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Green growth miracle built with precast

Northern Sweden is standing on the threshold of a population boom, and the precast firm Prefabmästarna has found itself at the heart of the development. Colorful and graphic wall panels are particularly popular.

Prefabmästarna is busy. Busy with building a green growth miracle in Northern Sweden.

“10 years ago, the focus was on Stockholm and the southern part of Sweden, but there has been a turning point where everybody is talking about all those big investments in the north now,” says Leif Juntti, factory manager at Prefabmästarna.

The main market of the 104-year-old Swedish precast manufacturer stretches from the middle of Sweden and upwards. Right now, this region is experiencing an inflow of green investments. The population is expected to grow explosively, and that has resulted in a boom in interesting construction projects.

“Historically, there has been mostly industrial projects here, but lately there has been a lot of housing,” Johnny Larsson, director of markets at Prefabmästarna explains, adding that lack of labor means that precast is winning market shares from cast-in-situ.

Moving the town of Kiruna

Prefabmästarna is typically involved in construction projects from start to finish, taking care of the design, precast production, erection on-site, as well as project management.

Now, the company is for example working on the re-development of Kiruna, far up north. Subsidence due to mining has forced the whole town center to gradually move three kilometers to the east, and that means a lot of new construction. In another mining town, Skellefteå, the green battery technology firm Northvolt is establishing itself, which will mean at least 6000 newcomers. They need housing and services that Prefabmästarna is helping to build.

Many other promising projects are in the pipeline in the region, among them the major Hybrit project developing zero-emission steel manufacturing. The Swedish government’s special coordinator for the growth area in the north, Peter Larsson, has stated to Sweden’s national broadcaster, SVT, that up to 100,000 people will be moving to Northern Sweden during the next decade or so.

Preafabmästarna, Sweden

Wall production that just works

Prefabmästarna manufacture “pretty much everything you might need for a house,” as Juntti puts it: walls, beams, columns, and different types of slabs and roofing elements. “We are situated far north; we cannot be that picky. Whatever the contractors want to buy, we must be able to produce,” he points out.

The biggest part of the company’s factory in Öjebyn is the wall hall. In 2017, the hall was extended with six new wall panel tables, so there are now 13 in total. The new tables were ordered, complete with installation, from Elematic, which also supplied shuttering system magnets to the factory.

“Elematic is quite a big player on the market, at least from a Nordic perspective, so it was natural to have a dialog with them, and their prices are on a good level, so we decided to buy from them,” explains Juntti. He and his colleagues were already familiar with Elematic hollow core equipment that has run well at Prefabmästarna since the 1980s.

“Whenever we have bought something from Elematic, it has worked as it should. Price is very important, but not the most important thing/issue. We want to have good stuff that works!”

Well-functioning tables that last

So far, the Elematic wall line, including hydraulic tilting tables and FaMe shuttering systems, has worked so well that there has not been much need for service besides normal regular maintenance, such as changing hydraulic oil.

“Hopefully the tables will be there for 40 years and will be serving us well,” says Juntti.

Prefabmästarna’s inhouse service technician is very familiar with the equipment, but in a few special cases, Elematic’s people have come to Sweden to help with the hollow core equipment. “When someone comes here to help us out, you can see that they are very skilled, they know what they are doing!” Juntti assures.

Based on Prefabmästarna’s experiences, it is easy for Juntti to recommend Elematic to other precasters. As a matter of fact, it is not more than a few months since a competitor asked him about the wall tables, and he happily told about the “reliable equipment and the good service level.”

Challenging but beautiful wall panels

The long-term real capacity for the wall production is about 40,000m2/year. The latest two years, the annual wall production has been at about 30,000m2, as Prefabmästarna has produced a lot of high-profile, time-consuming wall elements.

The new Kiruna – the town that is moving – features several great examples of interesting precast concrete walls. Take for example the new police building, scheduled to be finished next year. Its special façade will consist of walls made of highly profiled, anthracite gray panels and spectacular columns. Another example of unusual precast walls can be found in Kiruna’s Scandic Hotel which was just finished. The landmark tower is, with its white, patterned façade, inspired by Sweden’s highest mountain, the nearby Kebnekaise.

“It’s important to do something extra sometimes, something that is not standard procedure. It’s not always the most profitable but it’s interesting and you learn a lot from it,” Markets Manager Johnny Larsson says. “For us and all the companies involved, it’s something to be proud of.”

Colored and graphic concrete – made by lining the mold with patterned rubber material – are the strongest trends in precast wall construction right now.

“The surfaces have been more highly profiled, and, if we are talking in terms of money, they are maybe a little bit more expensive than they used to be,” says Juntti.

Less emission with quality aggregates

Talking about trends, we cannot get round sustainability. Reducing CO2 emissions is something that Juntti and Larsson have been preoccupied with lately.

Sweden’s biggest cement supplier, Cementa is investing heavily in reducing emissions with the CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) technique.

“The cement production could get down to close to zero emissions, and that would be a great situation for us in the whole concrete industry. And we believe that it is realistic” Juntti notes.

While waiting for the development of zero-emission cement, Prefabmästarna is doing what it can to reduce its carbon footprint: The precast plant is, for example, heated with district heating from green energy sources, and the designers strive to make slim structures, using as little concrete as possible. And then there is the concrete recipe that is constantly being developed and improved.

“We are lucky to have access to a very good gravel material, so we need a smaller amount of cement in our recipe,” notes Larsson. Juntti continues: “We can reduce the dimensions of the columns or the beams because the material we are using allows the concrete to withstand higher pressures.”

Colored and graphic concrete – made by lining the mold with patterned rubber material – are the strongest trends in precast wall construction right now.

Elematic equipment at Prefabmästarna

WALL PRODUCTION:

  • 6 hydraulic tilting tables
  • Magnets from Elematic in several production halls
  • Capacity: About 40,000m2/year. The latest two years about 30,000 m2 due to many special-feature wall

HOLLOW CORE PRODUCTION:

All equipment for hollow core production comes from Elematic:

  • 3 extruders (EL 900 series) with power units as well as the saw
  • Production of slabs with thicknesses of 185, 265, 320 and 400mm
  • Lifting beams and clamps for hollow core slabs, used at the factory as well as at construction sites while erecting

Capacity: About 75,000m2/year. Due to fluctuations on the market, 40,000 m2 hollow core slabs are produced during a typical year.