Rapid population growth is leading to a major demand for new infrastructure in many large cities in Africa, which all have a housing shortage of tens of millions of apartments. People need safer and more comfortable places to live, and prices need to be reasonable. Precast construction is a cost-efficient, fast and sustainable building technology for large housing projects that doesn’t compromise on quality.
Housing has become a big problem in Africa’s rapidly urbanizing areas and according to Mohammad Daei of B.T. innovation GmbH in Germany, it is clear that for a large deficit in housing, there has to be a mass production solution, benefiting from economy of scales, lessons learned, and best practice approaches.
B.T. innovation as an international supplier of precast technology believes that by delivering the technology, not only stable and safe houses are built, but also the value creation chain is kept inside the countries. Jobs are created and local resources are deployed.
The growing urbanization happening everywhere demands leaders in Africa to invest in infrastructure, such as in roads, drainage and sewerage.
Concrete pipes for drainage and sewerage is an area where modern precast technology can reduce the cost of infrastructual products by increasing productivity, increase safety and improve quality.
According to Torben Mørch, Sales Manager and Director of Global Marketing, at HawkeyePedershaab, the demand for infrastructural precast concrete products is derived by public spending in roads and sanitation. The governments in Africa will hopefully put even higher focus on infrastructural development – and by utilizing modern precast technologies the governments will get the highest value for money.
A modular and efficient building system
Precast is a modular building system based on ready-made, factory-manufactured components and intelligent connections. It provides a way to design and construct a sufficient number of suitable homes to meet the needs of city dwellers in a reasonable time-frame and at a reasonable cost.
It is a smart and industrialized way to construct cost-efficient buildings. The competitive and proven precast solutions result in controlled quality, along with a long service life and low maintenance costs, and flexibility in design.
Compared to traditional cast-in-situ, precast uses less cement, water, steel, and labor. Most of the work is transferred from the site to a safe and controlled, automated factory environment. This results in improved productivity and minimal logistics: precast products can be transported to a site ready-to-install
In general, according to Alessandro Pellizzari, Chief sales officer at Schiaslo-Spil, the main problem of concrete precast industry is the labour costs. “where the labour cost is low it is not easy to develop the concrete precast industry but… in some countries around the world where the labour cost is low as in Africa.. the precast industry is well implemented mainly for quality reasons,” said Alessandro.
Slow uptake of the technology
Precast concrete is widely used in the form of hollow core decking systems installed with cranes; however, according to Clotilde Angelucci of Cobute in South Africa, there should be considerations of social responsibility and transfer of skills on site. Under this approach, the precast concrete technology with manual installation could be the key of transformation; in fact it could address issues such as unemployment and lack of skills in the sector, and therefore enhance economic development through the creation of a skilled mid-working class, with a stronghold in the market.
Moreover, Cartsen Grohmann, Regional Sales Manager at Liebherr Export, notes that sticking to traditional ways of doing something has also led to slow uptake of technology in Africa as people are reluctant to use or test new technologies.
Berkay çiğdem, Marketing Manager of Fiberton, Turkey based company popular for their GRC FIBERTON, notes that the slow uptake in precast technology is also brought about by customer’s expectation. “We should encourage sampling of materials often and completed projects done using precast tech to change the customer’s perspective.”
This is just one of the factors that slow the uptake of the technology in the continent. The other factors include:
Lack of knowledge
Lack of exposure and inexperience with the design of precast concrete is a huge factor for lack of precast concrete use in Africa.According to Dr. Ing Ingo Spohr of Gericon from Germany, a dealer in integrated design and consulting services with regard to the industrialized construction of buildings; offering modular service packages for each stage of the design and building process, lack of comprehensive knowledge about the precast technology, a detailed awareness about the needed integrated processes which are required in industrialized construction as well as the advantages and restrictions of this construction method brings about misconceptions which discourage developers from using the technology.
Moreover, there is the need to understand that, construction with precast concrete elements alone is no guarantee of success in terms of cost and time saving. Mr. Dietmar Kiene of Weckenmann Anlagentechnik GmbH & Co. KG from Germany, a manufacturer of precast concrete machinery; mentions that, what’s decisive is that the planning is tailored optimally to the respective boundary conditions which naturally includes the choice of suitable manufacturing method. Simple production methods are cost efficient and customized investments in mould/machinery are the key for successful production of concrete elements. The Mobile Battery Mould from Weckenmann ist the solution to have a unique technology for precaster.
What’s decisive is that the planning is tailored optimally to the respective boundary conditions which naturally includes the choice of a suitable manufacturing method.
