Consumer Reports – Precast Automation in Revit

Concrete Fabrication

By Dan Peticila

Revit 2021 has been released two months ago and there’s one new ribbon tab that made its way among the out-of-the-box features: Precast. We started our journey to finding and delivering to users an automated process for handling  structural precast elements from modelling to fabrication almost three years ago. Since then, we released several new features and improvements based on the feedback collected from the engineering and fabrication communities. And also ever since then, we’ve been working closely with technology partners in defining Revit as a scalable and customizable platform for the world of precast concrete, to support the bespoke industry demands.

Let’s have a look at the results of our combined efforts and see what the visionary and innovative companies working in this domain have to share, after adopting the Revit-based technologies.

Kerkstra Precast

Kerkstra Precast is a leading precast producer in the US that fabricates both architectural and structural precast. They recently moved from 2D AutoCAD to BIM and have seen impactful business outcomes already. They use EDGE^R software, provided by PTAC Consulting Engineers, an Autodesk Industry Partner which is built on top of Revit. What is unique about the EDGE^R solution is that it is BIM-based so that precast producers can coordinate their design with the architects and engineers while automating the production deliverables, all on the same platform. One significant benefit is seeing a reduction in errors that might happen in production or on the jobsite. “By coordinating the fabrication model in 3D, we are able to reduce errors or RFIs to almost none.” says Chad Van Kampen P.E., Project Manager at Kerkstra Precast. For one project where they had over 2000 structural and MEP embeds, scattered throughout 752 different panel types, they had no coordination issues, as the 3D model was used to run clash checks and it was even displayed on the job site, on wide screens, in lieu of drawings.  “The impact of this results in reducing risk to the construction schedule or cost which ultimately improves client satisfaction“, Mr. Van Kampen says.

They are now exploring the use of BIM earlier in the project to allow for almost real-time cost tracking with product and material take-offs, which helps Kerkstra better understand and portray cost impacts of design changes or options. “BIM opens up opportunities to win more projects and better understand our clients’ expectations.” It takes a cultural shift however to adopt BIM. For example, Kerkstra is now using Autodesk Revit to optimize the formwork to reduce waste and speed up production, but that wasn’t the norm. They are also starting to explore model data from Revit, via Unitechnik format files, to drive the water-soluble bed plotter. This eliminates the number of times when production bed personnel have to look at traditional documents and allows them to focus on the production process more intently. Furthermore, the use of this technology in the factory reduces errors and helps achieve a better overall quality while reducing the effort for the workforce. “These capabilities are new and so it takes a shift in mindset to think about how we can best utilize them to reduce waste and deliver more value to our clients.”

Beton-Stahl

Beton-Stahl is a structural engineering firm headquartered in Hudson, Wisconsin. They deliver structural engineering and drafting services for both steel and concrete projects.  Being founded only recently in 2012, they have grown quickly by exceeding their customers’ expectations.  “To be a valuable partner to our clients, we need to be able to transition from design to fabrication quickly.” says President, Corey Leith.

Part of their growth strategy has been to adopt the latest technology. Using the EDGE^ solution, provided by Autodesk Industry Partner PTAC, has helped them make the leap to BIM and deliver more projects, having detailed over 30 precast projects using BIM.  A key benefit for using BIM is the data-richness of the resulting 3D model. EDGE^ was a key driver for Beton-Stahl’s move to Revit to do BIM-based precast detailing, says Mr. Leith. The main driver is the volume of information they are able to extract from the model for their clients without added costs.

Beton-Stahl

 “We are still providing our clients with detailed reinforcement drawings, but with the Edge^ software we are also providing the digital PXML CAM files for their automated rebar mat fabrication.  Our clients are seeing time and cost savings because the CAM files are now just download and go.” 

Stories like this from Beton-Stahl show that companies can grow quickly by exceeding their client’s needs through innovation.

Superior Walls of America

Superior Walls of America® is a leader in custom precast concrete insulated wall panels with licensees located in the US and in Canada. These products are manufactured in quality-controlled factories that allow for concise specifications and dimensional accuracy while ensuring the highest quality precision and consistency. They recently moved to Revit for precast detailing, along with industry partner IDAT’s  Revit Precast app. Having the input data always up to date and coordinated with all parties engaged in the project is critical, and this is why they see the Revit model as the single source of truth.

Each Superior Walls project is custom designed to meet exact structural design specifications and to improve the energy efficiency of the buildings. Take for example the Xi Wall, thermally isolated and insulated from the exterior elements, so significantly better than conventional foundation systems. This foundation wall is monolithically poured with high-strength concrete for solid structural integrity and reinforced with steel rebar and polypropylene fibres. Typically, it is used for the basements of wood-based superstructures.

The basic steps, like modelling the buildings structure with walls, doors, windows, and loads are done with the native Revit commands. Then, using the built-in “Split” command from the Precast ribbon, they divide the walls into fabrication panels. Next, the full power of the IDAT Family Extender comes into play, by automatically adding the studs, rebars and the insulation boards to the wall panels, bringing them to a fabrication-ready state. The platform’s customization capabilities allows a bespoke placement of the studs, corelated with the production bed layouts, which then automatically drives the placement of lifters, based on the updated centre of gravity of the panel.

