Although the invention of concrete is commonly attributed to the Romans, it was, in fact, builders in ancient Syria and Jordan who first used this composite building material in around 6500 BC. However, it was Rome that pioneered the means to create elaborate domes, columns, arches, and bridges, many of which still survive today. While earlier civilisations confined their usage to flooring and water cisterns, Rome’s builders learned to shape concrete using shuttering, which others often call formwork. So, is there a difference, or are these two terms synonymous?
The two words are frequently used interchangeably, and this practice does not appear to be a source of confusion. Both terms refer to a temporary mould used to form and maintain the shape of poured concrete until it hardens. Early builders used moulds constructed from timber to achieve this formative effect, a practice that some still employ today, albeit with more affordable plywood. Timber and plywood slats require components to hold them in place. Technically, the shaping components are known as shuttering and the assembled structure as formwork.
Creating a mould from plywood can be time-consuming, but it is a relatively cheap option and one that appeals to the smaller builders who seldom use concrete other than for footings and floors. However, plywood is not particularly durable and is unlikely to survive more than a couple of uses. By contrast, steel components can be used repeatedly with no loss of integrity. They are the preferred choice of large construction companies that specialise in concrete structures. Vertical steel panels provide the shuttering for this robust modular formwork.
Unlike timber, steel can be formed into just about any shape an architect can conceive. Hence, the use of steel moulds has enabled them to implement designs previously thought impossible. While the components to construct beams, arches, and columns are widely available to builders in a range of standard sizes, some of the more experienced manufacturers will undertake to create bespoke components for the more progressive builders. Ease of assembly, leak-proof rigidity during use, and longevity are the qualities of shuttering and formwork that builders demand. These durable steel components provide all three.
Like most countries, South Africa now depends heavily on concrete for the continued development of its cities and surrounding suburbs. As buildings become taller and more elaborate, attention to safety becomes paramount. However, safe and reliable building practices require equally safe and reliable tools and materials. During the past decade, many of the country’s leading construction companies have learned that it is safest to rely on SABS-approved products from Disc-O-Scaff when buying scaffolding, shuttering, and formwork.