New dimensions in formwork design
New benchmark set by rigorous digitalisation of design and construction process in BIM pilot project
Data & Facts
- Across-the-board digital design
- Office building extension, Esslingen, Switzerland
- Client & overall project management (all specialist designers, BIM co-ordination)
- Basler & Hofmann AG
- Marti AG
- MEVA systems
- Engineering and support
- MEVA Schalungs-Systeme AG, Seon, Switzerland, and MEVA Schalungs-Systeme GmbH, Haiterbach, Germany
The future is digital
Today, in the 21st century, our daily routine is changing faster than ever before. Technological progress is massively impacting our working methods and boosting the pace, flexibility and efficiency of entire projects.
In the construction sector, the digital revolution has triggered the development of building information modelling (BIM). The industry was long considered resistant to digitalisation. Although architects and draughtspersons were quick to replace pen and paper by keyboard and screen, it took a fair time for fully integrated digital solutions to emerge.
The idea behind BIM is every bit as simple as ingenious: all construction project information is compiled, co-ordinated and reconciled using a single three-dimensional model in a digital database. Admittedly, that is easier said than done. But, once it is done, it delivers enormous benefits as the project progresses.
Pilot project in Switzerland
A pilot scheme masterminded by the Swiss-based design, engineering and consulting firm Basler & Hofmann AG is currently exploring the ways and means by which a completely digitalised project and strictly paperless site can be successfully implemented. At the location in Esslingen in the Canton of Zurich, the company is adding a three-storey extension to its own existing office block. Indeed, the Esslingen site's role within Basler & Hofmann AG as a "development laboratory" for new technologies makes it ideal for the digital pilot project. In realising the scheme, the company itself assumed the tasks of overall project management, design development for all disciplines using the single BIM model and BIM co-ordination. All on-site operations are based exclusively on the digital model.
Big closed BIM
The key requirement laid down by the innovative client is for all project team members across all trades to design the entire facility exclusively in a single BIM model, i.e. in a single database. The technical term for this working method is "big closed BIM", which denotes interdisciplinary ("big") teamwork in a predetermined ("closed") software environment. To date, standard BIM practice has generally involved the development of separate models for each discipline, which are duly co-ordinated at regular intervals. With all specialist designers working simultaneously on the same pool of data, co-ordination has no longer been at weekly intervals, but in real time.
Yet, the benefits of this digital project are even more far-reaching. Through its groundbreaking initiative, Basler & Hofmann AG is not only seeking to optimise co-ordination of the models, but also, through integral design in a single model, to create a "digital twin" of the building. The utility of this integral model will then extend beyond the construction process to applications such as the simulation, at a later date, of alterations, conversions or facility management activities.
Challenge for the client
Apart from placing extra demands on designers and all users of the system, this holistic approach is also something of a paradigm shift for the client. In Esslingen, many decisions had to be taken much earlier than needed in a conventional design process so as to ensure that all questions and dependencies were properly clarified in the model. One such question, for instance, related to the choice of sanitary appliances as this, in turn, dictated the required plumbing connections. However, this early commitment to specific details is also a challenge for architects and other designers in that it necessitates timely provision of the associated decision-making documentation.
The above constraints prompted Basler & Hofmann AG to take the equally unusual and innovative step of involving project contractor Marti AG at an early stage in the development process. "For us, this immediate participation in the project was ideal," explains Alessandro Walpen, BIM Officer at Marti AG. "On most projects today, contractors are confronted with 'fait accompli' instead of being invited to contribute to optimising the design." In the search for an innovative partner capable of supporting and promoting the digital approach, the contractor turned to MEVA. "We found Basler & Hofmann's integral design concept very appealing," says Alessandro Walpen. "That inspired us to use the digital method in streamlining our own works, also at the structural stage. And we were very impressed by MEVA's forward-looking developments in the BIM field."
