Precast Concrete Construction

In the mid-nineties, I was heading a civil design department for a large EPC contractor in South East Asia. We had received an order to build a paper plant.

The primary building in a paper plant is the paper machine building. A typical paper machine building is about 300 m long. The building typically has two floors, one at ground level, and one at about 7.5 m level. The paper machine is installed on a foundation that is not connected to the building. The machine is accessible from the machine hall at 7.50 m level. This building houses other complex and heavy machinery and has very stringent requirements with respect to quality, structural design and stability. The roof is high up and some of the sections of this building are subject to temperatures between 50 to 60 0 C. A large overhead crane straddles the upstairs machine hall. The differential settlement in the paper machine foundation has to be less than one mm and overall settlement at any point less than 1.25 mm. This building, with all its components and the equipment foundations, normally takes 18 months to build.

Our managing director was an innovative man and constantly sought ideas to speed up construction. One day, he called me to his office and showed me an article narrating about a company in the US that had developed techniques to build a paper machine building using pre cast elements. This paper machine building was completed in a record time of 6 months, said the article. We appointed the US company as our consultants and they did the engineering with the help of our engineers in our office. We built our paper machine building in a year cutting down the time by about six months. This was despite a delay of about three months due to the learning curve and the time required for setting up a precast plant.

Thus began my twenty two years long association with pre-cast concrete. My old company has built several large industrial plants and other structures since then.

In many first world countries pre cast elements for bridges, culverts have been standardized. Pre-casting units are located near major cities that supply these elements to the construction sites. This not only reduces the construction time but also the design time as one uses standard elements whose properties are known.

There are variations of the precast concrete construction such as tilt up construction, module fitments etc.

I have often wondered why India, with so much construction needed in the all the sectors of construction, has not embraced this technique. Apart from other issues like need for repetition, unfriendly taxation, requirement of transport or lifting machinery etc., I think our engineers have not given a serious thought to developing this technique.

I would like to share some of my learnings.

1. Planning is Paramount: The structure to be built from precast elements has to be broken down in elements, in a pre-determined configuration. It is like making the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that when put together will form the completed puzzle. It can be a combination of standard and non-standard pieces.

2. God is in details: Each element thus planned has to be detailed out to fit all the elements on all its sides and the embedment required for utilities.

3. Design the Construction and Construct the design: Normal structural engineering practice of designing the final product and leaving the “How?” to the construction personnel, does not work in precast. The structural engineer has to stay involved in the process of pre casting, erection and placement.

To the best of my knowledge, IS codes do not have specific provisions for pre cast structures unlike ACI or BS codes. Some of the clauses in ACI can be substituted by provisions in their supplementary publications. Such provisions have to be applied judiciously after a proper assessment of the stages in the service life of the element. A foremost expert on pre-casting once said “Applying provisions of R.C.C code to pre-casting would be like playing tennis with a baseball bat”

The structural design for a precast element is done for various stages of in its early life. Multiple level checks are required till the element is placed, more checks are required if it is a pre-stressed element with partial un-bonding of tendons.

4. Joints can cause headaches: Resolving and configuring a joint between precast elements can be an arduous task. It becomes a heuristic process to balance between the structural requirement, functionality with respect to basic consideration as water tightness, and the size of the elements to which an element in consideration is attached. Joints have to be constructed the way they have been envisaged.

5. Cutting off ears because they stick out, not only impairs hearing but also creates difficulty in wearing spectacles: This is known to occur frequently where architectural requirements are of primary importance. Typically some architects do not like some essential arrangements created for better joints. Doing away with these “hindering” details may lead to reduced functionality of the joints or the elements. Expensive alternate arrangements are required to restore functionality.

6. Construction Methodology can make or break a project: Many years ago, a large bulk warehouse with pre-cast pre stressed concrete bow string girders as roof trusses was being constructed in India for a fertilizer plant. Out of twelve bowstring girders, six broke while being lifted while the others were erected smoothly. Designs were checked and double checked and checked again. This was before the easy availability of the sophisticated finite element analysis that we have today. It finally dawned on someone that the bow string girders broke because a girder while being lifted in tandem by two cranes, twisted out of plane due to different rates of lifting. A structural engineer designing precast elements should, therefore, have the knowledge of the lifting process.

7. Quality is the watchword: Consistent Quality of production is one of the arguments put forward by the advocates of precast. But many a mismatches, rejections and failures have occurred due to watching only the quality of concrete and giving less importance to placement of reinforcement embeds and the dimensional tolerances.

8. A one rupee increase in the production cost can mean a crore of rupees at the end: Due the repetitive nature of the cost of pre-casting a lot of thought has to be given to use any “nice to have” component. While the most obvious cost elements related to concrete are watched vigilantly, a small embed or a detail, that is incorporated in the design and casting of an element for a probable use, escapes attention. Such an embed that was proposed to be used and has been cast in the element has already added to the cost of producing the element. When a number of such elements are cast, the expenditure can be substantial. If such redundancy if not eliminated in time, it can waste lakhs of rupees.

