Rock hard reliability

Posted on 9 Sep 2010 by The Manufacturer

Buchan’s specialist pre cast concrete division is assisting in the successful and timely construction of a variety of schemes including schools, hotels, hospitals and prisons. Tim Brown was impressed.

The speed with which some major construction projects can be completed is often mindboggling.

Sometimes it appears that whole sections of construction appear almost overnight. One day there is a vacant site, and the next the building has taken shape.

Undoubtedly an extremely dedicated workforce is partly responsible, but no extent of elbow grease will raise a major building in a day. If, however, the bulk of the primary construction is completed off-site, then safe, speedy and efficient construction is completely feasible.

Enter Buchan Concrete Solutions, part of the specialist civil and structural engineering group, Roger Bullivant.

Buchan’s major focus is the off-site design, manufacture and construction of precast concrete units for use on building super structures and underground applications. Over the last 60 years, the company has developed as one of the largest precast operators in the UK and is able to count all the major UK contractors as clients. Today, Buchan is known as a specialist in the design, manufacture and installation of bespoke precast concrete solutions.

Rock hard reliability Developing the business from its early beginnings, Buchan has embraced design as one of the core facets of the business, creating individual solutions to meet specific customer requirements. The Buchan site encompasses a range of specialised equipment which allows the company to tailor the construction of the concrete panels to the needs of the client. Through consultation with the architect and the use of 3D CAD software, the company’s design team is able to take into account windows, doors and even M & E service runs, including underfloor heating and build such specifications in to the manufactured units.

“We have the only fully automated steel mesh machine in the UK,” says Steve Parker. “With this we can create a bespoke mesh which, with the assistance of our design department, allows us to place the steel reinforcement where we need and gives us a value engineering edge when it comes to supplying our finished product.” In addition, using standard mesh creates a great deal of waste as it needs to be cut to size. According to Steve, having their own machine produces a saving of between £100,000 and £150,000 per year just on waste mesh, an important factor when sustainability is a key driver to the client.

Design and deliver Successful delivery is of paramount importance to Buchan and the company ensures that the contractor is involved at every stage of the process. “When we are working on a major project,” says Kevin, “while the design is our responsibility, the client may have a number of their representatives including designers and the M & E subcontractor in our factory collaborating to make sure the project is delivered correctly. Some projects are straight forward and easy to deliver whilst other larger projects are more of a partnering agreement to produce the complex final solution.” Following the period of consultation and design approval processes, manufacturing drawings are completed and the reinforcement schedule is formulated. The product is laid out on steel flat beds; tilt up tables or battery moulds and the mesh cages produced are applied. The concrete is then poured and product is ready to lift the following day. “We work on a just in time basis,” says Kevin, “which allows us, with our in-house design team, to easily respond, innovate and make changes prior to production.” This is also of considerable benefit for any project of a logistically difficult nature.

According to Buchan, there are any number of benefits which come from using precast concrete units, but most of all the quality of the precast concrete product produced is simply much higher. In addition, says Steve, “The speed with which the precast concrete can be delivered is much faster and you eliminate waste, the need for scaffolding and the associated health and safety issues. With regards to health and safety, within the factory we have static control.

On a construction site it is much more fluid as people are constantly moving around which creates more risk.” Of particular importance is that the structures are extremely stable – walls are structurally joined by reinforced in-situ concrete joints, which transfer all loads to the foundations. Horizontal internal and peripheral ties, together with vertical ties, ensure the buildings are robust and low maintenance. The Thermal Mass properties of concrete can be used to reduce heating costs within buildings, providing a consistent internal climate. The structures are rapidly assembled on site by Buchan’s own experienced erection teams, providing a quick and safe solution, ensuring that overall customer satisfaction is delivered.

Ongoing development Integral to being a part of the Roger Bullivant group, says Steve, is the culture of continuous improvement and innovation which is in place at Buchan. “We are always looking at different ways of improving the way we operate including the use of different types of concrete mix and different shapes of steel reinforcement. As part of our internal value engineering process where possible we will reduce the steel content of a unit, which is easier for Buchan to coordinate, was we operate our own mesh processing facilities. The production management are always looking and coming up with innovative ideas and we also encourage our external sources to add to this process.” Kevin Parker says the use of precast concrete offsite manufacture is continuing to grow in the UK construction industry. He says benefits including composite panels, a variety of facade colours and finishes, improved speed of project construction, the reduction of onsite costs and the management of health and safety risks cannot be ignored.

With its proven track record, the advantage and flexibility of precast concrete, and the ability to offer a complete bespoke solution that varies according to scale and design, Buchan will continue to invest in research and development programmes that enable it to adapt and meet the ever-evolving needs of the construction industry.