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Towards a more digital and collaborative future

AC Hotel Bella Sky Copenhagen (photo @ Kaare K. B. Dahl)

How do experts around the world consider the future of precast construction? What are the biggest challenges, or brightest advancements? And what kind of wishes do specialists have for precast construction industry and its actors? Why are these changes happening?

High-rise builders go for precast

“Precast construction has a significant role in Ramboll Denmark’s business. When we talk buildings in Denmark, we always talk precast: 90–95 percent of buildings are constructed from precast elements. While the number is not the same in the rest of the world – due to cultural differences which have to do with building and aesthetic traditions, requirements, geological differences, among others – I see the use of precast increasing worldwide in the future.

The high-rise building industry, for example, has taken remarkable steps towards precast and modular construction, which makes so much sense in dense city district projects. Higher and higher buildings are constructed using precast methods. Just recently we were working on a 40-story precast, modular high-rise in Malaysia.

Individual design is one other strong point for development. Some 20 years ago precast buildings were often boring and repetitive, but that is no longer the case. Technical innovations and digitalisation are already making huge improvements to the precast industry. Buildings and homes can contain modules which are prefabricated in a way that they are ready to integrate new technologies – the ones that individuals choose to have in their premises. Digitalisation and robotic formwork shuttering also means that you are no longer confined to using identical precast elements but can adopt more individual solutions moving away from the “block-type”-buildings towards more aesthetically pleasing structures.”

Kaare K.B Dahl, Senior Project Manager, Ramboll, Denmark

Pictured above: AC Hotel Bella Sky Copenhagen (photo @ Kaare K. B. Dahl)

Kaare K.B Dahl

Kaare K.B Dahl

Standards must be modernised

“The need for precast construction is growing, not only in the districts where builders want to advance quickly but also in complementary building where space is limited. If tens of subcontractors and materials are concentrated in one site, it’s a logistical disaster. Precast and modular construction are the key to good worksite management. Worksite management has improved a lot via new technologies, such as 3D planning. In the future, new technologies, such as production management systems, will become even more important since they give essential real-time information to constructors, their clients, and any resident who wants information about living conditions in the building.

One big challenge is the need to modernise some things in precast element construction, such as industry standards. In certain ways the industry has not developed since the 1970s. Back then big investments were made in factories and machines; but, although many decades have passed, contractors still aren’t willing to invest again but are trying to hold on to the business with old measures and standards. This is not wise. We must modernise the precast construction industry with its element factories to face future needs, before other sector competitors take its place.

40 years ago, a 1.2-metre wide slab was large enough for the needs of that era, and cranes weren’t strong enough to carry larger slabs. But nowadays 2.4-metre wide slabs would be more convenient. Larger slabs allow much less joints in the finished premises and can contain much more prefabricated technology such as floor heating units and air conditioning in them. And, when ventilation, sewer pipes and other components are prefabricated in the slabs already in the element factory, it saves a lot of time and effort at construction sites. The so-called sandwich building method brings prefabrication even further: components such as whole windows with their coping can be integrated in the panels already in the factory.”

Heikki Kankkunen, Senior Advisor, Gonatus Ltd.

Heikki Kankkunen

Heikki Kankkunen

New technologies enable more intelligent information flow

“In Finland we have advanced, tested precast element solutions, and our duct solutions, for example, could be brought to wider international use. The precast construction will go even further towards modular construction in the future. Residential construction will be more and more standardised, and in bathrooms, for instance, there will be more prefabricated slabs and entire concepts to choose from. Information modelling is going to help this trend since it enables the creation of various ‘structural libraries’ that can be utilised in design solutions.

One main challenge lies in communication. I would like to see new technologies enable easier and more intelligent as well as transparent information flow among different parties so that we’d all be able to benefit, as a way of continuous learning, from good innovations and solutions. This would lead us and the whole business from project-to-process type of thinking and towards concepts rather than concentrating on separate, isolated methods and ideas.”

Juha Koskinen, Procurement Manager, Fira Ltd., Finland

As. Oy Helsingin Viuhka (photo @ Jussi Ratilainen / Fira)

As. Oy Helsingin Viuhka (photo @ Jussi Ratilainen / Fira)

Juha Koskinen, Procurement Manager, Fira Ltd., Finland

Juha Koskinen

Digitalisation, climate change and rapid urbanisation bring changes

“At Aalto University, we run the Building 2030 research consortium with 16 industry partners. The aim of the consortium is to develop a vision for the Finnish construction sector and facilitate its implementation. The construction sector will face big changes due to mega trends, such as digitalisation, climate change and rapid urbanisation. These trends need to be taken into consideration when developing a sustainable foundation for the sector in the future. For example, digitalisation can be applied for preventive maintenance. Sensors inside a concrete slab or somewhere else in the facility can report possible moisture problems and a tenant or the facility itself can take the necessary action before a bigger problem appears.

