diagnostics (averagely priced at RUR 47 ($ 0.8) per square meter). The team has also started selling its equipment in other regions, through partner retail chains. The company now has got partners in six regions including Moscow Region, Chelyabinsk Region and Perm Territory. Electroengineering intends to open its offices in all Russian cities of over a million inhabitants and in Crimea by 2018. It also plans to enter the market of Kazakhstan and is eying Iran.
Another source of Electroengineering’s revenue is sale of equipment to large industrial companies.
“AVTOVAZ car manufacturer, for example, has plenty of premises and the surface of roofs of nearly 2 million square meters. The roofs have to be annually inspected and repaired which means huge volumes of checks and works. If we sell them equipment, they can operate it all by themselves”, Dubrovsky explains.
Contacts and contracts
“In the future, modern smart technologies for buildings construction and operation will be in growing demand”, Polina Lukjanova, Director of Ingria business incubator (St Petersburg Technopark), says.
In her opinion, the solution offered by Electroengineering will certainly attract clients, at least in industrially developed countries where energy efficiency standards are essential for buildings construction and operation. But entering the construction market, especially the market of industrial construction, is not an easy story.
“In Russia it is due to some conservatism of the industry and its insufficient regulation. To enter the market, contacts with and support of various associations and big companies and investors are necessary”, Lukjanova notes.
Electroengineering faced such difficulties as well. Today their client base includes Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company, and Russian Copper Company, but not long ago every prospect client was to be in lay terms explained the basic principles of the technology operation.
“The difficulty of working with Russian clients is the sales. Most Russian enterprises have a very complicated structure, they do not have playpits for conducting tests, and tenders may take years. To effectively operate in Russia, one needs to have a well established local partner who is familiar with and has close ties in its local market”, Victor Orlovsky, Managing Partner of FortRoss, explains.
Ultimately, the company took part in GenerationS acceleration program which helped it in various ways, including in finding a big customer, Alrosa diamond mining company. Alrosa was GenerationS’ partner in Mining & Metals track. In the diamond mining company’s opinion the project offered by Alexander Dubrovsky was the best in the track, so Alrosa purchased Electroengineering’s equipment to operate it at one of its mines. As Alrosa explains, the equipment improves quality of waterproofing diagnostics at the corporation’s sites.
“Business incubators usually have multiple contacts with various partners including officials and investors”, Polina Lukjanova notes.
“Participating in accelerators may be useful for startups in terms of both mentoring and direct contacts with the interested companies”, Anna Polyushko, Senior Analyst of Smart City Lab under Moscow Government’s Department of Information Technology, thinks.
No question, the construction market is now experiencing a smart solutions boom.
“Gradually it becomes a process of implementing pragmatic decisions for the purposes of saving resources and lowering operation costs. I believe one in five new construction projects involves some smart systems of certain scope. In most cases those are climate, light and heat management in ventilation and heating systems”, Peter Vashkevich, Chief Engineer at CROC IT service provider, says.
In the market there certainly are some other roof moistureproofing diagnostics technologies available, including those of a sensitive nature such as thermal cameras, electric vector contouring, or a simple visual inspection.
“Besides, in this country, there is a fundamental document, Roofing Rules and Regulations drafted by the research institute of the Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities of the Russian Federation. In the quality inspection section of the document, only one diagnostics method is listed, the visual one. But our practical work at various sites evidences that that method can uncover 1% of all defects, at best. A visual examination does not allow to check the quality of the works performed”, Alexander Dubrovsky notes.
Competing with the already established methods is inevitable. But the company does not limit its efforts by solely developing equipment for the existing roofing systems. In the immediate future it intends to launch IsoTest Online system for a 24/7 roof conditions monitoring. The new technology may be used at technologically sophisticated edifices.
“If we look at Moscow Dynamo or Lyzhniky stadiums, football ground there serves as a roof for engineering facilities, changing rooms, shops, etc. In case water insulation is damaged, field watering or rain in their entirety will flow into the facilities beneath”, Dubrovsky explains.
Uncovering a roofing defect may be a labor- and cost-intensive challenge. IsoTest Online was specifically developed to address such challenges. The system is installed when a facility is constructed and will then identify exact leakage locations. The technology is intended to detect problem-plagued spots and to remedy potential troubles long before emergencies actually occur.
A modified system may be used to monitor leakproofness of domestic wastes landfills.
“The project has every chance to be in demand in the civil and industrial construction markets”, Ekaterina Petrova, Head of the GenerationS accelerator, says. “Year by year, Russia’s market is getting more susceptible to such technologies. Government authorities and businesses have already taken interest in IsoTest Online”.
By Olga Blinova