Intricate plywood sculptures may well underpin the history of the industry, but times have moved on. Current formwork solutions are more advanced, accurate and more service driven than anyone could possibly have imagined, even 10 years ago.
There’s a demand for systems that can be re-used over many lifts or cycles to save time and costs, and solutions that can be individually adapted to suit the intricacies of each and every project.
“The European formwork industry is now only really separated by detail,” said Jens Lützow-Rodenwoldt, Meva marketing manager. “There are only two or three methods to form a slab and they are all well known. All suppliers except one cover all three methods and all do it well.
“All can handle big jobs and all are capable of providing an efficient, fast service with easy to handle systems. The difference between us is in the minutiae, the nuts and bolts of our individual systems and processes,” continued Mr Lützow-Rodenwoldt.
The changing facings
Meva introduced all plastic facings in 2000 and until recently was the only company providing wood-free facing in the industry.
“I am surprised that our competitors haven’t looked at our all plastic facings and investigated why the system’s working so successfully and how it might possibly be improved upon,” said Mr Lützow-Rodenwoldt. “It took us 15 years to develop and adopt our all plastic facings, and now it’s hard to imagine an alternative solution, perhaps because we’re still regarded as the alternative ourselves!”
A point not lost on Jürgen Schlenker, managing director and chief operating officer of Hünnebeck. “We recently introduced all plastic linings in the shape of Ecoply Q for our topec deck system and also for a new table form. We also have Ecoply P, which is a plastic panel with plywood core.
“I certainly believe that plastic will take an increasing share in the sector, although I also see plywood retaining a place too,” said Mr Schlenker.
Doka, like Hünnebeck use a plastic layered panel as well as treated wood systems, although as yet, the company has not produced an all-plastic sheet. “Our Xlife panel is a robust wood panel with a plastic layer,” said a Doka spokesman. “The Xlife panel is tolerant to nails and the surface doesn’t flake, so water penetration is not a big problem. The special coating also means that panels can be easily cleaned with high-pressure washers.”
Other panels in Doka’s range include Dokadur, which is a glue-bonded wood sheet capable of delivering a high grade concrete finish. Dokadur has high dimensional stability and is light weight, while corundum particles and an all-round polyurethane frame offer excellent surface sealing.
Doka formwork 3-SO and Dokaplex sheet are further wood based systems centered respectively on Melanie resin surfaced 3 ply European spruce and phenol resin coated multi-ply hardwood Finnish birch.
Perhaps the most fundamental change in the sector over recent times is the adoption of practices that have seen the main formwork specialists develop into solution providers.
“Evolution saw us become more of a service industry and this has then developed into us being solution providers,” said Mr Schlenker. “Detail and solutions are what differentiate the big players. Close relationships with our customers mean that we integrate them into the solution so that they have belief in what they get. This, along with quality engineering is how we establish long-term win-win relationships.”
Mr Lützow-Rodenwoldt sees the development of the sector similarly, “Absolutely, the requirement is for us to become a solution provider rather than a product and technology supplier.
“The contractor today has to fulfill so many criteria for his clients, that the pouring of the concrete is a very minor process to him. It has a huge influence on everything else, but as a piece of workmanship the contractor knows that we’ll figure out a solution that works, and he relies on that.
“We certainly now go to greater lengths in planning and conceiving a job site than we did 10 years ago.”
CAMS Industriale of San Marino has developed its business differently than the big German players by specialising in the manufacture of steel formwork for pier caps (The splay at the top of a bridge column on which the deck sits). “Still today we see expensive solutions being used for formwork in this niche area, with wood solutions and bulky, uneasy lattices and frameworks being erected that waste time and money,” said Luigi Di Paolo of CAMS Industriale.
“We have developed a system based on two semi-caissons made from steel sheeting,” continued Mr Di Paolo. “Our steel formwork solution fixes to the pier by a stop collar with adjustable screws into a separation plate that prevents the need for anchor points or holes in the pier.
“The two components are assembled at ground level and then lifted or dropped into place, so our system is efficient, economical and safe while still providing an excellent surface finish,” said Mr Di Paolo.
Innovation is also to be found at SGB following the introduction of its latest generation falsework. The robust lightweight three component aluminium shoring system branded GASS is being used in the construction of the Rhymney bridge arch at Bargoed in South Wales, UK. This is the first time the system has been used for such an application.
The 24 m high bridge with a total span of 120 m is due to open later this month. “From the start, we knew that SGB’s GASS system would be the most effective falsework solution for this project,” said Richard Bruten, construction manager on the Hochtief Griffiths site. “However, we were still incredibly impressed with the speed of erection, which has in turn resulted in both time and cost savings for us,” continued Mr Bruten.
The GASS system was built-up from the valley floor, supporting the DU-AL and Mark II soldiers for the construction of the arch. Concrete was poured in stages, with top and side shutters in place, to ensure that the required angle demanded by the design was achieved.
The former Soviet Union and the new Eastern European countries represent a huge market for the sector, although this market’s not without its concerns. “With massive business growth last year we decided to start a Russian company,” said Mr Schlenker.
“We’ve already opened branch offices in St. Petersburg and Krasnodar. We’re looking at rental business, but we have to make sure that we’re renting out to the right people so that a trustworthy relationship can be built. We do have some trepidation about rental in Russia, but we will explore the avenue via good people.
“Also in the East is our most booming market in the shape of Poland. There are some 22000 bridges to be built there and three major highways are currently under construction too. There has also been a huge boom in residential demand because people don’t want to live in Stalin style prefabricated buildings any more.
“We also have representative offices in Hungary and Romania, so this whole region offers considerable potential.”
While Hünnebeck expands East, Meva are a little more sceptical. “We’re going to see a dramatic change in the way the European construction industry is organized,” said Mr Lützow-Rodenwoldt. “Select, well managed, small to medium enterprises will exploit niche areas and come out competing with the big names and expanding, while those below will face utter chaos.
“Certainly, I believe for the foreseeable future, things are going to be extremely tough for everyone, regardless of what happens in the US.”
“Quality, quality, quality!” is how Mr Schlenker sums-up the sector. “There are more and more copies of our products in places such as Eastern Europe, India and China and we, the big three, must ensure that our Intellectual Property Rights are protected.
“We must be able to assure contractors that it makes business sense to go with the original providers and our respective support and service packages rather than cheaper copycat systems.
Quality of product, quality of service and best value are clearly the drivers in the sector and while alternative materials may become more common, the headlines are sure to remain focused on exemplary service and the provision of overall solutions for ever more complex structures.