Mastering the precast market

10th December, 2019

As part of the Inside Offsite factory tour programme, precast concrete specialists FP McCann once again opened up its Byley manufacturing facility to showcase its innovative offsite technology.

With a focus on the structural and architectural arm of the business, FP McCann hosted a two-day, morning and afternoon factory tour showing delegates from across the construction industry the day-to-day workings of the Byley facility and how the largest precast concrete company in the UK operates. With the structural and architectural products being increasingly specified across the UK and the division growing quickly, the strength of the group has been bolstered over the last few years with a series of acquisitions including well-known brands: Bell & Webster, Bison, Charcon and Buchan Concrete Products all becoming part of the FP McCann offer. The precast division is a significant £200million slice of the company's £250million turnover with Byley playing a fundamental part in the business's offsite network. 

"Offsite methods are being increasingly adopted for the speed and cost benefit it delivers and it also addresses many of the concerns behind the industrywide skills shortage," says Daniel Westgate, Commercial Manager, Structures, Estimating & Design, FP McCann. "Precast elements are very quick to assemble once onsite so we are at the forefront of changing the way that buildings are designed and manufactured and our fastest growing sector is definitely in high rise apartments and student accommodation." 

To keep up with the demands of the construction industry and increasing the capacity of the offsite sector, FP McCann has expanded and increased 
the scope of its UK production facilities, with further capital investment in new machinery boosting production levels and increasing its structural precast building capacity. Central to all offsite methods is the speed of construction. Offsite construction methods ensure buildings can be erected quickly – drastically reducing construction time and associated costs and providing quicker return on investment for clients – with the benefits always maximised by early client engagement with the supplier.

"Ideally we need to be involved at an early stage and for precast to be considered as the 'first principal' way to build," adds Daniel Westgate.   "Our early involvement with the client and design team can maximise the benefits of offsite design and with the recent building regulation changes post-Grenfell, we can advise on non-combustible materials and insulation options to give clients confidence to specify taller structures."

Central to the success and popularity of FP McCann have been its architectural precast concrete insulated sandwich panels – seen across a range of award-winning projects including the Marriott Hotel Manchester. The insulated precast sandwich panels provide a ready-made external envelope with a variety of finishes. This eliminates many of the pitfalls associated with traditional building methods utilising 'traditional' techniques and employing siteintensive wet trades. The panels comprise an outer leaf of precast concrete, an insulating layer and a structural inner leaf of plain grey concrete that is 'power floated' to a smooth internal finish.

The thickness of the insulation can be modified in order to accommodate any required U-value. The shape, thickness and size of the concrete panels can also be made to meet the requirements of any project specifics and client requirements. These are clad either with a brickfacing or can be acid-etched to a huge array of bespoke design specification. The Byley works is currently producing approximately 12-14 wall panels a day plus 6-8 insulated sandwich panels.  The panels are then cured for 28 days before final loading, transportation and installation.

Architecturally and in terms of looks and finish the design options are almost endless with a brick finish is extremely popular and accounts for around 60-70% of enquiries. Finishes include acid-etching, textured, stonefaced or tile-faced, grit-blast or smooth finished including a terrazzo type feel. 

A full palette of finishes can provide an external design and architectural edge. Also in production at the Byley site is the precast crosswall structural system.  This comprises of a series of concrete panels that form the entire building envelope with internal, structural loadbearing and partition walls, external walls and floor slabs. The external walls can consist of just the inner leaf concrete finish or include the insulated precast sandwich panels. Precast in vertical battery moulds – panels of 4m x 10m – can be manufactured 'like toast' that drives costs down and improves speed onsite.  They can have conduits and openings for a range of fittings pre-cut and 'cast in' inside the factory, such as openings for smoke detectors.

Underfloor heating can also be factoryinstalled, then pressure-tested in the factory to ensure a reliable defect-free system.  Window and door openings are pre-formed in the panels and the window units can be installed at the factory by suppliers to further increase quality. As 2020 come into view, plans are at an advanced stage in developing a new part of the Byley site to cope with increased capacity for its precast products.  Future plans also include the wider use of recycled material and as questions surrounding low carbon construction continues to raise questions, FP McCann are now investing in new steps in adopting cement replacements and have a vision to play a large part of the circular economy and reduce the levels of embodied carbon in it products and systems.

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