Through the CAM interface, the walls are exported to the Palletizer, which organizes the placement of the precast panels on the production beds of the factory and helps Superior Walls optimize their production for multiple projects at once, something that before was impossible to them. Using the same software, they will be able to improve the fabrication accuracy by turning to a laser projection system to represent the panel layout on the production table and to export the rebar specification to a rebar bending and cutting machine through the same CAM interface. Ultimately, they look forward to improving even more the quality assurance process, by using augmented reality.

Leveraging the visualization capabilities offered by Revit and the Autodesk Forge platform, IDAT’s Precast360 improved the communication with the client and at the job site, allowing the client to send approvals, report issues & define delivery dates and delivery sequences for the precast panels.

Jim Costello, President of Superior Walls, says: “IDAT Revit Precast will help us design our products faster and with a much higher level of detail. With this we can show our customers in advance what they will get from our licensees. The possibility to combine projects in the factory on one production bed saves us money and we can deliver the projects in time. The step from 2D to a full 3D BIM oriented workflow is a game changer for us which will, on one hand, increase the awareness of Superior Walls on the market and, on the other hand, will improve the quality of our product.”

Sansiri Public Company Limited

Criss-crossing the globe, we travel to Thailand and look at Sansiri Public Company Limited, one of the leading property developers in the region. They have their own precast factory in the Bangkok area that is equipped with a highly automated carousel system, shuttering robots and mesh welding machines. This state-of-the-art facility produces solid walls and slabs for the houses they build.

At Sansiri, the buildings’ structures are completely modelled in Revit as well as the MEP systems. This was a natural step for them since they could integrate multi-trades together to better optimize the precast assemblies inside Revit. By integrating the precast tools of Revit, together with IDAT’s Revit Precast, Sansiri’s vision has come true. The walls and floors are split into panels, preserving the original design intent from the architects while automating the assembly creation. The Family Extender adds special rebars, connection plates and other inserts to these panels. IDAT Revit Precast generates out of the rebars a custom fabric sheet which can be sent directly to the mesh welding machine. For each panel, a shop drawing with the geometry and the inserts and a second shop drawing with the reinforcement is generated with a click on a button.

The fabrication details are very important and must be coordinated with the Revit model. One such example refers to the special profiles that the outside wall panels have at the top and bottom.

Special shutters are used in the factory to produce this profile. Since they have a shuttering robot, it needs to know which shutters to be used for every case, so IDAT Revit Precast writes this information to the Unitechnik files used by Sansiri. Hence, automation happens errorless.

Mr. Thitipong Mongkolpathumrat, Assistant Executive Vice President of Sansiri Precast Department says: “With IDAT Revit Precast, the draftsman can generate and edit custom fabric sheets. It is very easy for him to change a diameter of a single bar or to move and copy bars inside the fabric sheet. This saves a lot of time and guarantees that the mesh can be produced in the factory without any errors on the machine. This is very important for us because we also have night shifts, where no draftsman is available to correct any CAD/CAM data. The BIM workflow to use the Revit model from the architect, combining it with the MEP engineer and using it all together for the design of the precast panels is a huge benefit for Sansiri. It speeds up the time to generate production drawings and machine data for the factory and reduces errors since no information must be typed in twice. This saves us cost and satisfies our customers.”

On a bit more technical note, it is important to highlight the key role which the API for precast automation plays in defining these bespoke processes of our Revit customers is. It, together with the Revit API, are the ingredients that allowed our industry partners to make Revit an ideal home for designing BIM-based precast building projects, expanding not only the capabilities of the built-in features, but also the range of elements covered by the umbrella of automation.

It is an exciting time for the precast industry to embracing BIM. As these four stories illustrate, Revit can be the foundational technology to be innovative and take precast production to the next level.  Each story articulates business benefits brought to their daily processes, from better cross-disciplinary coordination to faster generation of documentation, improved product quality, less RFIs & reduced risk to the construction schedule. To all of them, this means improved client satisfaction and winning more projects. So, what are you waiting for, to join those reaping the benefits of precast automation using Revit?

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2 comments

  1. Alon_at_Ballas-eng

    Hi, this is everything thing that is wrong in software development for the industry we pay thousands of dollars a year and still we need to look elsewhere to find tools for basic AEC needs every picture presented here is not precast pallet of yours all is in the house expensive development don't market the thing you don't yet support

    1. Dan Peticila
      Dan Peticila

      Thank you for sharing your feedback with us. We know the precast market has very diverse requirements depending on the country, design and detailing practices and fabrication processes. Therefore, our strategy for offering such bespoke solutions is to ensure Revit is a scalable platform, on top of which local partners build tools that fulfill the exact specifications. This ensures that the solution is customizable and affordable for our customers, as they can discuss with our trusted partners all the fine details that should be implemented.

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