Revolutionizing High-Rise Construction With Precast Concrete Technology

Precast concrete, with its myriad benefits
Precast concrete, with its myriad benefits, is revolutionizing the way tall buildings are erected. Suhas Mohol, Managing Director, StruEngineers India, (a 100% subsidiary of StruSoft AB, Sweden) discusses the applications, advantages, and the growing prospects of precast concrete in the realm of high-rise construction.

Why is Precast Construction a superior choice for high-rise buildings?
The construction industry is continually seeking innovative techniques to enhance efficiency, reduce costs, and expedite project timelines. One such game-changing technique is the use of precast concrete in high-rise construction. In conventional construction, most building components are made onsite, whereas in precast technology the components are manufactured in specialized factories in a controlled environment that ensures high quality and precision. The precast elements are then transported to the construction site and assembled, which reduces construction time. This technology offers flexibility in design, enables faster project completion, and gives consistent high quality - making it a game-changing approach for efficient and successful construction projects.

If precast technology is deemed a game-changer, then why the delay in its adoption in the Indian market?
Precast concrete, with its myriad benefits A representation of a high-rise building using precast concrete technology. From far it is nearly impossible to distinguish a precast building from a conventionally constructed one.
Well, precast technology is definitely catching up in India and there’s a good level of curiosity among the new builders. Builders, especially in the southern parts of India, were quick to catch up and have done a good number of projects already. But the scenario a few years back was different; there were very few precast concrete element manufacturers, and most builders and contractors lacked the expertise in the erection and commissioning of precast projects. Today, most of the big builders are using precast construction and their number is growing.

This technology has been in use for many years in infrastructure projects, but has seen late acceptance in the commercial, residential, and industrial sectors and the reasons are many:
  • Firstly, it was the lack of awareness of the technology
  • Some scepticism about its efficacy & safety
  • Uncertainty about the investment needed for the construction methodology, and the logistical costs
  • No specialized precast element manufacturers
  • Lack of skilled manpower needed for erection.
Thankfully, many of these limitations are gradually fading out and acquiring trained manpower for precast construction has become relatively easier. We have heard that a good number of precast manufacturing plants are operational now…

You see, there’s definitely an increase in the number of precast element manufacturers but for a country of our size, there are still very few precast element manufacturers. Transporting precast elements from factories to construction sites is a major cost, and beyond a certain distance (depending upon the size of the projects), transportation costs can render the project economically unviable. So I’d say that there’s tremendous scope for new precast manufacturing plants to come up around major towns in India.

How are builders managing to come up with precast projects then?
Interestingly, for large projects, casting precast elements at or near the construction site can be economically advantageous given the scale of project, and therefore there is practically no transportation cost involved.

Many large builders have ventured into precast element manufacturing in order to eliminate dependency on external sources. For them, it is a one-time investment and helps them with backward integration. This strategy also aligns better with their long-term plans as compared to procuring elements from third parties; but of course, if they’re working on sites that are quite far from their manufacturing setup, they still have the option of procuring precast elements from other manufacturers nearby.

Precast concrete, with its myriad benefits

Up to what distance from precast manufacturing facilities can precast projects be considered to be economically unviable?
As mentioned earlier, it all depends upon the size of the project. Larger the project, more would be the number of precast elements required and more will it be feasible to transport them. Since we are talking about high-rise buildings here, the project size would definitely go beyond 1,50,000 sq.ft. In such a scenario, a viable distance from the precast manufacturing plant would be 250 km or less. If we are talking about multiple high-rise buildings of this size or more, the builder can even consider casting the precast elements at the site itself.

How is BIM Software helping Structural Engineers involved in precast concrete construction?
In a very big way I would say. One of the major reasons why builders are opting for precast technology is the rapid progress made in the field of Structural Engineering, particularly in conjunction with Precast Building Information Modeling (BIM) software, which has significantly contributed to the progress and acceptance of precast technology. These days, structural engineers can visualize the entire project accurately in 3D even before a single stone is moved at the site. With the software, they can simulate real-life conditions and analyze the impact of wind forces, seismic forces, other natural forces, as well as the various loads acting on the building elements, including the structure’s dead weight. This advanced software enables precise data collection, which helps in meticulous design and detailing of precast elements well in advance of on-site activities. Simulating and optimizing structural performance prior to construction reduces errors, enhances safety, and streamlines the overall construction process. This has given builders tremendous confidence.

