Visualisation Hanze University

Hanze University chooses Signa®

Signa was not the first choice of JHK Architects and client Hanze University in Groningen. ‘Initially, the architect was leaning towards a timber frame construction faced with E-Board®, in a brickwork pattern he designed himself,’ says project acquisition manager Cees Groot.

‘When it comes to earthquake resistance, however, Signa is a better choice.’ And that just happened to be a crucial factor for the new construction and renovation of the university in earthquake-prone Groningen. Kobe Langenaeker, product engineer architect, explains: ‘E-Board is fully screwed or glued and is therefore quite stiff. For aesthetic reasons, it runs continuously over the timber frame elements. In the event of an earthquake, this is quite vulnerable. Signa has just a few attachment points per panel, making it possible to place the earthquake joint behind a panel. It's not visible, but it is functional.’ 

Unique brick

Contractor, architect, and client were quickly convinced. After a visit to a project in Antwerp (BE), all doubts were gone: it would be Signa on a timber frame construction. ‘Vandersanden supplies the facade system, but not the prefab elements,’ says Cees. ‘That's why collaboration was sought with Machiels of Genk (BE), which produces prefabricated panels and installs Signa. Machiels was the contractor for the Signa project in Antwerp, too, which was also done on a timber frame construction without any need for scaffolding.’

After the choice for Signa was made, a brick was chosen by the architect. ‘That turned out to be rather challenging,’ Cees says. ‘The initial choice proved unsuitable. In fact, ultimately a special brick was developed, the Saumur Snowdust, in roughly the same colour and with a special finishing process, in our factory in Beek.’

Each panel is different

Then the engineering could begin. Kobe: ‘The parameters were defined, but at the time we got the green light we still didn't really know whether the project was feasible. The execution required quite a bit of calculation and research, and lots of consultation with Machiels. In doing so, we looked at possible limitations in the combination of timber frame construction and Signa, the number of panels, the dimensions etc. Initially, the project consisted of around 200 different types of panels. We investigated things like whether we could reduce the number of panels by choosing slightly different dimensions.

By optimising the size of the bricks and the joint size, we were able to reduce the number of different panels to 150, with bricks calibrated to specific dimensions.’ First a test panel was made. After approval, each panel was individually drawn in. ‘It's important to be very precise,’ he says. ‘A small mistake or unclear line leads directly to production problems, and that's obviously something we want to avoid. Each panel has a unique QR code so it's always traceable.’  

Each panel is different

Finger on the pulse

Advisor Victor Albers: ‘As time goes on, Vandersanden is taking on an increasingly advisory role. This project is a good example. We look at the building and assess what will work best technically. That goes far beyond advice on the brick or system; it also includes the underlying structure, the connections between them, etc. If necessary, we also recommend suppliers, such as Machiels in this case.

We want to make the process as easy as possible for the customer, and we have the technical and commercial people in house to make that happen. Incidentally, for this project, the contractor's contract partner is not Vandersanden but rather Machiels. This makes sense, because they're providing the engineering and production of the prefab elements, which our product is attached to. Machiels is also responsible for the transport and on-site installation, and they provide the warranty. Of course, I keep my finger on the pulse and attend all the meetings. It's important to be transparent in such a large project, even when it comes to price agreements.’

Lessons learned

‘The first 800 m² (of a total of 2,500 m²) have now been delivered and installed. So far, to everyone's satisfaction.’ Victor: ‘We're learning a lot from this project. Many locations (Hedikhuizen, Beek, and Lanklaar) and departments (acquisition, sales, technology, production) are involved. Clear communication is crucial, to ensure the product that eventually rolls out of the factory is the same as what Cees sold. The first evaluation with Machiels was completed not so long ago. There were quite a few points for improvement, but I see that as positive. Together we can optimise, not just for this customer but for all future customers too. The following projects with Signa are already underway.’

Together we build greatness

A lot of time and effort has been put into this project at several factories to ensure everything runs as smoothly as possible: in Hedikhuizen for production of the bricks, which were made slightly larger, in Lanklaar for production of the Signa® panels, and in Beek for the ‘snowdusting’. Everyone at the company has been very flexible for this project. Thank you all!

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