A May 2016 report from the World Economic Forum titled Shaping the Future of Construction: A Breakthrough in Mindset and Technology highlighted the “moral obligation” of the engineering and construction industry to lift its game in terms of productivity and efficiency.

With aging infrastructure in developed countries and the needs of a rapidly growing urban population in developing regions, combined with the scale of resource consumption, emissions and waste currently existing in the construction sector, the industry has vast potential to make significant economic, social and environmental contributions. However, at a global level, productivity in the sector has remained largely stagnant for decades.

The WEF report discusses what holds the industry back and the risks of market disruption. It also speaks to the opportunities that already exist to improve project delivery and life cycle performance of the built environment through adoption of digitalisation; the take up of innovative technologies, materials and tools; and the use of new construction techniques and processes.

An “extremely powerful lever for innovation is that of construction materials” the report stated. The industry is the largest global consumer of raw materials (50 per cent of global steel production and more than 3 billion tonnes of raw materials). The built environment is also a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. This surely presents great opportunities for disruptive technologies. Advanced building materials will allow us to do more with less, using better, lean building processes.

Examples are given, including new material combinations with additional multi-functional characteristics; standardised, modular and prefabricated construction and just-in-time pull of resources.

concrete wall

With this is mind, it is good to see Australian manufacturing capacity in polymer-based permanent formwork systems continues to grow strongly as this construction technology gains ground and contributes to productivity gains.

Carlos Cagliero of Verve Constructions is managing a project which made a last-minute decision to switch to permanent polymer formwork wall construction, illustrating the potential efficiencies that can be gained through this emerging construction technology.

Stage 1 of a 407-apartment multi-residential project in Bundoora, Victoria, the project’s three-level basement was originally designed with precast concrete panels. However, it soon became apparent that this would require a turnaround of about four weeks to cover the development and review of shop drawings, production of panels and delivery of the panels to the site. This was problematic as it would cause a delay to the construction program, so Cagliero looked for another solution that would still meet the structural drawing requirements. He selected polymer-based permanent formwork.

As a result, there was a dramatic improvement in lead time as no shop drawings were required, the product was delivered to site in five days from order, and no cranes were required to install it. It required no contractor training for handling and construction, although like use of any new product, it required a little time to get going, Cagliero said. However, from order to completion took just two weeks.

“It resolved the problem and importantly allowed us to maintain our construction program,” Cagliero said.

Approximately 1600 square metres of the extruded polymer formwork was used to construct the basement walls and the lift core to ground level. Compliant to AS3600, this type of wall system is continuously reinforced. As a major benefit, no waterproofing was required despite a large retaining wall section. No caulking of joints was necessary either.

Also saving time was the fact that 70 per cent of the formwork has been left exposed in the basement areas, Cagliero added. After being cleaned off, the white panels are more attractive than blockwork and more reflective from a lighting perspective, he said, so it needed no painting in these areas.

Around the three levels of the basement lift core, it is “working perfectly” Cagliero explained, as it merged with the precast concrete panels above because the two systems are the same thickness, and the Macrender used on the PVC panels here has come up well, he added.

As this project – now a month away from completion – has shown, permanent polymer formwork can significantly improve construction productivity by reducing lead times and reducing installation costs, processes and time.

This type of wall system is most suited to basement scenarios and divisions between lower ground floors and basements, party walls, columns, retention tanks, stair cores, service and stormwater pits.

Image courtesy of AFS Systems Pty Ltd