Precast concrete, with its myriad benefits

Is there any particular BIM Platform that you use?
Along with the commonly used design software, we use StruSoft IMPACT for Precast Project Design, Detailing, Production and Project Planning. IMPACT is a comprehensive, versatile, and a user-friendly Building Information Modeling (BIM) platform specifically designed for precast concrete technology. It offers an integrated solution to for Designers, Architects, Consultants, Precast Manufacturers, Builders, Quality Control and Logistics personnel. IMPACT streamlines the entire precast supply chain, providing functionalities for designing, detailing, project management, and logistics coordination. With IMPACT, users can effortlessly design and detail precast elements while effectively handling multiple projects across different locations.

With IMPACT, we can efficiently manage multiple factories; ensure real-time tracking and quality control of each precast element, and monitor overall project progress. Additionally, IMPACT assists in planning element transportation and optimizes crane planning and positioning.

Precast concrete, with its myriad benefitsTop view of a high-rise building designed in IMPACT. Notice how each slab element is represented separately. In the actual construction, no such separation is observed as the joining, grouting, and the screeding processes make the entire structure look homogeneous.

What are the important aspects that one should consider during high rise construction using precast technology?
  • Safety and the structural stability of the building
  • Timeline required for completing the project
  • Cost
Safety is of paramount importance in high-rise construction due to the complexities and challenges involved in erecting tall structures. High-rise buildings must be designed and constructed to withstand various forces such as wind, seismic activity, and the vertical loads imposed by the structure itself.

Implementing appropriate safety measures, using high-quality materials, adhering to building codes and regulations, and conducting thorough inspections are crucial to ensure the safety of the building, workers, and occupants. Here, precast technology offers significant advantages. The controlled manufacturing environment of precast factories ensures strict quality control measures, resulting in reliable and standardized elements. This consistency reduces the risk of structural failures and enhances overall safety. Additionally, precast elements can be designed with built-in safety features, such as fire-resistant materials and seismic reinforcement, ensuring the structural integrity of the building during unforeseen events. By adhering to stringent safety standards and leveraging the precision of precast technology, high-rise buildings can be constructed with a heightened focus on safety.

With respect to structural stability, it’s not uncommon to hear doubts raised by both laymen and builders unfamiliar with precast technology, questioning its suitability for high-rise buildings. The concern stems from the belief that structures that are assembled on site may lack the strength and stability of homogeneous structures. However, this scepticism can be addressed by showcasing the impressive track record of high-rise buildings worldwide that have been successfully constructed using precast concrete elements.

Here are a few examples of high-rise buildings in India and abroad where precast elements like hollow cores, precast wall elements, beams, and columns where used in the core structure:

Aqua Tower, Chicago, USA (82 floors): Here Precast hollow core slabs were used for the floors, while precast wall elements formed the building’s exterior façade and contributed to its distinctive undulating design.

Pearl River Tower, Guangzhou, China (71 floors): Here Precast columns and beams were employed to support the building’s floors, demonstrating the advantages of precast technology in high-rise construction.

The Gramercy Residences, Makati, Philippines (73 floors): Precast walls, columns, and beams were used to create a modular and efficient construction system for this high-rise residential tower.

Bahrain World Trade Center, Manama, Bahrain (50 floors): Precast beams and columns were used to support the floors, while the tower’s iconic wind turbines were integrated into the design, showcasing the versatility of precast technology.

Palais Royale, Mumbai (88 floors): The project utilized precast columns, beams, and façade panels, among other precast elements.

Supernova Spira, Noida (80 floors): The project incorporates precast elements such as walls, columns, and slabs for its core structure.

The Park, Kolkata (27 floors): Precast columns, beams, and façade panels were used to enhance construction efficiency and quality.

Precast concrete, with its myriad benefits

How can high-rise buildings with joints be structurally strong?
In the context of precast technology, there is a concept called emulative joints – a jointing mechanisms that aims to replicate the appearance and performance of joints found in conventional reinforced concrete (RC) structures. The objective here is to create joints in precast elements that are as seamless and homogeneous as those achieved in cast-in-place concrete. Emulative joints minimize the visibility of joint lines, creating a cohesive and aesthetically pleasing appearance. The goal is to provide a smooth transition between precast elements, giving the impression of a monolithic structure rather than distinct individual components.

There are various ways to achieve this. For example, we can include high-strength grouts or specialized bonding agents to fill the joint gaps and create a continuous connection between the precast elements. Additionally, precise casting and dimensional control during the manufacturing process can ensure accurate alignment of joint surfaces, reducing the visibility of joints. This not only enhances the visual appeal of the structure but also contributes to its structural integrity. By minimizing the visual disruption caused by joints, the continuity of load transfer and structural performance is maintained.

