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Highly technical services

Hanson Brick's bespoke design software provides valuable support to architects, writes Paul Rogatzki

In a competitive environment when design teams are under pressure to provide solutions quickly and economically, it makes sense to draw on the support of external services for the provision of drawings and details in the structural design of brickwork projects. Hanson Brick offers architects and designers a technical services team that provides direct help to practices of all sizes.

The technical services team is an inhouse resource of full-time advisers who absorb masonry-related briefs, primarily received as black-and-white drawings, and process them as brickwork details and, where applicable, through to colour-generated graphics. The latest CAD software allows architects to supplement their drawings with computerised imagery that illustrates the completed project with details, brick panels and alternative mortar colours. These are returned in a highly polished and professional format which is suitable for presentation directly to clients.

Architectural detailing is the core activity of the technical team, but structural calculations and internal activities such as alterations are also common briefs. Hanson's technicians find they are taking less of a support role and becoming more involved in conceptual designs at early stages of the project, enabled by enhanced facilities.

Architects today understandably want design problems solved immediately. We believe that brick makers should assist in overcoming special masonry-related problems; it is, after all, our medium. Being involved at the very earliest stages of the design process allows us a greater creative input. We can not only help to overcome a particular design problem, but also hope to support the architect who has specified our product.

Standard enquiries range from preparation of brickwork details to material specification and suitable mortar options, technical advice on movement joints, durability and structural design. Monitoring these enquiries enables Hanson Brick to pick up trends in the industry, allowing it to adapt to a particular movement in popularity of a design material.

The technical team also takes on a considerable amount of innovation work where much of its research and development findings can be incorporated. Working with various professional organisations on specific research programmes encourages direct involvement - which ultimately influences long-term trends in masonry.

One particular project - supported by a Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions' Partners in Technology programme - involves the behaviour of a single skin of brickwork providing cladding to a multi-storey structure. Testing will be ongoing and we shall monitor its performance in every detail.We welcome this type of project as we believe it is our responsibility to measure these statistics for the benefit of the construction industry as a whole.

It is now well established that most manufacturing companies offer a supportive technical service relating to the use of their product. Historically this type of service was almost a promotional activity - a way of drawing attention to the existence of product. Now it is a non-conditional requirement to provide product information as well as a performance specification of that product in work.

The manufacturers of prefabricated structural steelwork provide an excellent example of a full design, supply and fix package. Until recently, however, brick manufacturers did little more than provide basic product data such as physical properties like strength and water absorption. But today we often have to provide all the necessary technical information, architectural details, structural design and advice on the best possible building solution for our own product when used in conjunction with associated materials and structures.

Clay bricks are a good example of a material which in itself does not give the full wall solution (20 per cent of the wall is mortar).

Bricks as individual entities are meaningless.

It is the brickwork which is the end product.

More than that, it is the walling system and its association with the superstructure. This includes the consideration of masonry units, mortar, ties, lintels, and other ancillary components.

The demands on the modern designer mean that few can give the attention needed to produce the optimum wall design. Walls also present an interesting aspect since so many components are needed to make up the whole - some of these being totally unrelated to the manufacturing process and the manufacturer. So there needs to be some coordination in order to avoid potential problems where no one quite knows who is actually responsible for a defect in construction or design.

Recent changes in the construction process, following the Egan Report and its related activities, should mean that material producers become a major player in the construction process. They can do this by providing confidence in the quality and reliability of the product. It is also desirable for them to offer full building solutions for the product.

As well as the obvious services described above, the material supplier needs a raised profile. In any of the traditional forms of contract, material suppliers have no direct involvement with that contract process other than supplying acceptable goods to the main contractor or subcontractor - often via a builders' merchant. Now we are getting much closer to the client in supplying a design and specification package.

CAD has had a tremendous impact on design facilities in general, and more recently we have developed a CAD application that is potentially of tremendous benefit to the company. One of the basic demands on us is to provide standard details of brickwork setting out and assembly details, particularly for special-shaped clay units.We have, of course, done this for a number of years but with the continued IT improvements a greater challenge - and benefit - has presented itself.

Most manufacturers' materials are now reproduced in a computer-generated format allowing designers to render with much greater authenticity than previously possible.

We sell our product primarily on its aesthetic qualities and this CAD development provides an excellent opportunity to meet this demand for virtual brickwork. One of the major problems has been the correct and accurate reproduction of clay brickwork which, by its very nature, generates a 'random' appearance. To this end it has been necessary for us to develop our own software package which allows the reproduction of brick and mortar panels which can then be imported into other commercially well-known 3D rendering programmes.

The result of our efforts is an extremely accurate representation of a brick type being used to render a 3D model in a completely random fashion. Both the methodology and the end result seem simple, belying the effort that is needed to carry out this task. If a client wishes to see one of their buildings reproduced as a full 3D-generated image with a number of brick and mortar types (and any of the other building materials which may be used such as roof tiles, windows or decorative stone) it is first necessary for us to draw the building as a full 3D item. As yet there are still very few architects who are able to give us this data in the appropriate format such that we may render the images straight off.

For the rendering, our bespoke software allows for the production of a panel of brickwork, in any brick type, with any mortar, and in any bond - stretcher, English or Flemish.

This development benefits Hanson and the client in two important ways. Firstly, the image reproduction is of high enough quality (particularly when viewed on a monitor) to allow for brick selection by the design team and the planners. Additionally, there is an opportunity for all products to be selected initially by use of a computer rather than relying on cumbersome sample panels of brick slips glued onto plywood boarding and pointed with a proposed mortar. There is an immediate saving in time and effort, allowing samples to be made only after the final selection is done.

Such a system is generating an interest in all aspects of the construction market, including specification projects and the house builders. Our first concern is to ensure that this facility is carried out in a controlled manner with economic use of time. So we currently offer this service to anyone electing to build in our products only when it seems a viable solution.

Our objective now is to ensure that we can increase the speed with which this work is carried out so that it really is as effortless as the end result would have you believe.

The next steps will be to ensure that our sales force has the use of an electronic brick and mortar selector, and to release a modified version of this software to designers so that they can render their own design details in our products.

Ultimately this quality of service will be perceived as the norm for all building materials. When it is, we must ensure that our products are displayed in as accurate and as authentic a mode as possible.

Paul Rogatzki is Hanson Brick's commercial design manager

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