The construction industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity driven by an increased focus on environmental sustainability and workplace safety, and the growing importance of technologies such as modular construction, the Internet-of-Things (IoT) and robotics. In the last three years alone, there have been over 248,000 patents filed and granted in the construction industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in Construction: Underwater tunnels

However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilising and reaching maturity. 

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have. 

80+ innovations will shape the construction industry 

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the construction industry using innovation intensity models built on over 179,000 patents, there are 80+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry. 

Within the emerging innovation stage, mullion-transom curtain walls is a disruptive technology that is in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Heat-insulated glazing panels, drainage gully grating, and acoustic ceiling panels are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are abrasion-resistant decorative flooring and road construction milling tool, which are now well established in the industry. 

Innovation S-curve for the construction industry 

Underwater tunnels are a key innovation area in construction 

Underwater tunnels are tunnels which lie either fully or partially submerged beneath a body of water. Submerged tunnels are typically used as means to traverse bodies of water where bridges or ferry services are unviable, economically or otherwise. Underwater tunnel construction methods include bored tunnels, which are dug through the earth with the aid of tunnel boring machines (TBM), and immersed tube tunnels, which are constructed in sections elsewhere, floated into place and sunk, before being linked together. 

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 20+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established construction companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of underwater tunnels. 

Key players in underwater tunnels – a disruptive innovation in the construction industry  

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of different applications identified for each relevant patent and broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators. 

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of different countries each relevant patent is registered in and reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’. 

Patent volumes related to underwater tunnels

Company Total patents (2010 - 2021) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Compagnie de Saint-Gobain 91 Unlock company profile
Mitsui & Co 88 Unlock company profile
Wrekin Holdings 70 Unlock company profile
ACO Severin Ahlmann 50 Unlock company profile
EJ Group 32 Unlock company profile
China Railway Construction 30 Unlock company profile
State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council 28 Unlock company profile
China Railway Group 19 Unlock company profile
State Grid Corporation of China 18 Unlock company profile
CRH 18 Unlock company profile
China State Construction Engineering 12 Unlock company profile
REHAU 11 Unlock company profile
Porsche Automobil Holding 10 Unlock company profile
Langmatz 10 Unlock company profile
AeroVironment 7 Unlock company profile
Picote 7 Unlock company profile
RAIN 7 Unlock company profile
China Railway 22Nd Bureau Group Rail Engineering 6 Unlock company profile
Orbia Advance 6 Unlock company profile
McGard 6 Unlock company profile
Hangzhou Fuyang Xinyuan New Energy 6 Unlock company profile
Erchu Of China Railway Tunnel Group 5 Unlock company profile
AT&T 5 Unlock company profile
Monro 5 Unlock company profile
Buderus Kanalguss 5 Unlock company profile
Kessel 5 Unlock company profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

China Railway Construction (CRCC) is a leading innovator in the construction of underwater tunnels, primarily through its subsidiary China Railway Construction Heavy Industry. The company is a state-owned heavy construction contractor, with a focus on the development of infrastructure construction projects such as railways, tunnels and roads. It is also a producer and supplier of tunnelling equipment, with its product range including tunnel and shaft boring machines. Key CRCC patents in the underwater tunnel construction space include drilling methods to reduce disturbance to surrounding rock and a TBM steel arch frame automatic sealing device. 

Porsche Automobil Holding leads in terms of application diversity, closely followed by McGard. By geographical reach, Mitsui, Hangzhou Funyang Xinyuan New Energy, and ACO Severin Ahlmann are the leaders. 

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the construction industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Construction. 


GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article. 

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.