The 19th century precast engineer John Alexander Brodie would have been impressed by the engineering embedded in today’s precast wall panels. His design parameters focused primarily on strength, while today’s precast wall panels go beyond strength to include energy efficient and resiliency.
Modern walls feature complex shapes that include insulation, reinforcement, weldments, and anchors. And to make matters more challenging for producers, few panels are exactly alike. Projects could include hundreds of variation of a basic precast wall panel.
As the complexity increases, precast producers are challenged to find ways to efficiently lay out a panel. In recent years, producers have used semi-automated layouts almost eliminating hand measuring of each layout with a ruler.
The most common semi-automatic tool is the laser projector. Mounted above the casting bed, these units display a precise template of the wall’s shape and embedment placements. The laser line projections are based on imported CAD data that is processed into projection data. Producers can purchase a laser that project lines on surfaces that are either flat/2D or curved/3D.
These systems face some limitations. First that are set into a particular plant location. When there are more than two workers, lines can be interrupted and there’s a chance of distortion due to atmospheric conditions.
Fortunately for producers, a high tech firm has developed a new virtual way to quicken the layout process. EZ Cast is a turnkey application designed specifically for the concrete industry that is a virtual 3-D layout tool without laser projection lines.
Mike Boudreau’s company, Technology Brewing, located in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, launched EZ Cast at the Precast Show last February. They developed the system with direction from two local precast concrete producers who wanted to increase both productivity and product quality. The production managers found EZ Cast with so much potential that they encouraged Boudreau to market this new technology to the entire precast industry.
EZ Cast is a complete system that includes a head set, processor and connectivity equipment. The headset features special goggles that allows the user to “see” a wall’s virtual layout. This includes the shape and location of all embedded objects. After placement, the virtual goggles allows the installer to then verify the placement of each embed for future reference.
EZ Cast is simple to incorporate into a precaster’s drafting and production system. The layout data is easily imported from any 3D CAD software program to the EZ Cast processor. Technology Brewing staff can provide any conversion programs that might be required for the system’s operation.
The headset is linked through a secure WIFI connection to the processor. Each layout has its own file and each embed has its own unique color and tags allowing the layout technician to distinguish each item. Spoken commands and hand gestures allow the user to control display processing making it easier to focus on specific parts of the layout job.
EZ Cast is not Boudreau’s first experience of bringing new technology to a very traditional industry. His company has been developing industrial machine vision and vision guided robotic systems that have increased productivity in low-tech industries for more than thirty years. While the virtual embed system was designed for the precast industry, Boudreaux sees additional concrete construction operations such as cast-in-place and tilt-up.