Emulative joints ensure that the precast elements function as a cohesive unit, effectively distributing forces and ensuring stability. Overall, emulative joints in precast technology deliver jointing mechanisms that closely resemble the seamless appearance and performance of traditional cast-in place concrete, giving confidence about the structural soundness and aesthetic quality of high-rise buildings.

Precast concrete, with its myriad benefits

How can one address the issue of water seepage in precast construction?
The maximum probability of water seepage occurrence in precast construction is through the precast element joints. Water seepage is an important consideration in precast concrete construction as it can lead to various issues, such as deterioration of concrete, corrosion of reinforcement, and damage to the overall structure. To address water seepage effectively in precast concrete construction, the following measures are typically employed:

Waterproofing Membranes: These are commonly used to create a barrier against water penetration. These membranes can be in the form of sheets, coatings, or liquid-applied membranes, and are applied to the precast concrete surface to prevent the ingress of water.

Joint Sealants: Precast concrete structures have joints where two or more precast elements are connected. These joints are vulnerable to water seepage. Joint sealants, such as elastomeric sealants or silicone-based sealants, are applied to these joints to provide a watertight seal and prevent water infiltration.

Grouting: Grouting is another method used to address water seepage in precast concrete construction. It involves injecting a cementitious or epoxy-based grout into voids or gaps within the precast elements or between joints. This helps to fill any gaps, cracks, or spaces.

Joint Design: The design of joints in precast concrete construction plays a crucial role in preventing water seepage. Joints should be designed with appropriate profiles and configurations to minimize the potential for water infiltration. Tongue-and-groove joints, gaskets, or other sealing mechanisms can be employed to enhance the joint’s resistance to water penetration.

Since time is a critical factor in project completion, how does precast concrete construction ensure timely completion of a high-rise project?
Time is money. Owners and developers often have strict deadlines for completing projects, as delays can result in significant financial consequences. Precast construction is very fast, clean, safe and efficient. Additionally, streamlined project management, effective coordination among various trades, and the use of advanced construction techniques can contribute to shorter construction durations.

As the components are prefabricated, they can be transported to the construction site just in time, eliminating the need for on-site casting and curing. This accelerated construction not only saves time but also minimizes disruptions to the surrounding environment and neighbouring structures.

The off-site manufacturing of precast elements also allows for parallel activities at the construction site. Precast elements are fabricated simultaneously while site preparation and foundation are underway. By utilizing precast technology, high-rise buildings can be delivered within shorter timeframes, meeting tight construction schedules.

What are the cost saving advantages of precast construction?
Cost considerations are and important aspect in high-rise construction projects. Building tall structures can be expensive due to the need for specialized equipment, skilled labour, quality materials, and complex engineering. Precast technology with its potential for faster construction, reduced labour requirements, and optimized material usage, can help control project costs. The controlled manufacturing process of precast elements ensures efficient use of materials, reducing waste and minimizing material costs. The off-site manufacturing approach also minimizes on-site disruption, decreasing construction-related expenses and site management costs.

Additionally, faster construction allows for earlier occupancy and revenue generation for the building owner, further improving the overall cost effectiveness of the project. Hence, there’s a lot of value addition to both developers and investors.

What are the design and sustainability benefits of precast construction?
Precast concrete is highly adaptable to a variety of architectural designs. It allows for intricate shapes, textures, and finishes, enabling architects to unleash their creativity. Precast panels, beams, columns, and facades can be customized to match the desired aesthetics and create stunning high-rise structures that stand out in the skyline.

We are seeing a huge increase in environmental consciousness and precast concrete offers sustainable advantages. The manufacturing process generates less waste and reduces on-site construction waste. Additionally, precast elements can incorporate recycled materials, further minimizing environmental impact.

What growth prospects do you envisage for precast construction in India?
The future of precast concrete in high-rise construction looks promising. Advancements in technology, such as BIM and automation are facilitating more efficient production processes. Precast concrete is transforming high-rise construction by streamlining processes, accelerating timelines, and delivering superior structural performance. Its efficiency, speed, adaptability, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness make it an ideal choice for modern urban landscapes.

Furthermore, ongoing research and development efforts are focused on developing high-performance, lightweight precast materials. As the construction industry embraces innovation, precast concrete will continue to redefine the possibilities of high-rise architecture. With ongoing advancements, we can expect even more remarkable developments in the field of precast construction, paving the way for taller, greener, and more visually stunning buildings in the future.
ICCT, JULY-AUGUST 2023
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