But even roses have thorns. One problem that is slowing down the digitalisation of the construction sector is the disconnected operational environment. We need to get the different actors of the construction sector around the same table to discuss operational practices and their management. Chaotic practices are not worth digitalising; the benefits of digitalisation come when digital tools are used to help in the management of well thought out operational processes. In practice, this means that construction actors need to decide how to best work together, especially when it comes to sharing building data. The building sector needs to take a look at the automotive or marine industries, where processes and logistics run more fluently, and prefabrication has been applied for a long time.”

Rita Lavikka, D. Sc., Post-doctoral Researcher, Department of Civil Engineering, Operations Management in Construction, Aalto University, Finland

Rita Lavikka, D. Sc., Post-doctoral Researcher, Department of Civil Engineering, Operations Management in Construction, Aalto University, Finland

Rita Lavikka

Most of the technology is already here

“I think there are lots of missed opportunities to use precast due to a lack of knowledge of the systems and their available uses. There needs to be more education and uptake at earlier stages of projects to maximise its benefits. It is important that we incorporate precast into the process from the very beginning, from the project design stage.

With the use of precast, the construction industry has made a start in industrialising the process a bit, but it’s still traditional, especially when you compare it to the development the car industry has gone through. New developments in technology will help in this change, but a lot lies in people’s mindset. Most of the technology is already here, we should just start using it intensively.

In the future, precast modules will be bigger, more complex and have a higher finishing level, containing more MEP and installations, for instance, so construction time can be even more reduced. I expect the development of 3D printing will take away market share from the precast industry. All in all, precast will be booming worldwide in upcoming economies, in the coming years, and in more developed economies precast will become more and more sophisticated.”

Matthew Palmer, General Manager, United Precast Concrete Dubai LLC

Matthew Palmer, General Manager, United Precast Concrete Dubai LLC

Matthew Palmer

Time on site and mistakes can be minimised

“Using precast materials in construction is generally rising. With better site surveying, thanks to 3D laser scanning, and with full BIM/3D documentation being utilised, we can now accurately produce buildings and their constituent parts off-site within a controlled environment. This way time and mistakes can be minimised on site.

In Australia, precast concrete is quite commonly used. We use it most often on commercial projects for construction sequencing reasons. It’s also typically used for projects like warehouses to achieve speedy and low-cost outcomes. At Techne we completed a successful building (Porsche Centre Doncaster) a few years ago that utilised various precast concrete products: walls, columns, beams and floorplates. There were real space constraints on the site and precast construction was the best solution.

As an architect, I wish the precast industry would offer more finishes and methods for jointing, which would feel as authentic as traditional in situ concrete. I’d also like to see the use of more precast panel products with a core of insulation material for better R-values.”

Nicholas Travers, Director, Technē Architecture + Interior Design, Australia

Porsche centre 3D visualisation @ Techne
Nicholas Travers, Director, Technē Architecture + Interior Design, Australia

Nicholas Travers

Productional and ecological transparency

“The first thing that I ask of a precast element is that it integrates different systems in a safe and efficient, but also in a light and aesthetic way. It needs to fit modern constructions perfectly, and slabs must offer integrated technical possibilities in them. That the precast construction sector has already entered the world of new technologies helps in this: all plans are digitised, which reduces deadlines; the exchanges between various actors are more fluid; and the risk of errors is reduced. Companies can remotely consult and modify their prefabricated elements and follow the whole manufacturing process as well as logistics.

One other thing that companies using prefabricated products are more and more focusing on nowadays is the traceability, as well as the ecological aspect of the production: waste management, water usage, how long transport distances are, etc.

In France, precast construction does not yet occupy the place it should, given its quality, its proximity and the expertise of manufacturers. Anyhow, there are some examples of significant precast construction projects in France, such as IKEA in Lyon and Amazon in Clichy.

Patrick Burdy, Director of the KP1 plant of Ciel, France

Patrick Burdy, Director of the KP1 plant of Ciel, France

Patrick Burdy

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