Being quick to recognise the potential of digital technology for formwork design, MEVA soon set about "computerising" its formwork product family through its own IT Engineering Services department. To facilitate flexible three-dimensional detailing, models for the individual formwork systems are now available for use in up-to-the-minute design tools. "Particularly for complex geometries, 3D design has the advantage of adding transparency to construction processes and thus making them easier to carry out," points out Michael Estermann, Managing Director of MEVA Schalungs-Systeme AG in Switzerland. "That's why we are increasingly adopting these forward-looking solutions."
Referenced formwork model
In many cases, to maximise design precision and efficiency, the staff at MEVA's Engineering department also use 2D drawings to develop their three-dimensional models. A comprehensive model was, of course, provided for the Basler & Hofmann AG scheme. "Although that's not uncommon," says Hannes Endriß, a doctoral student working in MEVA's IT Engineering Services department, "this level of detail is definitely something special." It was therefore possible to insert the digital formwork panels into a referenced model of the building extension. "As far as the formwork systems were concerned, we started by examining the usual issues,” explains Bernd Schuon, the MEVA technician in charge of formwork design and planning. “By that, I mean such things as the pour cycle specifications, concrete quality, excess forming area, fair-faced concrete requirements etc. In this regard, digital design has much in common with traditional working methods.”
Design expertise still very much in demand
The basement design required provision for two different ground slab levels. Moreover, the slightly stepped geometry of the perimeter walls due to varying angle sizes resulted in 13 different concreting bays. At the same time, the overlying floor slab incorporates two offsets, which are not, however, aligned with the ground slab bays. “Quite apart from the necessary IT know-how, design skills clearly remain very much in demand,” notes Bernd Schuon. This is strikingly illustrated by the fair-faced concrete slabs above ground-floor level, which were to be cast with MevaDec formwork. “The decision as to the required pattern followed a process of intensive consultation and a series of draft proposals,” explains Bernd Schuon. As a result, the digital building design, including formwork, was already finalised before the excavator had even scooped out the first bucketful of soil.
Directing site operations with a tablet
The referenced model processed by MEVA’s formwork experts allowed inch-perfect insertion of their designs into Basler & Hofmann’s model using the same software platform. On site, the digital information was accessed via cloud server. The separate views available for each pour can be displayed directly on the tablet. Foreman Dominic Mozzetti finds the applications simple to use. “We have fast and easy access to the relevant data, and MEVA’s formwork model was simply fantastic. Thanks to all the good work done in advance, everything went to plan.” A further advantage of the mobile solution is its limitless application as the download function eliminates the need for a fixed data connection.
Rationalisation of on-site operations
Full design development at an early project stage ultimately guarantees the smooth, uninterrupted progress of the works on site. This is good news not only for the client – who can see the speed of progress – but also for the contractor. As Alessandro Walpen from Marti underlines, “As we don’t need to allow for any ongoing design development, we can organise our work precisely from the very start. The time saved on drawing management helps us make quicker progress.” His colleague, Dominic Mozzetti adds, “The fact that each pour can be meticulously planned in advance automatically cuts our material requirement because we don’t need anything extra in stock.”
The digital path to the future
This uncompromising approach to design has obvious benefits for contractors and the move towards digital methods is gaining momentum. As an active partner in the Esslingen extension scheme, MEVA has clearly staked out its position. “We have recognised the tremendous benefits offered by digital technology and will use the insights gained so far for the strategic optimisation of future digital design applications,” says Tobias Wallner, Head of IT Engineering Services at MEVA. Alessandro Walpen is similarly positive: “When we embarked on this ambitious pilot project, there was no guarantee of success. But now we are thrilled by the across-the-board digital approach. This working method offers countless advantages for all project parties and disciplines.”
With its Office Building Extension eGHA scheme, Basler & Hofmann landed the 2018 AEC Excellence Award in the “Building Design – Small Projects” category. These awards are conferred on projects from across the globe that pioneer the use of digital tools and “connected BIM” in design and construction.