Event report: 5th DISC Conference - “High-tech concrete: where technology and engineering meet”

Published: 02/01/2018

DISC 2017 speakers L-R: Professor Marco di Prisco, Chris Hendy (Chair), Dr John Orr, Ignacio Escobar, and Charlie Scott.

The 5th fibUK Developments in Structural Concrete (DISC) Conference took place on 29 November 2017 at The Institution of Structural Engineers’ headquarters in London.

More than 60 delegates attended the Conference. fibUK chairman, Chris Hendy, opened the event by introducing the theme and the aims: capturing real project best practices; and informing on research and developments in the structural concrete field.

Professor Marco di Prisco, Politecnico di Milano, presented "Fibre reinforced cementitious composites: a challenge for the future of construction", setting out a vision for the future of construction around digital innovation. He pointed out that structural health monitoring of structures is underdeveloped compared to other industries, providing a great opportunity for developments in this area. The talk centred around fibre reinforced concrete (FRC) and the challenges involved with adopting this technology, which was first proposed in the 1960s. Fibre distribution in the cement matrix and crack evolution was highlighted as an area where research is currently focused. Marco finished the presentation by setting out his vision of where FRC products could be most beneficially optimised in the future.

Ignacio Escobar, Tarmac, spoke about "Special concretes in your project". The talk covered special technologies such as early strength, architectural and high durability concretes, but the primary focus was on high strength and self-compacting concretes. Ignacio highlighted that these concretes have more beneficial properties than most designers realise, and that the key is finding the right balance between quantity, cost, durability and strength. He pointed out that "if you use it right, you end up using less so you can save time and money on your project". Real life cost and programme savings, from using high early strength and self-compacting elements, were also presented, for example £390,000 of savings were realised in a concrete framed residential building by using high strength concrete. Other case studies were presented by the speaker, including a highly sustainable, Home Quality Mark approved residential project.

Dr John Orr, University of Cambridge, spoke about "Knitting bespoke reinforcement for new concrete structures". The main motivation behind John’s research was a combination of high CO2 emissions associated with concrete use; rapidly rising populations in urban areas (China is expected to add 350m people to its urban population by 2025) and also stagnated (or even decreasing) productivity in the construction sector over recent decades. John highlighted the importance of structural optimisation in meeting these challenges by dramatically reducing material usage and sustainably increasing global productivity. He demonstrated how this can be achieved by taking advantage of automation, robotics and advanced materials, something that he has coined 'light-weighting concrete structures'. John and his team of researchers have developed an automated knitting machine to produce carbon fibre reinforcement cages, promoting 'mass customisation' of concrete elements.

Charlie Scott, Waterman, spoke about "John Lewis Leeds – designing the diagrid". Charlie described the client’s stringent requirements for this project, including large, very flat floor slabs with big openings for escalators, optimising the thermal mass of the building, and an intricate architectural cladding with diagonal features. He explained how the project team had championed the use of structural concrete, in contrast to the steel framed designs traditionally favoured for retail spaces. Charlie focused on the design of the innovative diagrid structure which supported the building’s concrete façade and allowed the removal of columns around the loading bay. The intricate geometry of this structure resulted in tens of thousands of design load combinations, however Charlie's team championed the use of smart ways of working to optimise the design while minimising unnecessary calculation – "doing more for less". The benefits of using BIM and collaborative working on the project were also highlighted, evidenced by the extremely low number of problems encountered during the construction process.

fibUK acknowledges the support of the event sponsors: Tarmac, CARES and Arcelor Mittal.

Report prepared by: Dr Graham Webb (WSP) and Ioanna Papanikolaou (Costain).

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