Additionally, Krampeharex’s Product and Business Developer Manager, Wilhelm Nell comments “We need to show the benefits and we need to show cases, references to be able to show all the advantages. The precast companies must understand the process and the handling. But in general it is always difficult without local standards or at least a guideline. If it comes to tunnels the big international construction companies will be involved in these projects and they already know the material. A precast production for tunnel lining segments will also be kind of training centre for local companies to go ahead with this technology.”
Simone Dondi, General Manager of Bianchi Casseforme s.r.l advocates for presentations and technical meeting and business plan about the technical advantages of precast against traditional construction.
Lack of standardization and government support
Understanding the potential of precast industry, many Western countries have established organizations to promote precast concrete construction and to disseminate information through a range of industry representations.
These organizations provide several free resources to aid architects, engineers and other stakeholders in planning, designing, constructing and maintaining precast concrete structures. For example, Precast Concrete Institute PCI has descriptive architectural resources (Aesthetics, finish forms and colors, design details and texture selection guide), building engineering resources (Design for fire, seismic resistance, blast resistance and connections), transportation engineering resources and sustainability resources to help the designers.
These systems over the years have also supported the precast concrete industry by providing standards for production, certification programs, technical know how and educational opportunities.
According to George Tallam of Technocast a Pan-African precast producer, presently, most African countries do not have appropriate standards for shapes and sizes of precast elements, their transportation, handling and erection processes. “The magnitude of construction done today by precast method is so low that African governments have not paid much attention towards making regulatory bodies committed exclusively to expand precast usage and provide designers and contractors with requisite technical information,” he adds.
The successful implementation of precast concrete projects require careful planning and collaboration among the client, architect, engineer, precaster and contractor segments With a reference guide in-place, standard details would enable better design, integration and coordination, resulting in better project management. A standard also improves the health and safety environment, adds value for money, offers increased profitability, enhances quality and reduce defects. In the current construction scenario, establishing standards for design and production would be an initial step in enriching confidence in end-users and contractors towards precasting.
Non-availability of tools and equipment
Tools, technology and equipment are vital drivers for any manufacturing industry. Many tools required for precast joints and connections are currently imported. An increase in stock of these tools increases the working capital of the firm which leads to a dilemma on the amount to be stored. George Adamis, Sales director at Eurobend notes that high degree of customization is needed.
Mr. Dinesh Vikeria of Warren Enterprises in Kenya mentions that, modern technology and latest equipment are quite limited in Africa. For example, the Non Destructive Testing (NDT) equipment which can scan and display the grout conditions in structures and depict the status of grout instantly. “The transporting and lifting equipment also are not in enough supply to support the precast industry,” he affirms.
Topi Piaananen, CEO of Peikko Group Corporation comments that “Precast concrete requires investments into facilities and machinery, and many times the money for this capex is missing. Nevertheless, the more the markets grow and requirements go further, the more precast makes sense.”
More than ever before, enhancing affordable housing in African is emerging to be an enormous challenge that African countries are grappling with. The situation has been exacerbated by the cost of construction material, which is exorbitantly high in many countries. Construction materials can take over 60% of the whole construction cost.
Africa should adopt this intensive and extensive innovation and technology in a bid to significantly reduce the cost of materials and building processes. Modern precast technology is one of the most efficient ways to build high-quality houses that are affordable.
High investment cost
Katarina Noack, Executive Assistant Marketing at RATEC, an innovation leader in magnetic formwork technology for the precast concrete industry, believes, that to some extent it is the high investment cost for setting up a complete precast concrete production plant, while the according demand from market side is not exactly predictable.
“Precast is on the rise in general, but it also requires a lot of effort in the pre-planning stage, including the architectural concept, preplanning of all installations and logistics. The engineering process before actual construction is a prerequisite and includes according cost for the engineering and know-how.
It pays off to make the investment, but it definitely is a hurdle, especially as long as the method is not the common construction standard in a region.
Precast is not just a construction method, it starts with the design process and architectural planning etc. It gets feasible trough economies of scale and optimization of house design and production process,” said Katrina.
Influencing and changing building codes, training plant staff on production of high quality concrete products is one way Terri Grukle, Director of Advertising at Besser Company, a USA based company with 115 years of experience in the precast concrete industry, believes will encourage more use of precast concrete in Africa.
“This include; concrete masonry, hardscape, pipe and precast, and insuring the availability of a consistent supply of raw materials are critical components of creating a healthy market for concrete products,” said Terri Grukle.