GEM believes in providing an open work culture in which employees get opportunities to hone their skills, thrive in a professional environment and develop an entrepreneurial mind-set. Our goal is to provide value added technical service of International Quality at competitive price. We believe in a continual update of skills of our employees and client’s engineers and these blogs are aimed at achieving this objective.

Why Is Health and Safety on Construction Sites So Important?

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Because to live is more important than to work. We work to live and not the other way around!

Construction is a risky profession with one of the highest fatality rate. 3% of workers (66,000) get inured at site while 4% (80,000) suffer from work related illness every year on the average. That’s some big number, isn’t it? Wrong. The industry has seen days much worse.

To gain some further insight into the problem, let’s crunch some more numbers from years gone by. Here are some official figures for the 2014-15 period. Have a look:

· 142 construction workers were killed while working on site

· 611,000 cases of injury – minor and major – took place within a construction site

· A whopping 27.3 million workdays were lost due to on site injury and illness

· The cost of these injuries and illness is estimated to be £14.3 billion

Good Health and Safety practice at sites ensures well-being of workers, companies, industry and society at large. Workers become safer and more productive whereas companies get bigger and more profitable. In a nutshell, it’s a win-win situation for everyone. Let’s dive in for detailed explanation.

How it benefits workers?

It saves them from fatalities. It’s certainly not a nice feeling being sick, injured or in extreme cases dead. There is no “loss of income” and a “high medical cost” to worry about. Moreover, it also boosts their morale, productivity and consequently career.

How it benefits Companies?

Fatalities at sites invite prosecution, bad press, decline in production and loss of revenue. Everyone avoids unsafe projects be it workers, customers or investors and thus it becomes all the more important for companies to care for health and safety of workers.

Prosecution is feared the most as it might delay or shelve the project resulting in loss of millions of pounds. Bad press is equally harmful as not only it turns customers away but also dent the reputation build over years.

Adopting Health and Safety standards also helps project be completed on budget and times. Safe and healthy workplace makes workers more efficient and this reflects well on the project. As per a survey by Research agency Glenigan, Historic 64% of construction project were completed on budget while a record 40% were over on time in 2015 thanks to the growing adoption of Health and Safety standards at sites.

How do we ensure health and safety standards at sites?

We do it by preventing unqualified access to site. We disqualify workers without proper health and safety training from working on sites. To prove you are a worker trained in safety, there is a CSCS Card to get. The trick is that you can’t get the card without attending a Health and safety awareness course and then passing a safety test which ensure you have developed the ability to ensure a safer and healthier site. Moreover, the card also certifies you are a competent worker with good knowledge of your trade.

10 Benefits of Commercial Landscape Maintenance

It is a known fact that a well-preserved and maintained landscape adds to the aesthetic appeal and value of your brand and enhances the overall image of your business. On the contrary, a poorly maintained landscape repels customers and there is a high possibility that they won’t even enter your interior space. First impression is the last impression, after all.

An adequately maintained commercial landscape attracts customers towards your business and marks a professional impression in their minds. From small enterprises to large corporates, manufacturing plans to clubs-all gain huge benefits from commercial landscape maintenance.

Below are the top 10 benefits enterprises can achieve through commercial landscape maintenance:

1. Building an eco-friendly environment

A green environment is a clean environment and it makes your clients breathe fresh air helping them realize the importance you give to your workplace environment. It adds to your professional image in the eyes of the client and makes you their first choice for doing business.

2. Making your Commercial Landscape highly Attractive

Often while travelling you see big lush green beautifully maintained offices, don’t your eyes stick to? That’s what a well-maintained landscape does, it makes you want to visit the office and see what the inside environment is like.

3. Helps in establishing your Brand and building a Clean Image

Your business is what your clients perceive of it. A commercial landscape with well-preserved plants and trees all around leave a lasting impression on your clients and makes them feel that you pay attention to every minute detail in your workplace, from professional work to professional space.

4. Enhanced Employee Productivity

An enterprise is only as good as its employees. Your employees work hard for you every day but even they need a fresh and healthy environment for their lunch breaks and between work walks. A clean environment refreshes your employees multiple times during the day, increases their productivity and boosts their performance.

5. Adds to your Business Value and Attracts more Clients

A beautiful commercial landscape architecture adds diversity to your business and makes you stand out from your competitors. It attracts more clients towards your business and increases your market demand.

6. Maintains Standardization

When your commercial landscape complies with the established design standards, it helps you to doing business effectively and avoids uncomfortable encounters with business-district communities.

7. Physical and Psychological Advantages

Numerous researches have proved that interaction with trees, grass and other plants helps humans get rid of their work stress and instills refreshed productivity in them.

8. Economic Advantages

As per the reports of the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association, a beautifully maintained commercial landscape leads to a 14% increase in the resale value of the property.

9. Increases Safety, Lowers Crime Risk and Saves Money

Well-maintained commercial landscape reduces the risk of employee injury from stumbling over debris. With properly trimmed bushes and trees, and nicely cut grass, your commercial space can keep away thieves and criminals as they realize that your property is regularly maintained and employees are always alert.

A planned landscape architecture takes into account the design for minimal heat during the warmest months and can help you save huge amounts on your electricity bills.

