Standardizing the future


Standardizing the future

“Standardization and the use of precast concrete elements offer greater safety, efficiency and better environmental performance,” says Petter Eiken, Business Unit President at Skanska Norse AS.

Skanska is an industry leader in construction-related services and project development. It is ranked by Fortune magazine as the world's second most admired company in the construction industry. Skanska has 4,000 repeat customers and 58,000 employees globally. Petter Eiken stresses the importance of improving safety performance. In just a few years and with the right measures, Skanska has been able to reduce the number of accidents per one million working hours from 80 to 10 at its Finnish sites, where previously safety culture was almost nonexistent. "We didn’t focus just on Skanska, but on the whole value chain—that is, us, suppliers and subcontractors. We improved the planning of sites and established penalties for those breaking the rules." By focusing on working culture it is crucial to improve safety. Much has been done to change thinking and working habits at Skanska’s Finnish building sites. Eiken provides an example: in April this year, in Helsinki, a delta-beam twisted and four hollow core slabs fell ten meters. Two sub-contractor's workers fell six meters, but suffered only minor injuries as they were using safety harnesses. "Initially, these workers didn’t want to carry their safety harnesses, but the site manager insisted. That saved their lives." People have learned that accidents can be avoided. Previously, it was thought that accidents are a natural part of construction work. "We‘ve changed the mindset—we believe that every accident can be avoided. People are proud of their better performance, sites are tidier and planning is better." Standardization means safety Building safely with precast concrete elements creates both challenges and opportunities. The bottom line, however, is positive. "Companies working with the installation of elements tend to have poor safety performance because they take too many risks. However, the use of elements actually reduces the complexity of setting up the structure. It’s easier to make a good plan and be well-prepared. The reduced number of activities on the site should also support better safety performance." Eiken is not willing to accept the argument that the industry could not afford to focus on safety and that safety would reduce efficiency. Skanska had ten fatal accidents this year. "The impact on the employees and on their families is devastating. And it hits the business as well. It’s actually quite the opposite: in order to have a good standard of safety, excellent planning is required, and the latter is good for productivity. They go hand in hand. Our best performing units also have a good standard of safety." Eiken stresses the importance of standardization. "We’ve been focusing on standardization a lot, especially when it comes to residential construction. We’ve been using too many different ways of working, and we have seen that when we standardize the constructions, it also becomes easier to use elements and move production to factories. We’ve been able to reduce costs, on average, around 20%, and in many cases by even more, by changing from customized design to standardized design." Standardization is good for productivity, but it also reduces defects. And this results in greater satisfaction among clients and end users of the products. Standardization also creates other positive effects for the work. "In the Mäntylinna project in Järvenpää, in Finland, we reduced waste by 75%, even though we were not focusing on waste reduction at all. It came about as a result of the production process: we had better logistics and needed less covering for materials," Eiken explains. "The reduction in waste came about unexpectedly as a by-product. This was all connected to the fact that we used more standardized elements than usually." "Lego-thinking" Standardization is the key to better efficiency, safety and environmental performance. There are, however, aesthetic aspects to also be taken care of. "We are focusing a lot on aesthetics, to avoid the mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s, which created so many ugly and socially bad suburban environments. We can't go back to that era." The industry has to be flexible with design, and be able to apply various types of façade materials. "When talking about standardization, we have to leave enough room for the architect to make the products fit into the local environment. There has to be enough creativity to be left with an attractive design." Eiken believes that new technologies and methods of using materials help the industry to avoid building a series of monotonous gray concrete façades. "We can use bricks, wooden elements and glass together with the precast concrete elements. The challenge for the architect is to use the standards in a modern way, making sure that the costs are still in focus." Eiken refers to 'Lego-thinking'. “We have to make enough Lego-bricks to satisfy modern people whilst leaving enough room for the architects to be creative.” Standardization and energy Standardization is also good for reducing energy consumption. The houses that are constructed in a couple of years from now will have roughly half of the energy consumption of new buildings built just a few years ago. “You can save energy with precast concrete elements, just as you can save it with other building methods. However, with standardized elements it is much easier to make an overall change in a company like ours,” Eiken says. “When it comes to energy consumption, we have standardized the basic design as well. If we change that design in one place, we can promptly implement it on all sites.” Technically, it is not difficult to reduce energy consumption in new houses using a combination of isolation, heat exchangers and reflecting windows. “The industry will do that because clients and governments will be far more focused on energy than before. The real challenge is to do something with existing buildings. If we only focus on new houses, the transformation to low-energy housing will take about 100 years.” Petter Eiken Acting President of Skanska Norway


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