The application of reusable hollow core slab connections in steel frames

Investigating the behaviour of a newly proposed reusable connection with increased tolerances

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To align with the objective of the European Green Deal [46] policy of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the construction sector must transition to a circular built environment. Most of the waste in the Netherlands is related to construction and demolition waste, with the industry accounting for approximately 35% of CO2 emissions [89]. The goal of the circular built environment is to minimise waste by reducing, reusing, recycling, and recovering materials throughout the life cycle of a product [66]. Therefore, making an impact in the construction industry can lead to a significant reduction in CO2 emissions and contribute to the achievement of the European Green Deal [46].

This research contributes to the "reuse" component of the aforementioned circular built environment goals. Specifically, the focus is on developing a reusable connection between hollow core slabs and steel frames by implementing increased execution tolerances. Increased tolerances are necessary to allow reuse, as alignment-related problems often occur. The research consists of several parts: the design process, structural verification, experimental research on demountability, and environmental impact assessment. The design process comprises a tolerance analysis supported by a Monte Carlo simulation, variant studies, and a comprehensive qualitative trade-off analysis. After the best scoring alternative is determined, the verification part assesses the structural behaviour of the connection in terms of strength and stiffness. This is done using a combination of analytical and numerical calculations. The purpose of the experimental research is to investigate the demountability potential of the reusable connection. The final part of the research investigates the impact of the reusable connection compared to conventional connections for different lifecycle scenarios.

The research demonstrated that incorporating additional tolerances in the connection between the hollow core slab and steel frame is crucial to achieve a reusable construction. Three connection alternatives were generated that can incorporate these tolerances based on a literature review and meetings with experts in the field of building construction. The alternatives were weighted on tolerance inclusion, ease of installation, demountability potential, and costs. The best option was identified as a connection consisting of a square hollow section and a bolted shear stud encased in mortar. This alternative outperformed competitors in terms of tolerances, installation, and costs. However, the demountability potential was identified as a critical part of the connection and, therefore, was further investigated experimentally. The experiments showed an increased demountability potential in situations that include pre-treatment. Vaseline-treated specimens showed no signs of chemical bonding and better lubrication compared to oil-treated specimens, resulting in the lowest resistance and, therefore, the best demountability. The last step of the research investigated the environmental impact of the reusable connection and compared it with the conventional construction technique. Results showed that a marginal addition of 1.3% to the initial environmental impact of the superstructure results in a significant reduction over the full lifespan of the structural elements. This was attributed to the reusability of the connection and the ability to reuse structural elements in another building in a second life cycle.

From the results, it is concluded that a reusable and structurally feasible connection between hollow core slabs and integrated steel beams can be created with a small additional investment upfront, resulting in a substantially reduced environmental impact. The purpose of this study is to provide guidance and persuade decision makers, such as project developers, building owners, and government organisations, to consider implementing reusable construction methods in their real estate projects. By doing so, they can contribute to the objective of the European Green Deal [46] policies and the goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.