Photo by Tudor Van Hampton for ENR
Martin Herrenknecht (center) took home a Bauma innovation prize for a semi-trenchless pipeline machine.

The European economy continues to suffer from a banking crisis that has slowed down most industries here, but manufacturers in the construction space are optimistic that fiscal policy and bright ideas will eventually win the day.

"We're all hopeful and quite confident that the political leaders will be able to come to grips with the situation," said Johann Sailer, president of construction elevator manufacturer GEDA and president of VDMA, a German equipment trade group. He spoke at an April 14 ceremony held inside the Bavarian Residence, a former royal palace, to honor innovations in construction technology.

Held by invitation only, the awards marked the unofficial beginning of the triennial Bauma trade show. Tunneling giant Herrenknecht was one of six companies that took home prizes in the categories of machinery, components, construction methods, research and design. Its Pipe Express semi-trenchless machine, which allows crews to install pipelines using 70% less right of way, won the top machinery award.

"My father was an upholsterer, so I have been able to build many great things thanks to our employees," said Martin Herrenknecht, who founded the German tunneling business in 1977. "I refuse to go into retirement," added the 71-year-old entrepreneur.

Two awards were selected for construction methods that aid renewable-energy projects. Foundation machine maker Bauer was recognized for developing an offshore drill that installs monopiles for tidal turbines at a fraction of the cost of existing methods.

On the wind-farm side, Max Bögl was honored for designing a 150-meter-tall, quick-erecting tower crane that requires fewer truckloads and land clearances to set up turbines than traditional crawler cranes.

"Against the backdrop of wind farms, this suddenly translates into huge savings," said Frank Dupré, vice president of ZDB, a German construction trade group. The special-use crane was developed in partnership with Germany-based crane company Liebherr.

Other winners included a 3D autopilot field rover that Wirtgen designed for slipform concrete pavers, a spider-like "walking" excavator from Kaiser AG and a grain analyzer that allows engineers to sample and monitor aggregate quality in real time.

This year marks the 10th Bauma innovation awards, which began in 1983. The jury, which comprises more than 20 equipment experts and dozens of journalists, began allowing non-German firms to complete in 2007. The judges picked through a record field of 147 entries this year.

Bauma 2013, which opens April 15 and continues for seven days, is expected to draw 450,000 people and 3,400 exhibitors taking up a record-high 570,000 square meters of convention space.