10. Greenery increases Privacy

Properly grafted plants and trees help you keep the dirt, dust and pollution away from your premises and maintain your privacy. It allows for better utilization of workplace, which can include car parking, fountains, etc.

7 Ways Construction Firms Can Hire and Retain Quality Tradesmen

Whether you are a construction recruitment agency or a construction firm itself looking to hire the best of talent industry has to offer, here are a few important tips to help you in this quest.

Hire in the off season:

Conventional wisdom has it that you must never go grocery shopping while you are hungry. You tend to buy whatever you get at the earliest and that’s almost never a good bargain. The same is true for hiring tradesmen when you need them.

So the best time to look for a tradesman is when you don’t require one. It will help you scan wide range of talents, be more selective, and acquire the kind of worker you exactly want. As an added piece of advice, aim for the off-season when many construction workers are out of work and you might get a bargain.

Pay the market rate:

When you pay peanuts, you get only monkey! Firms who pay below-market wages not only have the least-qualified and least-productive employees, but they are also the ones always in need of new workers. Why? Because competitive tradesmen will leave you the moment they get more lucrative opportunities. Do I need to tell you what a dent it makes to overall productivity?

Provide a safe work environment:

Don’t underestimate the value of a safe and healthy workplace in retaining workforce. Too many workers falling sick on site might force others to look for a safer option. A major accident on site and the resultant bad press might turn away potential hires.

Develop a great work culture:

There is something more than a good salary a qualified and talented tradesman look forward to. Bonuses, paid leaves, company outings, work-life balance, and retirement programs are some of the perks that entice the best of talents. The more people want to work for your company, the easier it will be to attract (and retain) quality people.

Invest in your workforce:

I haven’t met a tradesman who doesn’t like adding on new skills or getting a pat on the back for a job well done. So it’s a good idea to invest in your workforce. When you provide them a chance to learn, grow and develop they can help your company do the same. Training improves the efficiency of the workers and quality of the output. This is also a great way to identify the people with potential to take on bigger roles within the company.

Be in step with time and technology:

Embracing technology not only makes the company more efficient and productive but it also attracts younger and tech-savvy workforce. You can also publicize it as your USP to entice people buying your product or services.

Character can pay more dividend than the skill-set of a hire:

Characters can’t be built, skills can be. People with character can make the most of the training you give them. Such workers are more likely to stick with you in bad times as compared to those with only skills and potential.

A New Property Development Model Is Challenging The Big End of Town

Property Development – Changing the Funding Model

The Australian property market is a potential ticking time-bomb with residential investors increasingly focused on the capital appreciation for returns, whilst commercial property transactions has actively pursued yield based investments over the past 12-18 months. The property market seems buoyed by large interest from offshore investment and local cashed-up investors and developers. The short to medium term outlook for interest rates appears to be positive, but longer term there is an expectation of rising rates – tightening interest rates from banks are coming into play and access to development finance isn’t as rosy as it once was.

The restrictions on institutional lending will become a growing issue as the major banks need to reduce exposure to property leading and markets. The market is also adjusting to tightening on foreign buyers and global policy changes happening around the movement of capital outflows such as China. According to Knight Frank Chinese-backed developer’s bought 38% of Australian residential development sites in 2016.

Developers/Builders – The Challenge

Developers appreciate there are still significant opportunity in the market but the challenge now sits in accessing capital and potentially looking at non-bank capital sources. Key aspects will be to consider development design, building services and fabric costs. Stripping back development costs to these numbers can demonstrate opportunity to extend funding budget and potentially look at specialist funding sources.

The cost of funding might rise on the debt side, but if investor equity is costly, the increase LVRs available with private funders might provide net decreases in the overall cost of capital. The ability to access this funding without pre-sale quotas make it a desirable option for smaller developers.

Typically buildings are being designed and built to minimum code removing the costs of all the bells and whistles to maximise builder & developer profit. Less consideration and emphasis is placed on the new development’s ongoing operation and liabilities.

The New Model

What if we could put in all these additional extras to create a better performing asset with lower operational costs, but not have to increase the capital budget – in-fact decrease our capital cost by accessing Green Structured Finance (GSF), long-term funding available, subsidised by specialist product funding. This new loan/debt will be serviced by the operational savings made by the improved technology and products.

As an example, a developer is building and owning a mixed use site for $50m. We consider the design and energy consuming technologies for the site (ie lighting, solar, metering/embedded network, thermal insulation, glazing performance, energy efficient white-goods, hot water, HVAC).

SFG assess the ongoing lifecycle cost of these technologies. We then create a package outlining which products have an attractive return on investment based off the predicted energy costs. For this example $5m is taken out of the capital cost of the project for the improved package. This will reduce the developers Capex and Opex, improving cashflow and returning profit. This reduction of $5M or 10% is able to used on other projects or contribute to improving the project LVR and financial make-up.

Green Structured Finance from Sustainable Future Group is a new approach to a tightening development financing market, designed to optimise financial and development performance. We specialise in pulling together projects crossing the boundaries of Financial, Design, Advice and Delivery. Contact us to see how we can help improve your development.