The precast concrete industry has come a long way; beginning with the first patented planter to the computer-controlled industrial production of precast concrete products we know today. Several milestones have marked the development of this sector. Here are a few:
Joseph Monier was a gardener whose vision was to create low-cost permanent planters. He developed many reinforced concrete products in 1867. Following his creation of reinforced concrete, the next logical step was developing precast concrete elements. This can be attributed to the fact that prefabrication offered great benefits compared to in-situ concrete in terms of health and safety, speed and quality.
Uniform Construction Using Solid Elements
Precast systems were known as solid precast systems (where precast elements were connected by means of bolting, welding or grouting). These methods were used to construct extremely uniform residential complexes. Because flexible molds for solid parts had not yet been developed, there was little space for flexibility. They weren’t invented until the mid-nineties.
These solid precast systems came with their fair share of advantages and disadvantages. The most significant drawback was the uniformity it created in buildings and ground plans, and the high seismic load limitations of high-rise buildings. Its main upside is the industrial principle, which serves as the foundation for building production.
The lattice girder (the main component of what is known as the half-precast system) was invented in the early 1950s.
It became widely used for precast products in the mid-1960s, which marked the beginning of widespread industrial production of precast elements.
At the time, the production units were quite simple. They comprised mostly basic production buildings and fixed beds in open areas. The most crucial tools for production were an overhead crane for buildings or a tower crane for open spaces.
The evolution of the double wall
There was a need to optimize the building process and reduce work on the construction site besides improving the quality of the end product. These were the primary motivators for further development. The half precast wall, also known as the twin wall, was developed and launched in the market between 1980 and 1985.
Two inventions distinguished the second stage of development. These were the personal computer and the CAD (computer-aided design) systems to generate electronic data for the product. The other was the PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) system to control automated machines. These advancements led to the incorporation of automated machines (such as plotters and concrete spreaders) into the manufacturing process, which was managed using CAD data.
Computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) systems were introduced during this period. Combined with pallet carousel systems (invented in the 1960s), it was possible to cut man-hours per m2 by two-thirds, which was quite an improvement over manual production. At the same time, there was a significant improvement in the product’s quality, especially on the edges and surfaces.
Automated machines were gradually introduced into the manufacturing process. A few examples of these include automated reinforcement production (mesh welding machines), molding and demolding robots, automated concrete spreaders, laser projection, and master computer systems, which offer more control over the production process.
Developments since 2005 and projections for the coming years
Since 2000, there have been several advancements in networking and digitization of production. These have been applied in some places, but not on a large scale, or in every country. Below are some of the developments.
BIM stands for Building Information Modelling and is concerned with the sharing of information and data for the design, construction, and maintenance of buildings. It maintains data consistency by allowing all parties to access the same data, saving time and money. If any of the parties updates a section of the data, it is immediately available to the other parties, hence reducing the chances of making mistakes or duplication of tasks.
The term “Industry 4.0” is frequently bandied around. The use of automated machinery in the manufacturing process is supplemented by connecting the machines and plants to each other, and to the internet. This technique is also known by some as “smart factory”.
There have been attempts to limit the use of paper in the fabrication of precast concrete pieces. In the not-so-distant future, data will exclusively be conveyed digitally, and printing will be obsolete. This is recommended for both environmental and economic reasons.
In the near future, construction products, such as intelligent precast concrete pieces integrated into a building’s services will become increasingly common. TKL Group can’t wait to guide you into the future by providing quality precast concrete to build tomorrow’s magnificent structures today.