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Are precast manufacturers reaping the benefits of DfMA?

Infographic: precast model + precast panel being manufactured + construction + disassembly + re-use/recycling = DfMA

Precast seems the ideal construction specialism to embrace digital as part of the DfMA process, from design, through manufacture to delivery on site. Is that how Tekla sees it?

Ismail Makda, Business Manager for Concrete and Precast division at Trimble Solutions (UK) Ltd discusses the question.

Yes, absolutely. Tekla software has been developed with each precast construction stage in mind, which means it can be used from the design and pre-construction phases, right through to when the building is erected on site. 

What’s more, digital construction can also facilitate the workflow between all the different stakeholders on one project. For example, an architect is able to send their 3D model, even if it has not been designed using Tekla software, to the precaster, who will then be able to create a highly detailed Tekla Structures model with all the embeds, reinforcement, etc.  At the same time, the engineer can use the model to assess the structural characteristics of the proposed building, such as wind loading.   

How much are Tekla’s precast clients exploiting its potential – planning bids, complex design detailing, creating moulds and rebar layouts, faster manufacturing, waste reduction, clash detection and coordination on site. Where do you see the main efficiency gains in Tekla’s precast clients, and what else could they be doing?

How our precast clients decide to leverage the benefits of Tekla software varies widely. But unfortunately, the main limitation is down to companies not having sufficiently trained employees that can exploit the software’s full potential. However, having said that, as time has passed and the use of BIM within the sector has increased significantly, I have clearly observed a leap in the use of our software and more importantly, clients finally realising the long-promised benefits. This includes the understanding of complex detail, thanks to the data rich 3D models that are available, as well as accumulating further information as the job progresses, as previously, at each step of the construction cycle, information would have been lost resulting in delays, due to RFIs (Request for Information) and inaccuracies.

Although there is still a lot of work to do to enable external stakeholders to collaborate more effectively through digital construction, to deliver projects accurately and on time. The reason why this is still not as smooth as it should be is due to the culture of some external parties, as they tend to retain certain bits of information that are considered ‘sensitive’, whereas the use of BIM is pushing for openness and transparency. 

Within the construction process, work onsite has so far been excluded from the digital transformation, which has taken place at the preconstruction stage. But there is great promise of change, with new technologies like robotic total stations, cloud mapping and virtual reality headsets being introduced to the market.  At Trimble, we are already investing heavily in this type of technology, such as Trimble Connect, which has been developed to work with Microsoft’s Hololens, and other platforms, to prepare for the widespread adoption of these new ways of working.

Trimble Total Station in foreground of precast construction site

Do you see Tekla helping precast specialists collaborate digitally with other project team members, e.g. interfacing with steelwork or envelope packages?

There is already software available on the market that is allowing construction parties – and specifically precast specialists – to collaborate and allow everyone involved in a project to access the latest models, drawings and other important data. 

By making this information easily visible, accessible and shareable, it enables everyone involved in a construction process to know what is currently happening on site and what needs to happen next, encouraging a higher level of communication, productivity and efficiency. 

In fact, Trimble Connect is just one example of a collaboration software. It is a cloud-based platform, engineered by Trimble to help the construction industry build better, improve communication between the contractor, structural engineer and fabricator, and create a coordinated environment where all parties can review the latest models, plans and schedules.

Designed to work alongside Tekla Structures, detailed and informed steel and concrete models can be created on Tekla Structures and then shared to the Trimble Connect cloud, where all users can access the data, reference each other’s work, check for clashes and ensure scheduling is coordinated.

Screenshot of Trimble Connect showing 3D model and documentation associated with it

Tekla’s BIM software was used by architectural precast cladding specialist Techrete, on the new V&A Dundee. As there were no straight external walls, the challenge of designing, manufacturing and installing the 2,400 precast concrete panels, which brought the geometrically complex design of the museum to life, was quickly recognised at the beginning of the project. 

Therefore, BIM was used throughout this whole project, with every single precast plank modelled by Techrete. This allowed the design team to search the model, zoom in and spin the plank around to ensure it fitted the design. 

V&A Dundee, steep triangular precast museum inspired by the nearby coastal cliffs

To realise the complicated shapes and geometry involved, Techrete chose to model the project in 3D using Tekla Structures. Dave McDonnell, Lead Project Modeller, explains: Trimble’s Tekla Structures is intelligent software that suits our manufacturing process, working with both steel and concrete.

It allows clash detection, gives weights and the centre of gravity of elements, and generates the fabrication drawings and rebar cutting schedules. This minimises errors, conflicting detailing documents and inefficient information software, which can all waste material and resources and cause costly rework in the detailing department, factory and on site.

“The architect supplied a 3D model, plans and schedules. From these, Tekla Structures was able to calculate and generate the setting out of the planks and fixings, the main contractor’s work and fabrication drawings, bracket details and schedules.

Model of precast planks attached to steel brackets

Finally, it would be interesting to get your view on how continuing tech development or policy change will affect the precast sector, e.g. the Infrastructure & Projects Authority’s call for evidence on Platform DfMA, which seems perfect for precast.

Consistency in construction methods and the subsequent cost savings is what is driving the Government’s policy on DfMA – and it presents a unique opportunity for the precast sector to experience a significant boost, because as mentioned earlier, one of the key impediments for precast clients adopting BIM in its entirety is the lack of trained resource, but the Government can most definitely play an effective role in driving full adoption. 

The standardisation that the UK Government is looking for can be achieved using Tekla software, as various objects, panels and sections, for example, can be modelled and then stored indefinitely, ready to be used on buildings that have similar designs and layouts, such as high-rise multi-occupancy buildings, schools and hospitals. By creating and storing models, the time spent on designing infrastructure would be reduced significantly, along with costs and on-site errors.  

A complex of precast buildings divided into 3 distinct parts

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