NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb. 19, 2014 / PRNewswire — As a construction engineer of long standing, Mr. Ramji Varsani understands the importance of structural precision and integrity. And as an ardent business executive, Mr. Varsani is a passionate believer in the “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves” truism.
According to this veteran Kenyan builder, imprecision and building material wastage are two of building industry’s worst enemies. He should know because his Nairobi-based Epco Builders Limited has produced thousands of commercial and residential buildings in Kenya over the last 36 years, facing and having to surmount numerous challenges along the way.
By November 2004 when a team from Wall-Ties & Forms, Inc. went to introduce to him the USA firm’s aluminum formwork-based cast-in-place concrete construction technology, Mr. Varsani had been on the lookout for more cost-efficient ways of delivering his projects.
“I immediately recognized it as a technology that would be beneficial to our work as contractors,” says the Managing Director of Epco Builders Limited, one of Eastern Africa’s largest and most successful construction companies.
He adds: “The formwork technology saves time if planned and applied properly. It is simply one of the best technologies available.”
Mr. Varsani talks from his noteworthy experience having so far completed two mass-housing projects in Nairobi using the WTF rapid concrete formwork technology.
On the first project – 315 low-cost homes for Ministry of Housing employees – Epco used the WTF post-and-beam system that delivers superstructures faster than most, if not all, conventional concrete forming systems.
This Kenyan Government housing project had been commenced using traditional post-and-beam construction methods in early 2010. It was taking long to deliver each block of flats; one 600 square-meter level of seven flats was taking a month to complete.
And as each block had five levels, the entire block with 35 flats would be completed in a minimum five months. Twenty weeks.
When Epco finally took delivery of Wall-Ties & Forms’ aluminum post-and-beam concrete forming equipment, the delivery speed was cranked up to one level completed in 2 weeks maximum. An entire block of 35 flats in ten weeks.
The system had effectively doubled the output. “We liked the equipment very much. It was a perfect set of formwork,” Mr. Varsani says.
Epco’s second housing project using the WTF technology was located in the Langata area of Nairobi. The project is a major talking point among those in the know in Kenya’s construction circles. Epco at this time decided to move away from the post and beam method of construction. They decided to construct the entire structure cast in place concrete. This included walls and ceilings cast simultaneously.
On this project Epco deployed two sets of WTF’s all-concrete construction equipment, pouring two complete apartments every four days and completing a block of eight 3-bedroom apartments in cycles of 16 days. Epco completed the structures of 116 medium-cost apartments – 15 blocks on 4 levels (G+3) – in a record 10 months, starting in February 2012.
The shell of one such apartment block would ordinarily take at least five months to bring up using traditional brick-and-mortar methods. To have erected the same in four weeks is, to say the least, phenomenal.
This was Epco’s private development and most of the apartments were sold on the open market whilst the rest will house the firm’s senior managers.
“On our Langata project I must admit we were very happy with the technology. Even the buyers were delighted with the apartments,” the Epco boss reveals. “The final product was really one of the best.”
Epco Builders Limited first wanted to procure the WTF aluminum formwork in 2006 for a Government of Kenya slum upgrading project in Kibera, Nairobi. But the project managers were of the view that the technology was not sufficiently labor intensive. And so Epco built up the 660 one-bedroom flats with brick-and-mortar and used traditional formwork on the superstructures.
Looking back to 2006, Mr. Varsani says it is not true that the WTF technology decreases employment opportunities.
“Back then I expressed my view to the government that it is not that with this technology we were not going to employ the desired numbers, but rather that we would produce more houses, save time and still employ the same number of people as we did using conventional building methods,” he says.
UN-Habitat estimates that nearly 50% of Nairobi’s population lives in slums such as Kibera, the region’s largest informal settlement.
“Kenya’s capital city Nairobi has some of the most dense, unsanitary and insecure slums in the world. Almost half of the city’s population lives in over 100 slums and squatter settlements within the city, with little or inadequate access to safe water and sanitation. Housing conditions in slums are deplorable and most residents have no form of secure tenure,” states the United Nations agency.
In the government’s own admission, Kenyans require 210,000 new housing units every year, but only 50,000 are developed annually.
Hence there is a critical need to embrace faster ways of developing quality housing such as the rapid building technology Epco Builders Limited is using.
In addition to speed, the formwork technology is distinguished for its precision attributes. Doors, windows and all other fittings are produced off-sight and fit accurately in the designated openings with no need for structural adjustments.
Mr. Varsani admits that the technology helps the builder to “achieve 100% accuracy” in rendering the architectural features and forming the structural members.
“The formwork gives you a very neat product,” he adds. It saves the builder from traditional time-and material-consuming activities such as plastering. “What you get after removing the formwork looks almost like the finished product.”
Yet another advantage in using the formwork technology, says Mr. Varsani, is that “there is zero wastage” of building materials. “The system is the best as far the control of all the activities on site is concerned,” he asserts.
Epco has built about 5,000 units of housing in Kenya from its inception in 1977. All things being equal, Mr. Varsani expects to build thousands more homes over the next 10 years.
The fact that he had the foresight to invest in two complete sets of all-concrete apartment formwork means that he is ahead of the game. The WTF aluminum formwork is good for 1,000 guaranteed uses. The Langata project clocked just 60 uses. And so Epco will simply move the aluminum formwork to their next medium-density housing project.
Author: Ngugi Mbugua, email: Ngugi2@wallties.com
Wall-Ties & Forms, Inc. http://www.wallties.com