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Challenges of the precast concrete industry (and how BIM can help overcome them)

Concrete—in particular the precast version—remains as relevant as ever in architecture and engineering projects. In our previous article, we saw that Building Information Modeling (BIM), rather than a trend, is here to stay thanks to the improvement it brings to the entire workflow: from facilitating the design process through manipulating a virtual model that incorporates the attributes and behavior of the different components, to controlled manufacturing and faster turnaround times with less labor needed at the jobsite.

Notably, the BIM market is projected to experience significant growth: from USD 5.71 billion in 2020, to USD 11.96 billion in 2027, according to estimations from Fortune Business Insights based on the 2016-2018 period. With increasing urbanization being the key factor behind this current and expected market growth, it seems only natural that builders, contractors, architects, engineers, and facility or construction managers will want to stay up-to-speed with the latest technology and methodologies. Especially those that will make their everyday tasks significantly easier and more productive. In this sense, the adoption of precast concrete has been a life-saving solution for those who want faster delivery, tidier jobsites—no more onsite formwork, framing, pouring, or curing—, uniform results and ease of installation. But for all the advantages that precast concrete has over traditional construction methods, there are still some challenges the industry faces. We will go over some of these in this article and how the BIM methodology can help overcome them.

An easy review process allows for proper placement of all the elements involved at any given section.

A streamlined design process

Currently, BIM is at the forefront of digital transformation in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry. The process of exchanging a BIM model with the client allows coordinating tasks and refining the design through various cycles of iteration where modifications are easily implemented and their feasibility and cost allocation are rapidly verified. This means there is more control over the entire project, while staying within budget.

Effective management

Having an efficient workflow is crucial as architects and engineers create increasingly complex and ambitious designs. And as much as 2D drafting has supported the industry up to now (first by hand, and later through the use of CAD software), manually changing all affected components or views whenever a modification is introduced is time-consuming and may lead to errors. As a digital twin of its real-life counterpart, the BIM model automatically updates any documentation or 2D-view that the designer or manufacturer might need, without having to put in any extra work.

Cost estimation

When working with precast elements, clients are eager to find out what their project will entail in terms of area, number of elements needed, total weight, and number of factory and site items—the components needed for production or onsite assembly, such as props or struts to temporarily hold the structure in place as it is being built. Having a BIM model to work with makes quantity takeoff an easy task, as the figures are immediately derived from the 3D model. This drives predictability and brings certainty to the planning process, minimizing costly under- or over-estimations.

Interaction between elements

Spatial coordination and clash avoidance between the different components are crucial in achieving a project free from rectifications that, when encountered in the later stages of construction, result in expensive and time-consuming workarounds. One of the main advantages of the BIM methodology is that the various disciplines that come together in a building construction project are coordinated to the detail—rather than stepping on one another’s toes, an easy review process leads to resolving any issues that may come up while making modifications is still feasible.

One of our clients, Austral Precast, has an automated plant that produces a variety of precast concrete pieces. Their machines are guided by CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) files to position any elements to be embedded within the material, pour the concrete, and get ready for shipping, which sometimes even implies flipping over pieces in mid-air. Along with this series of CAM files, Biminglabs also includes tables containing the area, volume and weight of each piece to be manufactured, the fitment schedule for embedded elements (from metal fittings and anchors all the way to bricks), and the rebar schedule. The latter lists quantities, length, and grade, among other useful details. All of this information is carefully extracted from the BIM model and broken down in table form or as 2D drawings so it is easy for the client to visualize, comprehend and quantify.

As a provider of BIM services specifically tailored to the requirements of the precast industry, Biminglabs is well aware of the challenges manufacturers face on a day-to-day basis, and the major role we play in helping them take a leap into the future of production. We bring solutions in the designs, models, shop drawings and specifications we deliver for clients all the way from Australia and the US to Canada, as we help them see their projects through to completion.

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