Formwork giants form close ties to meet demands of complex designs

Right across the construction industry, companies are forming close alliances to deliver projects, and the same is true in the formwork sector. Christopher Sell reports on the importance of working together and the upwards trend of producing bespoke solutions.

ANALYSIS, Materials

Offering bespoke solutions to contractors and developers is one of the latest trends to emerge in the formwork market. With building design straining to deliver unique and stand-out projects, contractors are having to pursue more innovative and one-off solutions to match building designs.

German formwork company Peri was required to implement a novel solution for its work on the Almas Tower, located in Jumeirah Lake Towers in Dubai. The company engineered a special lifting fork for the project, a 65-storey tower, which is due for completion in mid-2007.

Oliver Weiss, technical manager, Peri says: "Normally the lifting forks are used for one or two levels of formwork, but in this case it was for three levels. At the same time, a special lifting fork was designed for the perimeter beams. These were specially designed so that as the side shutters are lifted and the beams are supported." Furthermore, he adds, the formwork was designed so that the pre-cast slabs could be installed at a fast pace. Then, during striking, instead of dismantling the system piece by piece, the shutter is just tilted away from the beam, before the whole table is removed with the special lifting fork. "It was actually the reason why we won the contract," Weiss says.

Such requirements from the contractors means that communication between the two parties is paramount to overcome any potential pitfalls in the construction process further down the line.

Weiss is also aware there has been a distinct shift towards a more ‘one-off' nature of formwork contracting. "This is something we have realised. We have noticed that contractors are approaching us because of the special solutions required. It isn't happening too much yet, but the trend is pointing upwards I would say."

One further trend is also the proliferation of self-climbing systems, which is not a new technology as such, but is becoming more prominent due to the short construction periods being adhered to. A further example of innovative design is Peri's work with ALEC, which is working on Emaar's Dubai Marina Mall. This is a large-scale construction project, covering 150,000 m², which also features the Dubai Marina Mall Hotel and Dubai Marina Serviced Apartments.

The scale and design of this project again required a novel approach between formwork company and contractor, as Wayne Randall, commercial manager, ALEC explains: "The project itself is large scale; there are a lot of circular elements to it. One of the main features of the job was a transfer girder that spanned 24m, was 10m in depth and 48m off the ground, which has probably never been done in the UAE. That took $380,000 of formwork from Peri," he adds.

As this post-tensioned beam was to be poured with self-compacting concrete, a lot of attention was paid to its strength. This involved a lot of up-front engineering with Peri and a third-party to structurally assess the work. "Because self-compacting concrete doesn't have the same consistency as normal concrete, we had so much post-tensioning and reinforcing within the beam itself - to put conventional concrete in just doesn't work," Randall adds. Therefore, a number of off-site tests were carried out on the concrete and formwork before carrying the work out in situ.

While Weiss sees the increased construction times resulting in greater use of self-climbing systems, Randall believes the next trend will see companies setting up their own formwork divisions. "With a company that is growing, you have to have control of your own materials," he says. "To have a mix of materials is not ideal. We have decided as a group that Peri is our strategic partner as they have the back-up engineering wise and the know-how.

"This might be seen as favouritism, but the client would rather go with the A-grade partner. You have to have good partnerships if you want to take on jobs like this. You cannot leave your eggs with a guy who is going to use you as a guinea pig," adds Randall.

Aluma Systems is another company experiencing demands for the company to innovate technologies. Area representative, Daniel Taylor, explains how the company recently introduced the Aluma Tunnel-Form system - which has been developed locally for a residential development in Abu Dhabi.

"To allow our customer [Fibrex], to pour the slab and walls of the villas together, we adapted the Table-Form to support two hanging Aluma Wall-Form shutters. These shutters are supported from a wheel-block, which allows them to be rolled back when stripping. Upon stripping, the entire unit is lowered and then rolled or flown into the next position," he says.

One of the benefits of this particular system, Taylor explains, is while other Tunnel-Form systems can achieve the pouring of the slab and walls together, they tend to be inflexible and of steel construction - which limits the maximum size. However, as Aluma's system is all aluminium, it can allow larger slab and wall surface areas to be stripped and moved at one particular time. It is also a financially viable option, Taylor adds, as the flexible nature of Alumalite Truss means it can be easily adapted between projects, also offering speed and labour reduction.

While there is certainly innovation in the formwork market, Taylor also highlights the extent of cross-over in the market in products and especially practices. "Thankfully, this is particularly true in regards to safety," he says. "One important aspect is edge protection systems for slab edges and formwork walkways." Aluma was the first company in the Middle East to introduce a steel mesh safety barrier for safety protection, and the system comes as standard with the Alumalite Truss Table-Form. He continues: "Nowadays, companies doing business in leading-edge protection and safety-net systems are very common, which I think is a huge advance compared to three years ago, when there were no such companies doing business here."

Aluma is currently working on two projects with Oger Dubai, including the Churchill Twin Towers in Business Bay and the Al Ain University.

RMD Kwikform, another company heavily involved in the region, has been undertaking a variety of projects. Currently, it is working on the Arabian Ranches interchange, which at the time, was the biggest interchange launched within the UAE. In Bahrain, the company employed its Rapidclimb system on an unconventional project, which involved the construction of a new flour mill. This included building reinforced concrete silos, which were 86m high, 4.2m wide and hexagonal in shape. In total, 20 had to be constructed, in two phases of 10.

The phases were one cycle apart and the system chosen allowed each phase to be completed in seven days. The raft slab for the silos was supported by the company's 80kN shoring system, Rapidshor. The wall shutters were constructed using RMD's superslim soldiers and GTX timber beam. Construction started in 2006 and is expected to be completed in December 2007.

And in Abu Dhabi, the company has also been engaged with the construction of four LNG tanks for CBI. The tanks are 62m in diameter and 34m high, and consist of a 19mm-thick steel liner with an in-situ reinforced concrete lining on the outside.

For this, RMD engineers opted to cast the reinforced concrete lining using their Rapidclimb jump form system. This was designed as a series of standard panels with a maximum pour height of 3.4m. The concrete pressure was restricted to 40kN per m² due to the low deflection tolerance of the steel liner. To offset this, anchors were pre-welded to the inner liner to allow the wall-form shutter to be tied to the inner liner as the system advanced up the tank.

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