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Why Concrete Contractors Should Upgrade the Way Their Formwork is Planned

Formwork is one of the most labor-intensive and time-consuming phases of the concrete construction process. It’s also one of the biggest line items in the concrete budget, which makes formwork an ideal place for concrete contractors to leverage Building Information Modeling (BIM) for faster, more accurate and collaborative workflows when estimating, planning and managing their formwork operations.

Challenges with 2D CAD

When working with temporary structures such as formwork, many still rely on information and documents produced using 2D CAD. At one point, the traditional method of drawing or copy-pasting CAD blocks in 2D was the only way to create formwork layout plans and information required. 

The traditional 2D CAD approach leaves little room for automation without risking information accuracy and results in either documents and information which are not constructible or requires a lot of manual repetitive work and rework in different stages. Lack of automation in 2D planning process often results in inconsistent formwork layouts from one project party to the next affecting to productivity on the field. 

Many times, also the information needed for timely, high-quality formwork planning is either low-quality or missing from design drawings altogether. Whether on paper or a computer, that manual, 2D based working increase potential for error, guesswork and contractor’s risk.

The real problem 

In the traditional 2D process formwork planning is completely disconnected from other concrete construction planning tasks. It’s difficult to react to changes because all of the information: pour planning, quantity takeoffs, lift and formwork drawings, etc. are disconnected. For example, if a wall is changed, all of the other places it touches need to be manually updated. 

In addition, formwork CAD blocks don’t often represent reality. Components of systems can’t accurately represent materials. Thus, it’s not uncommon to detect clashes in the field, when it’s too late.

All of these challenges combined open the door to poor formwork planning that is error-prone, time-consuming, lacks construction quality and timely information and can result in costly delays that have the potential to derail a project. 

To improve operational efficiencies, quality of the information and productivity in the field, today a growing number of concrete contractors are moving away from 2D to model-based formwork planning, quantification and managing related on-site operations. 

Work faster and smarter

One of the biggest benefits of planning the formwork in 3D is the evolving data which is effective to manage and use. All information is stored in one model and can be used in multiple workflows, such as material takeoffs, drawing creation, reporting, coordination and communication with the field, also making it easy to make changes without duplicated work. 

So why aren’t more concrete contractors modeling formwork? There is a misconception that working in 3D is time-consuming. In reality, the creation of accurately detailed formwork models can be very fast, but this requires some key functionalities from the BIM software you are using. 

Today, you can create a 3D model of your formwork pretty much with all most commonly used BIM software, but the question is, “Is it efficient enough to be sensible?”. 

Without purpose-built planning and modeling tools, the planning work is pretty much similar to 2D copy-paste with most of its disadvantages. You use 3D blocks instead of 2D, but the intelligence and automation are still lacking. Detailed formwork models can also become too heavy to use efficiently if your BIM tool is not built to manage the job properly.

Efficient formwork planning in 3D requires purpose-built tools and the software, which can offer automation to planning work through intelligence and performance in its modeling environment and specially developed tools to do the work efficiently. The true value is created when you are able to build an accurate 3D model quickly and easily as well as being able to easily, effectively and diversely utilize the quality information in models to do the required tasks.

This saves time and prevents mistakes in planning by automating traditionally manual, disconnected tasks and streamlines formwork operations on site thanks to the better visualization, coordination and communication that constructible formwork models make possible.

Concrete contractors who have chosen their BIM tool for formwork planning wisely are reaping numerous benefits and able to:

Automate formwork area calculations:

Concrete models, built with the BIM software as purpose-built, can have the intelligence to know how the concrete needs to be formed for the pour. This means it can automatically provide correct formwork areas for different formwork types for planning and creating estimates. Automating material quantification significantly accelerates formwork planning by eliminating manual takeoff processes and rework.  When using software such as Tekla Structures, the intelligent model and takeoffs are connected, meaning that formwork area quantifications can be organized according to location, pour type, sequence and planned formwork type, and also automatically visualized in 3D. As a result, including formwork line items to budgets and creating accurate, reliable estimates becomes really fast to do.

Create constructible formwork plans in 3D quickly and easily: 

Powerful modeling tools within BIM software such as Tekla Structures enable effective creation of detailed formwork plans in 3D. Modeled pour geometry can be utilized to place formwork components automatically to the correct location and angle. Accessories such as ties and clamps find their correct position automatically in the model. Most importantly, 3D visualization makes it easier to detect clashes and resolve potential constructibility issues early in the process, versus discovering problems in the field when it’s too late. Because all reports and drawings are automatically generated from the model, and adjustments and changes to any element are automatically updated to all documents, the risk of human error is significantly reduced compared to manual, disconnected 2D based working. 

Pull structured material quantities and drawings directly from the model

Modeling allows for instant material take offs. Formwork drawings and 3D visualizations can be generated from the model and dimensions and annotations added using automated tools. Because all documents are directly linked with the model, all the information in your reports and drawings is consistent and represents exactly the plan you have created in the 3D environment. When you know your plan works in the model you can be confident that your plan will also work in the field. 

Clearly communicate the formwork requirements for the field teams: 

3D models help everyone on site quickly and easily understand formwork requirements. Using tablets, installation teams can access 3D formwork models and associated, up-to-date information and documents directly in the field. Having this information readily available removes any guesswork and greatly reduces RFIs and other unproductive work and the potential for error. It also makes it easier to ensure that construction work progresses according to the planned schedule.

A Closer Look at Productive Formwork Planning

Adam Joraanstad, a formwork detailer with F.A. Wilhelm Construction began modeling formwork using Tekla Structures a bit more than one year ago. Already in this short time, they have noticed how significantly the Trimble’s BIM software has speeded up the planning process and also made it more accurate. 

“With the model, we know we are right,” Joraanstad says. “We know we have the right material, we know where things are supposed to be.”

“With Tekla Formwork placing tools, it’s a breeze to lay out a wall really quick, add ties, platforms and other parts and pieces really fast. You can select the whole wall at once, trap everything on there, and it’s quick and easy. The amount of speed that’s behind it, nothing I’ve seen matches it.”

Modeling reduces formwork construction time, minimizes on-site risk and allows F.A. Wilhelm Construction to confidently prepare for successful pours without guesswork. "Because we no longer rely on generic quantities, our pour counts are more accurate,” Joraanstad says.

As with F.A. Wilhelm Construction, BIM-based workflows can take your formwork operations to the next level by streamlining workflows, increasing accuracy and enabling collaboration in pre-construction and during the construction. To hear more about how F.A. Wilhelm plans formwork in Tekla Structures, check out this webinar to learn more about why and how to upgrade the way to plan your formwork.

Watch the Webinar Now

F.A. Wilhelm: More Productive Tools for Formwork and Pour Planning