A major hurdle to the concrete industry's adoption of advanced technology is the range of incompatible software that up until now has prevented information- sharing among the members of the supply chain. Many senior managers have been reluctant to champion a technology whose strategic importance they have yet to recognise fully.
In contrast, the structural steel industry has just completed a 10 year, £30M pan-European project to integrate design and fabrication through the use of a common data format, encouraging the development of semi-automated design. This is now being used on real jobs and is starting to affect the choice of material because of ease of design, software availability and cost savings.
The good news is that this means that much of the hard work has already been done. Sophisticated design programs are available for adaption, their developers are keen to encompass concrete and help with data exchange is at hand.
Client/industry-based organisation the International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI) was set up to encourage the development of a common data exchange framework. This will allow all construction computer programs to share a single database, typically through a 3D model.
The model will be 'intelligent'. Items such as floors, walls and beams will be 'aware' that they are objects and not just lines on a drawing and so will have a complete database associated with them, mirroring the real world. Sharing a single database on a structure or building would allow major gains in productivity from concept design, to construction, use and finally demolition. Importantly, the work necessary to describe data transfer involves examining current supply processes in detail, encouraging a fresh look at what is done now and how the process can be improved.
Each construction sector or domain is being encouraged to set up its own detailed model sub-set to ensure real life is emulated and to gain industry commitment. Major clients, including BAA, Lloyds and London Underground are fully supportive of the IAI, aware of the potential benefits of integrating construction processes into their own business processes.
The Reinforced Concrete Council is encouraging the reinforced concrete industry's participation in a joint materials group; the civil and structural domain. This domain has found that there are many opportunities for collaboration between concrete, timber and steel. IAI aims to overcome traditional commercial differences, which will reduce duplication of work and bring efficient management of technical resources.
The opportunities for reinforced concrete will be examined at a forthcoming IAI civil/structural domain meeting at the Institution of Structural Engineers on 30 November. This is a key opportunity for all concrete sectors to get involved. If not the whole industry may be disadvantaged.
This autumn sees the launch of two major software programs from the RCC. Both aim to speed up the concrete design process. The first commits reinforced concrete design to computer spreadsheet files, which bring particular benefits. In addition to increasing design efficiency they produce more accurate cost information, provide uniform design documentation and can be a medium for learning and data exchange. Combining design output quantities with current cost rates allows rapid cost optimisation of concrete structures, with the potential to save up to 10% of frame costs.
The 20 spreadsheets developed by the RCC will aid the design of reinforced concrete to BS 8110 and include simple element design, flat slab design and simple retaining wall design and sub-frame analysis. An accompanying user guide provides a commentary and shows worked examples of contemporary design. Some spreadsheets have also been developed to EC2 (ENV 1992) to help ease the transition to Eurocodes. The RCC has been presenting the spreadsheets as part of BRC's Reinforcement Innovations 99 Roadshow at venues throughout the country.
Also due to be launched in December is CALcrete (Computer Aided Learning in Concrete). This is a suite of 11 modules, ranging from materials to design and construction, which are suitable for professional development. Topics include foundations and retaining walls, reinforced concrete design to BS 8110 and to EC2, precast and prestressed concrete, drawing and detailing, buildability and construction techniques, materials and bridges.
CALcrete combines flexible learning with concise presentation using colour, animation, photos, interactive exercises and examples. Modules are available in CD-Rom and run in Windows in a stand-alone or network environment. CALcrete is a joint venture between the RCC, BCA and Phoenix Systems.
A further autumn launch is the new RC-Info disc. The RCC believes that this CD-Rom provides a valuable research, information and educational tool for reinforced concrete design and construction. It contains an interactive library of RCC technical and case study publications, a sophisticated search engine, working and evaluation copies of design software and background information on the RCC, its activities and allied organisations.
RC-Info will be distributed free of charge to 6,500 civil, structural and architectural students during October and is also available to practising engineers, architects and consultants.
It will, however, take more than software programs and CD-Roms if reinforced concrete is to realise its potential fully. For this reason the RCC is a major player in the research being carried out on the insitu concrete frame as part of the European Concrete Building Project at BRE Cardington. Much valuable information is starting to flow from the projects carried out on this seven-storey building. Recent reports include A radical redesign of the concrete frame business process. This estimates that through using manufacturing techniques such as Just-in-Time deliveries, resource allocation and improving operational methods, a potential 28% of cycle times and 42% of man hours can be saved.
The report Early striking of formwork and forces in backprops should lead to new criteria for striking formwork at very early stages together with providing greater certainty concerning the loadings in backprops and supporting slabs. Another report, Early age acceptance of concrete - improved quality management advocates the use of LOK and CAPO tests as being practical and reliable and far easier than temperature matched cubes in assessing when formwork can be struck.
Reinforced concrete construction is entering a new stage. Ongoing research, such at that at Cardington, combined with a new generation of fast and flexible design aids and an all-embracing construction IT language will ensure that the material has a bright future.
Martin Southcott is project director of the Reinforced Concrete Council