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Construction industry not short on innovation

The construction industry is not widely known for its innovation. Often when people talk of construction, they talk of project delays, budget overruns, on-site injuries, and quantity misjudgements. However, there have been some ground-breaking developments in construction technology which have the potential to revolutionise the South African construction industry. What it will take, however, is some industry education.

In the early 1980s, erecting precast columns was slow and inefficient. At that time, the predominant way to connect precast columns into foundations was the socket. Having been used by Ancient Romans to erect their columns, this method was out of date to say the least. It worked well, but it was slow and not particularly safe.

Another widely adopted method for erecting precast columns was welding. From the designers’ perspective, it was difficult to dimension properly. And on-site welding was clumsy and time consuming.

There was clearly room for improvement, and thus the idea of using bolts arose from the Peikko research and development department in Finland. What if these bolts could be used as connectors?



The first iterations of bolted column connections were made in 1983 and contractors soon identified their main benefit: frames could be erected extremely quickly and the connection was adjustable. The benefits of this innovation were found to be so obvious that contractors would sometimes offer discounts to clients if bolted connections could be used.

Structural designers quickly realised that a bolted column connection was easier to dimension, but it was also seen as a safer way to erect columns. However, a standard question that arose when this technology was being adopted was concerned with the installation tolerance. Contractors were especially concerned about that.

If you specialised in concrete, you were used to ± 20 mm tolerances. This new solution called for ± 15 mm. At first, this 5 mm difference felt like a lot. But when contractors were reminded that tolerances were ±5 mm when erecting steel columns, concerns were put to rest. The accurate positioning of columns also allows for more sophisticated connection methods, such as hidden consoles, to be used higher up in the frame. On-site bolted column connections also radically reduce the excavation depth and drastically reduces the need for bracing.

When it comes to implementing new technology, especially in an industry where the consequences of errors are high, it is understandable that new users might need some support. To ensure that the new way of working was understood within all user groups, a Peikko representative was always present when a precaster made their first columns.

The simple installation procedure was simple, thus new users quickly became accustomed. Once they saw how the connections were placed into the mould, it was plain sailing from there.



With this new way of connecting columns, construction processes became four times faster compared to other solutions in the market. By the end of eighties, this break-through became reality for many construction sites in Finland. Through the nineties, the wider European market increasingly adopted this technology until today, where there are now over 12 000 buildings constructed using this technology.

In 1992, the new technology entered Germany but uptake was slow due to lack of awareness, and because the German construction industry was (and still is, to a large extent) conservative. Existing market players would even make suspicious, sarcastic comments regarding column connections, however, as the technology proved itself in due course, the scepticism ceased.



Fast-forward to today, where this technology has been used all over the world. Now it is set to revolutionise the South African construction industry. The first use in SA was seen in 2016 when Peikko implemented its innovations in the construction of the Fourways Mall parkade development in Johannesburg.

Not unlike Germany, South Africa seems sceptical of this technology and adoption has been slow. However, the clear benefits are sure to outweigh the doubt as more buildings make use of bolted connections. People are hungry for change. The first-movers for this product are the companies who are already innovative and dynamic. As the technology proves itself in cutting construction time and improving efficiency for South African construction industry, other players will hop on the bandwagon.



While the technology was revolutionary at its inception, it has by no means remained stagnant. The basic concept has evolved through the years to meet the needs of designers and contractors. In the early nineties, a lighter version of the column shoe was developed. It is ideal for applications with lighter loads because the new versions are lighter and easier to handle in precast plant. This improved version was an international success and was used in the Fourways Mall development and later on other projects in South Africa.



Today, many of Peikko’s core products have ETA assessment and a CE-marking, as well as local approvals of different countries. To achieve ETA approval, capacity of the connectors had to be compared to a reinforced concrete cross-section and verified by testing. This means that this technology has been proved to be at least as reliable as its alternatives.

International approvals are crucial as the technical approvals are the best way to declare the performance of the technology. The development of building and design standards need to be followed very closely, which is a demanding task but necessary when chasing innovation. Local demands must always be met. Companies opting to use this technology in South Africa will find that the necessary local regulations are adhered to.

Peikko has started to use revised ISO 9001:2015 (quality) and ISO 14001:2015 (environment) management system standards. Additionally, the South African equivalent of Eurocode 3 has been adhered to through SANS 10162-1:2011 for hot-rolled steelwork for the use of column shoes as steel structures. Additionally, the bolted column connection system can be designed for fire resistances R60, R90 and R120.



With South Africa’s population ever-growing, the International Energy Agency predicts that Africa's floorspace is set to triple in the next 40 years, from under 30 billion m2 to almost 90 billion m2 – more growth than is expected from any other continent. With this in mind, the South African construction industry needs to reconsider its use of outdated traditional construction methods in order to overcome its reputation for being slow, over-budget and unsafe. New innovations are key in managing construction demand in a threatened economy.