Building Giants: Concrete Factory

As our world keeps growing, the demand for housing and city infrastructure is on the rise.

This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by Twig World, now available on Google Arts & Culture

Building Giants: Concrete Factory

Take a tour of the technologies and materials being used to meet this demand at a concrete manufacturing facility.

Building Programmes

Cities around the world are expanding rapidly. Buildings are needed to house rising populations, and extensive infrastructure is required to keep cities running. Being able to build quickly and safely relies on advancing technologies and materials. 

Here at a manufacturing facility, giant concrete structures are designed and built. Engineers use advanced computer software to create tomorrow’s bridges, tunnels and buildings with precision.

Concrete Components

The engineers are creating an image of a concrete component using computer-aided design (CAD) software. Most engineers are taught to use this software as part of their engineering degree at university.

Communication

Once the large concrete components are complete, they are transported to construction sites where they must fit together perfectly. Project engineers need to communicate effectively in order to avoid costly mistakes.

Engineering Skills

Although the engineers have excellent computer skills, they also have to use manual maths skills. This involves learning complicated mathematical formulas and applying them to real life scenarios. These predict the strength of materials when put under strain.

Wooden Moulds

In order to shape the concrete, it is poured into moulds. Concrete is made from water, sand, stone and cement, and is a liquid when first mixed. The moulds are usually made from metal, but for bespoke (made to order) pieces an individual mould is made from wood. Metal moulds can be used many times, but wooden moulds require individual attention from trained joiners working in the factory.

Making Moulds

The moulds are often made out of wood because of its properties. Wood is soft and easily cut, making it ideal for creating shapes. It is also less expensive than other materials, so can be used in large quantities.

Circular Saw

This circular saw is used for cutting the moulds. It is very sharp and moves quickly to slice the wood. There are many machines in the factory, which have to be handled carefully and can only be operated by qualified personnel.

Joinery Skills

Ian is a joiner, meaning he follows designs and turns pieces of wood into mould shapes. He has good machinery skills as well as knowledge of working with numbers and measurements. Most joiners start as apprentices and gain experience over time.

Steel Reinforcement

Concrete is very hard when it sets, but it can also be brittle. To overcome this, a steel framework can be used to reinforce the concrete from within. The framework is placed in the moulds and concrete is poured over the top. This creates a structure called reinforced concrete, which is much harder and more durable than standard concrete. 

Alloy

Steel is an alloy of mainly iron and carbon. An alloy is a combination of metals, usually formed to give greater strength and durability. Sterling silver is an alloy of silver and copper, which makes it stronger than silver alone.

Safety Glasses

Safety glasses must be worn in the areas of the factory where dangerous processes are taking place. Safety helmets are also worn to protect staff from the large moving panels of concrete and steel bars.

Overhead Crane

This yellow crane moves large concrete shapes from one end of the factory to the other. The size of the factory, as well as the advanced technology that is used, allows much larger structures to be built here.

Pouring Concrete

This mould, which is made of steel, is now being filled with concrete. The concrete mixture surrounds the steel, embedding it into the structure. The concrete is delivered through a yellow hopper, which in turn is filled by a fast-moving bucket that travels along rails fixed to the roof. 

Setting Concrete

Once the concrete is in the moulds, it must be cured. The concrete pieces are placed in an oven, where a constant temperature of 35°C makes the concrete set and harden.

Endless Possibilities

By using both bespoke and non-bespoke moulds, the possibilities for construction are virtually limitless. All shapes and structures can be made quickly and safely in one place by using a variety of moulds.

Size of the Factory

The concrete is mixed on-site and is sent to this area as soon as it is ready. Having all of the manufacturing processes in one place reduces the cost of buying and transporting from external suppliers. 

Total Control

The factory is one of the most sophisticated in Europe. In 1 day it can produce a concrete panel that could take up to 4 days to build on a construction site with raw materials.

It uses complex automated systems that are able to process different components at the same time. This area provides a way to control different processes simultaneously, reducing the need to slow production.

Bending Cages

This production line is where the steel is bent into position to become the cages used in concrete reinforcement – also known as rebar. Long strands of steel are moved into position and bent into the correct shape.

Command and Control

Computers control many aspects of the manufacturing process, from the smallest adjustments to the movement of massive panels. In some places the process is fully automated, ensuring accuracy and consistency.

Robots at Work

As the manufacturing industry advances, robots become more and more useful to the production process. Robots are also used in other industries, such as car manufacturing and food processing.

Ready for Building

This finished panel is ready to be shipped to a building site. Because of the design process and the attention to detail in moulding, pouring and setting the concrete, it will perfectly fit with neighboring panels.

Specially built lorries arrive from all over the country to take these panels to their final destination. This storage area is huge – over 25,000 square metres – and holds all completed parts until they are ready to be dispatched. 

Built for Purpose

This panel is a wall with a ready-made hole for a window to slot in. As part of the process, the factory will add extra details like window seals to save time on building sites. 

On The Way

The concrete panels are loaded onto trucks designed to transport the heaviest of loads. Each crane is able to lift over 80 tonnes, which is the weight of the heaviest beam that is made at the factory.

Buffer

During transportation it is important that the panel isn’t scratched or scraped. Concrete buffers protect the panels during their journey. Sometimes the concrete panels form the outside walls of buildings and so are given special treatments to create a particular look. 

Concrete in Use

Concrete has been used for centuries to make strong, reliable structures. Many examples can be seen here on the Brighton seafront. The Victorian houses use concrete reinforcement, the sea wall is constructed from concrete that is strong enough to withstand stormy seas, and the modern buildings are made from huge concrete slabs like those made in the manufacturing facility.

Lovely Weather

If buildings are made with raw materials using traditional methods, bad weather can cause construction work to slow down. By making concrete panels in advance in a covered factory, structures can be made much more quickly.

Sea Wall

This sea wall reinforces Brighton’s natural sea defenses. When the wall was built, concrete was poured into large panels alongside the cliffs to help prevent natural erosion.  

Hotel Boom

Brighton was a popular destination for the Victorians, who enjoyed swapping London city life for a holiday by the sea. Terraced hotels quickly sprang up along the seafront. Many of these have concrete floors that are decorated with beautiful tiles.

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