ZAG was established in 1949 when the People's Republic of Slovenia founded the Building and Civil Engineering Institute. In 1952, it was renamed to Institute for Testing and Research in Materials and Structures (ZRMK). After Slovenia became independent, new conditions in 1994 led to the division of ZRMK into public and private parts. The laboratories and most of the research activities were transferred to the public research institute, ZAG. One of the fundamental objectives of ZAG was to continue the tradition of the research and professional work of the ZRMK, which served since its very establishment as one of the leading civil and building engineering institutes in then Yugoslavia. After more than a quarter-century of independent operation, ZAG is successfully navigating the outlined path. We have gained recognition both at home and even more so abroad. We are an equal and active member of numerous important international associations dealing with the broader area of construction. According to the relevant indicators, we are entirely comparable to the best similar European institutes.
Scientific and research and development activity
Throughout this time, ZAG developed successfully, even during the latest economic crisis. The key was to integrate the various fields, from research and professional work to certification and attestation of the compliance of construction products and the quality control of the executed works. Investing in new content and working closely with Slovenian and foreign industrial partners paid off and resulted in numerous new research projects.
In terms of content and status, the scientific and R&D work are ZAG's key activities. They are mainly carried out in an area which is, in economic terms, among the most important ones. The construction industry in the EU provides 18 million jobs and generates around 9 % of the GDP. This number is even higher if we include the associated activities. In Slovenia, its share has dropped in recent years to approximately 5 % of its GDP, meaning there is plenty of room for development. ZAG primarily performs applied research, and most of it involves close cooperation with R&D departments from the industry. At the same time, we closely follow the latest scientific findings in various fields, which has resulted in publications in major international journals. Most of the research is part of international projects, mainly under the various mechanisms of the Horizon 2020 programme, which proves their scientific importance in the broader sense. We are currently involved in around 80 research projects, two-thirds of which are international. At the national level, we are conducting a Research Programme Building Structures and Materials supported by the Infrastructure Group Testing of Materials and Structures.
Our research focuses primarily on the following areas:
Special attention is paid to facilities with specific requirements such as transport and energy infrastructure, landfills, including those for radioactive waste, and cultural heritage sites. We are increasingly focusing on digitalisation and industry or construction 4.0, as we are aware that without them, the development of a wider field of construction is no longer possible. We partner in the InnoRenew Centre of excellence, the only European Teaming project that Slovenia acquired and is coordinated by the University of Primorska.
Professional Activity and Attestation of Compliance
The second key area, which accounts for roughly one half of the Institute's activity, is professional activities and attestation of the conformity of construction products and executed works. When it comes to the broader area of construction, we prepare technical opinions and analyses and perform studies, examinations, measurements, controls, observations, investigation-supported detailed inspections and analyses of buildings and civil engineering structures, transport facilities and traffic infrastructure. We are involved in projects related to the major national road, rail, energy and utility infrastructure. The results of these activities largely depend on and are complementary to the results of research activities.
In parallel with professional activities, we certify construction products, issue technical assessments and approvals, calibrate force, torque and hardness meters and perform external independent third party control. In our work, we follow European and Slovenian legislation requirements, actively participate in relevant bodies, and frequently represent Slovenia at the European level.
Throughout its 70 years of operation, the work of ZAG has been based on cooperation with numerous partners. Today more and more are coming from abroad. Nevertheless, our most important partner remains the state, mainly through our umbrella Ministry of Education, Science and Sport. We generate 15 % of revenue from the very successful Research Programme and Infrastructure Group. Both result from the competition with other institutes and universities in the area of scientific excellence and are therefore not in themselves intelligible. The remaining three quarters of activities are market-oriented and include research, development and other projects. We have many partners from the industry and work with them either on concrete projects or within strategic research and innovation partnerships or SRIPs.
We are intensively engaged in international cooperation, e.g. participation in the Forum of European National Highway Research Laboratories (FEHRL), in European Network of Building Research Institutes (ENBRI), and European Organisation for Technical Assessment (EOTA). Then, there are also the European Construction Technology Platform (ECTP), the European Road Transport Research Advisory Council (ERTRAC), and Knowledge and Innovation Centre EIT RawMaterials. In most of these organisations, our representatives sit in the governing bodies. Without such active involvement, we would win significantly fewer research projects, which would result in far weaker and slower knowledge sharing and progress. We actively attend international forums such as workshops, conferences and congresses and participate in committees, associations and boards. These activities are a prerequisite for networking that leads to cooperation and new projects. We have recently signed a few new cooperation agreements with foreign and domestic universities.
The result of these activities is a stable operation. The moderate annual surpluses from market activities have allowed us to be today just before opening the new fire laboratory in Logatec.
Since the formal establishment of ZAG, we have annually allocated 7 to 10% of our operating revenue to procure and modernise research and testing equipment. Financial sources included the Slovenian Research Agency and the European Commission research projects. Today we own modern equipment that enables our employees to perform quality research and professional activities. In highly specialised fields outside our core activities, we established ties with other research institutions. In the context of joint research and testing, we have the opportunity to use the equipment from other ENBRI and FEHRL members. In 2016, we completed the renovation of the Laboratory for Structures co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund. It included an extension to the existing laboratory hall, a new 7-m high reaction wall, covering the outdoor crane track and updating the technological equipment and software. With this investment, we have significantly upgraded our testing capacities in the area of structures and building physics.
Currently, we are facing the most significant investment in the last 70 years. Without opening a new fire laboratory in Logatec in early 2022, we would have to gradually suspend the activity of the existing fire laboratory, the only one in this part of Europe. The testing equipment was primarily funded from the InnoRenew project, and the construction works were financed from the past operating surpluses and support of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport.
In line with the upcoming new financial perspective, we are strengthening our activities in the Eastern Cohesion Region. In March 2021 Maribor branch moved to new premises, which allows for better working conditions and new laboratories.
Source: KNOWLEDGE THAT LEAVES A MARK: Seventy Years of the Slovenian National Building and Civil Engineering Institute 1949–2019, editors: Aleš Žnidarič, Tadeja Kosec, Maja Kreslin, Ema Kemperle, Metka Ljubešek, Published by: Slovenian National Building and Civil Engineering Institute (ZAG), Ljubljana, November 2019. link