With the increasing demands of the Building Regulations covering the energy performance of buildings, thicker and thicker panels are needed to meet the requirements. On top of this, longer and wider panels are increasingly available, further speeding up the construction process. Clearly these larger panels can no longer be handled manually, and new techniques have been developed to improve on-site installation. As well as further increasing build speed, the aim is to make it easier and safer to construct on site with insulated panels, using mechanical handling.
Insulated panel systems have always provided a fast track, straightforward method of construction that brings with it an assurance of performance, along with a number of other benefits. One of the major advantages of using an insulated panel system is that it requires only a single fix installation. This naturally reduces construction time, makes project completion more predictable, and is less labour intensive, so there are potentially considerable cost savings to be made, but more importantly there can also be significant health and safety benefits.
The lastest guide for mechanical handling can be downloaded here.
Types of equipment
The techniques range from lifting rigs and modular beam and sling to specialist machines and crane operated systems that have specifically been designed for handling individual panels of all sizes.
Some examples of the type of equipment used are:
- The Clad-boy system from 4 Cladding Services, which uses vacuums with soft suction seals to avoid damage to panel finishes and surfaces, or Rota-boy, which allows panels to be rotated from delivered bundles through 180°, and then moved directly into position on the roof.
- Nationwide Platforms provide MEWPs and specialist access equipment to deliver improved efficiency and safety.
- John Sutch Cranes has a fleet of cranes from 10 tonnes to 250 tonnes capacity.
- Lifting Gear Hire has a system of lifting beam modules created to the appropriate size for a range of panels.
For the lifting systems to work as they should a number of different aspects have to be taken into account:
- Panel width, length and weight
- Crown stacking of panels
- Offloading options
- Versatile lifting of different width products
- Crane options
Project WIP is an industrial unit on a business park in Swansea Vale, West Glamorgan. The main contractors were Cowlin Construction Limited; roofing and cladding contractors were ABS Elbrow. The challenge was to construct a 3,000 m2 roof in a single day.
The key elements behind the success of the challenge to complete the roof in a day were:
- an innovative 2m wide insulated panel system
- mechanical handling equipment
- a Spierings mobile tower crane
- pre-contract organisation between all parties
- professional teamwork
A 2m wide trapezoidal panel was specified at 80mm thick to achieve a U value of 0.25 W/m2.K. ABS pre-planned the panel deliveries to schedule timed deliveries for each vehicle to ensure optimum offloading, lifting and fixing efficiency thereby limiting standing time.
On the day
The panels were delivered in six individual loads which were organised to allow the cladding installation to be carried out efficiently.
The panels used were 16 metres in length. A 14 metre long Oktopus UKA-BN machine was supplied to lift the panels. The system has suction pads along the full length of the machine in order to offer full support to the product.
There were four operatives on the roof and two on the ground. Installation started at 9.30am.
The panels were taken directly from the back of each trailer. Air bags were used around the perimeter of the trailer as protection against falls from height. A small scissor lift was used for access.
The two operatives on the ground applied the side lap sealant and positioned the suction-lifting device between lifts. The four operatives on the roof were responsible for installing the gun grade air seals and positioning the panel as it was brought to the roof. Each panel was fully fixed between lifts.
Despite poor weather, as the installation progressed, the timing of each lift was down to a complete cycle of 3.5 minutes, providing an extremely slick operation. With this remarkable level of efficiency the roof panel installation was completed by 5.00pm – taking just 7.5 hours for six men to install the 3000m2 roof using the mechanical handling equipment. By comparison, it would normally take approximately 2 weeks to install the same size of roof using smaller panels and traditional methods. It is worth noting that a typical built-up system could take up to 4 weeks for eight men to install a roof of this size.
This rapid method of roof installation provided ‘instant’ weather protection for following trades (concrete floors could be laid and blockwork partitions built). External roof access towers and guardrails could also be released, allowing the wall cladding installation to start just two days later.
The whole project was managed in a responsible manner, with health and safety issues being given due consideration, as well as environmental impact. Apart from the benefits of programme, the use of single fix insulated panel systems reduces the number of loads needed, saving on road transport. On site, a single skip was used for all generated waste, and the top skids were returned with the last load for reuse.
The speed of the installation was a major influence in achieving the completion date; it was possible to pour slabs and lay blockwork undercover during the inclement weather and were able to clad the building much earlier than was expected. Crucially, on a health and safety note, the working at height time was reduced from a potential two weeks to a single day.
Oktopus UKA-BN machine
The trapezoidal panels used were 16 metres in length and 2 metres wide. A 14 metre long Oktopus UKA-BN machine was supplied to lift the panels.
The system has suction pads along the full length of the machine in order to offer full support to the product. Two operatives on the ground applied the side lap sealant and positioned the suction-lifting device between lifts.
A Spierings mobile tower crane provided the lifting power.
Four operatives on the roof were responsible for installing the gun grade air seals and positioning the panel as it was brought to the roof. Each panel was fully fixed between lifts.