By Michael Schaeffer, Senior U.S. Product Manager with Doka USA, Ltd.
Formwork, the temporary or permanent molds used to hold wet concrete until it sets, is a crucial element in concrete construction. Just as important is selection of the right formwork, as it greatly affects the schedule, labor requirements, quality and total cost of a project.
Over the years, formwork molds have evolved from traditional job-built timber to pre-engineered systems composed of a combination of steel, aluminum, manufactured timber, plywood and plastics. These advancements in formwork molds have led to increased jobsite production and safety, with less labor, while producing a better-finished product.
Less than 15 years ago, there were approximately a dozen major formwork systems readily available in the U.S. However, over that short time period, an influx of European forming companies has entered the U.S. market, more than doubling the number of systems available.
The increase in competition is pushing innovations to a rate previously unseen in the industry. Thirty-year-old systems that have enjoyed wide use and popularity are being supplanted by new, modern systems that offer greater productivity and a higher quality product.
Walls — Presently, the most prevalent system in use for handset wall forming are steel-framed, wood-faced panels that require consumable ties at 2-feet-on-center and one connection per square foot. These are being replaced with larger, two-person handset systems that require less labor and eliminate consumable purchases with the use of reusable taper ties. Gang forming has completely changed over the past 10 years. Older systems of steel framed wood or steel faced panels with double channel stiffbacks that connect with bolts/pins have been overtaken by clamp connection forms with wood or plastic form faces that provide tremendous labor savings in assembly and use. These standard systems assemble and reconfigure very quickly to meet changing structure dimension while also providing a consistent concrete finish.
Slabs — The use of fixed or adjustable wood posts, stringer and joists is still the most common method of shoring in the U.S. This method, passed down from generation to generation, requires substantial labor. Because the posts are placed as close as 2-feet-on-center, construction sites become very congested.
A new construction method featuring engineered lumber and metal posts increases post spacing up to 5 feet by 10 feet, and uses components that are systematic and reusable. This increased spacing allows for less material on site when forming the same slab area. Less material means reduced handling requirements, less labor to set up and strip, lower transport costs and an increase in overall jobsite productivity.
The current method for gang-forming slabs is to use trusses or structural decks, which require a substantial amount of time for assembly and disassembly. Moreover, they consume an enormous amount of crane time, making overtime for resetting a standard operating procedure. The customer must also purchase the plywood facing and sometimes replace it multiple times on the same project. Because of the expense of setup and takedown, they are used mostly on structures taller than 15 stories high. Smaller tables, delivered to the jobsite fully assembled with plywood, are becoming a better solution to these systems, especially for mid-rise buildings where gang forming was previously not economical.
Another job site innovation that reduces jobsite crane time and formwork labor requirements is formwork lifting elevators that mount to the exterior of a building, allowing all formwork to be cycled from floor to floor without the need for a crane. These table lifting systems are used in conjunction with the smaller table method and also allow for other construction material including handset shoring, vertical formwork and reshores from below to cycle from floor to floor with the need for a crane.