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Earlier this year you were able to read about the 3 precast trends to keep track of in 2019, and now I will elaborate on their implications for the precast concrete technology. Keep on reading to discover my take on the future direction of precast concrete production technologies.
Safety as a motto
I wonder how many of you connect precast concrete plants with the adjectives tough and dirty, as that is not the case anymore. New and modern precast plants are equipped with the latest technologies that boost production accuracy, quality, safety and sustainability. Safe and digitalized production processes are what interest younger generations – your potential future employees. With safe and modern factories you are spreading the message of an employer who truly cares for their employees and shows it with a good work environment. However, it is also about attitude, because factories with exactly same equipment can have majorly different work conditions!
Often it is the case that correct use and efficient maintenance of machinery equals to safe work conditions. However, newer models are also equipped with variety of solutions to reduce occupational accidents and safety risks, for example, tools for safe lifting, movement sensors and auto-stop function. Elematic saws also, for instance, feature very efficient dust reduction systems for healthier working environment, as they limit the amount of respirable silica dust.
The safety of precast concrete technologies is not limited to the precast plant; it also affects the construction sites. To exemplify, do you consider it safe enough to lift hollow-core slabs with clamps? There have been unfortunate incidents when the slabs have accidentally fallen from the clamps, and thus, we have developed technology to make lifting safer for you. Looper E9 was designed to make a hole in the unhardened hollow-core slab, install a lifting loop in the hole and compact the concrete around the loop reinforcing the strand. By installing lifting loops to the slabs already at precast plants, the lifting becomes safer throughout.
The digital journey
“Internet of things” aka IoT is been hyped among the industry professionals and also I consider it something that will transform the way precast plants function. Already now the latest technologies enable discovering the production bottle necks and preventive maintenance needs. How? For example, you may have a highly technical car that informs you about the next car maintenance. The same principle is applied to precast machinery – to determine the most optimal time for maintenance, data, such as produced square meters, the speed of the machine and screws as well as casting quality are processed. These values can be adjusted separately for each factory and machine, so that maintenance takes place at the most optimal way and time while production disruption is minimized.
Another perspective to the factory digitalization is to take a look at FloorMES E9, a manufacturing execution system for supervising and planning precast floor production. The idea is that such a system monitors how the machines are moving along the beds, and can thus; utilize the location data for optimizing the production even further. In other words, by digitalizing some aspects of your precast plant, you are able to significantly increase the cost-efficiency of the production by enhancing the production sequence.
Currently, 3D-models are successfully used by the designers on varied fields. For instance, architects and structural designers can better spread their ideas when their models exist in 3D-format. The same applies to precast plants, 3D factory models enable you and us to better evaluate the space and safety needs. Similar benefits are faced in machine development, because 3D-models enable analyzing how to improve the usability and safety. Also, as you get to see the machine in 3D before its manufacturing begins, it is easier for you to pinpoint any special requirements.
One question remains; will 3D-printing work in the precast concrete construction industry? In my opinion, this is something that we must keep a close eye on, however, at this moment it is difficult to see how an entire house could be printed at a construction site. Instead, it could be more reasonable to think about printing decorative elements or molds for complex designs. This could be a way to start utilizing 3D-printing in the precast field, but we shall see how it develops.
Sustainability as a competitive advantage
There are three pillars of sustainability: social, economic and environmental. Earlier we discussed about the safe working conditions which constitute to the social pillar together with the fact that precast concrete technology enables rapid construction of sustainable and affordable housing. The economic pillar is reached through efficient production technologies. Automation, production optimization and preventive maintenance are well-functioning ways to boost the cost-efficiency of production. That leaves out the environmental pillar; however, it is embedded in all the precast concrete production and construction processes.
In comparison to other construction materials, precast concrete is a more sustainable option. The biggest unsustainability of precast is the use of raw materials, especially cement. However, modern precast concrete technologies enable optimized production, where only the needed materials are used. To exemplify, Extruder E9, the fourth generation shear compaction extruder launched in 2010, was designed to guarantee constant and standard quality production of hollow-core slabs so that the amount of waste is minimized. I recommend staying tuned for the introduction of its newer version – a surprisingly fast Extruder E9, the best machine ever for hollow-core slab casting that comes with efficient concrete recycling. This is what boosts the sustainability of a hollow-core plant even further.
As another example, I’d like to mention Elematic FaMe shuttering system suitable for table molds, battery molds and column as well as pillar production. The system enables you to produce straight-edged wall panels with low production costs without using heavy steel side forms or unsustainable wood. By taking good care of the system, the same components can be used for decades, and thus, natural resources are saved.
All 3 top trends in precast concrete technology focus on the varied sustainability dimensions with digitalization as a combining feature. Hence, I’d like to invite you to join our digital journey. Let’s make precast production as efficient and sustainable as it can be, together.
Petteri Laitinen, Vice President, Projects and Services