Precast Concrete A Faster Construction Technology

Precast Concrete A Faster Construction Technology

Precast concrete is a construction product produced by casting concrete in a reusable mold or “form” which is then cured in a controlled environment in the factory, transported to the construction site and lifted into place. Parts like door and window frames, electricity and water networks are also cast before the concrete dries.

Precast concrete is suitable for almost any type of building, from prefabricated housing units to shopping malls, factories and warehouses, to high-rise offices, hotels or condos.

Speed is where precast concrete beats out other construction methods. While builders generally take weeks to put up a single house with normal technologies, they can build five houses per day using precast, says Phillip Lingwood, Senior Vice-President of Broadgate Construction, an international company supplying building products. Compared to brick, for example, putting up a precast wall is much quicker, requires less labor and the end product is stronger, according to Lingwood. In Cambodia it costs around US$12 to build a square meter of a brick wall, and around US$15 to produce one square meter of precast wall at the factory, excluding the transportation and labor expenses.

“Although the material cost may be higher than brick, with precast the total project cost will be reduced, because there is less labor used, no need for rendering, and it’s quicker,” Lingwood said.

Precast concrete solutions have better resistance to earthquakes or fires than brick or other wall panel technology. It also leaves a substantially smaller environmental footprint than other building methods, thanks to increased recycled content and the production processes.

While precast has almost become old hat in developed countries, it is new in Cambodia. Fewer than 10 projects have applied precast concrete technology here up to now, while there are only few precast suppliers serving the market, including Ly Chhuong Construction and CPAC Cambodia.

Touch Somnang, deputy CEO of developer OCIC, says the company has applied precast technology for the housing development at the Chroy Changvar Satellite City and sees it is a good solution for future construction.

“We apply precast concrete walls to houses to replace brick, and it is very fast. This kind of precast concrete house needs only three to four weeks to finish,” Touch said. “If you ask me whether it is strong or not, I’d say yes, because it’s a concrete wall.”

Due to rising labor costs, faster construction methods are important, he added. “Although it is more expensive in term of materials, precast technology offers us with cheaper labor expenses and faster construction times,” he said.

While there are several benefits, precast in Cambodia still faces challenges. Precast products are manufactured at the factory, and there are expenses and difficulties in transporting large and heavy concrete panels to construction sites along narrow and pothole-ridden roads. Fuel costs are another concern.

Since carrying a large piece of precast concrete into the building can’t be done by manpower alone, lifting machinery is needed for assembly and installation. This is yet another cost for builders and building owners, since such machinery is expensive in Cambodia, says Chhouk Chhay Horng, head of the civil engineering department at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia (ITC).

Still, Lingwood of Broadgate Construction believes precast concrete is right for Cambodia, but his company has looked at the challenges specific to developing Cambodia as well. So, Broadgate, in a joint venture with local company CLMV Capital Asia under the name 3 Eco City Construction, is building a factory 12 km from Phnom Penh in Kandal province to produce the LiteCast product. It has all qualities and advantages of precast, but with the additional benefit of being 50 percent lighter. It can reduce transportation issues and the need for heavy lifting machinery. It also has good thermal and acoustic insulation properties that can reduce construction material costs, reduce the load on air conditioning units and save energy in the long run. The factory and the LiteCast product are set to come on line in the middle of 2014.

“Precast is good, but LiteCast is even better,” Lingwood said.

Tim Vutha

Reporter for Construction and Properties Magazine

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