First publishedin Aggregates Business Europe
Use of innovative additives has improved casting of complex elements
Advances in precast concrete element design is helping to improve environmental performance, deliver complex designs and speed up work on site
Concrete used to be thought of as a dull, grey and utilitarian construction material, but the latest precast techniques are helping to change that perception. Today the dramatic forms of new buildings and structures across Europe are being delivered quickly and easily thanks to precast concrete.
According to the European federation for the sector Bureau International du Beton Manufacture
(BIBM), demand for precast concrete in Europe is rising and is expected to continue.
"Globally speaking, the last few years have been good for the precast concrete market," said BIBM general secretary Alessio Rimoldi. "The rising demand is partly due to the growth in the construction market in Europe but there are other factors involved. Precast concrete in Europe has three main markets - housing, commercial or municipal buildings and infrastructure - and all are growing well.
"The rate of immigration into Western Europe is stimulating the need for cost effective housing, while increasing investment in new hospitals and schools is influencing the buildings sector. Infrastructure development is dependent on both national and European investment, which is being boosted by both private-public partnerships and EU funded development in new member states.
"The prospects for all three markets look good, although growth will not be at the same rate as seen in the last few years, but we expect the strongest growth to come from the commercial sector over the next 12 to 18 months."
The growing demand is not just down to the gains in the European construction market, but is also due to growing market share thanks to developments within precast technology itself and understanding of the environmental credentials.
"Construction clients are beginning to understand that while precast concrete is a high energy consumption product during the production phase, over the life cycle of a structure, it is not significant," said Rimoldi. "In fact, it is now becoming more widely recognised that precast concrete has a positive impact on lowering the energy consumption of the building thanks to its thermal mass properties and can also provide low acoustic transfer." In addition, the integration of other services and ancillaries into precast concrete panels is further helping to boost the sector. "It is not uncommon now to integrate insulation, service ducts or the façade into precast units," explained Rimoldi.
Two of the latest additions to this trend are manhole shafts and covers with built in ladders to improve safety, and pipes with built in ducts for carrying cables.
"This kind of innovation is helping to simplify and speed up construction on site," said Rimoldi. "It is also helping the precast industry to add real value to the overall construction process and improve the finished structure."
Precast concrete can help to speed up on site construction