Case Study Published: 8/01/2019

ICF Supplies Accelerates Innovation with SketchUp

“Insulated concrete forms are bringing unprecedented levels of efficiency to construction. Presenting 3D models in SketchUp is doing the same in the area of collaboration, enabling us to show the outcomes at the start and offer practical suggestions to architects. This building form and this software were made for each other; it's a perfect marriage.”

Alan King, Managing Director at ICF Supplies

Meet ICF Supplies

In 2012, Alan King discovered a revolutionary building system that not only changed his life, but is now changing the construction industry. It inspired him to close his successful architectural design practice and open ICF Supplies for business; an expression of his confidence in the material and the system he had found.  

Since then, ICF Supplies has become the world's largest distributor, outside the USA, of NUDURA insulated concrete forms (ICFs).  NUDURA forms consist of two panels of closed cell polystyrene, connected with an internal web system, enabling the forms to be stacked and steel reinforced. The polystyrene forms are built up on site and filled with ready-mixed concrete. This system provides a thermal mass, allowing structures to be heated and cooled more effectively.

The heat loss per cubic meter in a house built with the ICF product is around 0.1-0.2. This compares with a traditional brick and block construction at 4.0-5.0 and the average Passive House result of 1.4-1.5. Due to the integrated insulation within the ICF the construction becomes virtually airtight. Producing a fuel bill of around £150 per year for a three-bedroomed house, the ICF approach makes it 70% cheaper to run such a house.

As the construction industry continues to discover the benefits of this product, ICF Supplies now runs its own training academy providing intensive one-day courses for builders, contractors, tradespeople, architects, engineers, building officials and self-builders. The academy trains approximately 300 people a year.

The challenge – Educating, convincing, revealing: Bringing to life an approach to building that customers and architects are not familiar with 

Alan explains that the process of introducing construction industry professionals and end customers to an innovative building approach, when people incline naturally towards traditional methods, has always depended on being able to show the outcome at the outset. Alan and his team were aware of this requirement from the beginning. 

Having previously worked with Excitech in his earlier role as an architectural designer, for consultancy and license management on AutoCAD, Alan asked the Excitech team to recommend a solution to the problem of helping customers and partners to understand precisely what the ICF product might deliver. 

"The logic we show partners and customers about the energy savings is compelling. Everybody is interested in saving money. Where we really have to educate people – both construction professionals and customers – is in making the switch from bricks and mortar to a system they are usually unaware of. Excitech introduced us to SketchUp and the minute we saw it in action, we knew it was right for our purposes."

The solution – Accuracy, confidence and speed: Building a house in 3D before going on site

ICF Supplies have used SketchUp from their first project. Alan puts this down partly to the ease of use of the software and partly to the way in which the software offers all parties a far deeper understanding of where a design is going, from the moment they see it. 

"From the day we started the business we've been using SketchUp to do full visual justice to how the end product will look, at the planning and preparation stage. The time, effort and cost savings provide a powerful rationale, but SketchUp brings home the concept visually, emotionally and engagingly," explains Alan.

ICF Supplies has a team of CAD operators who have all taken SketchUp close to their hearts, given the intuitive way in which it works; taking architectural drawings and translating them into a 3D framework with little effort. 

"With 40 years' experience in this business, I have long lived through the frustration of trying to make architects' ideas come to life. Architects themselves have had the same frustrations: bringing 2D drawings to the table to try to explain to the uninitiated what the plans mean; introducing a flavour by showing photographs of similar materials or ideas in other settings on other projects, moving to the expense of artists' impressions and physical models. It all takes time and effort and never quite captures what you're trying to communicate. SketchUp Pro basically does it all."

Saving time, effort, and costs
ICF Supplies have adopted SketchUp Pro as an integral application within their daily operations. They feel it is not only the visual impact of 3D drawings that gives the solution its value as a creative tool, but also the stimulus it provides to teams when working together, enhancing collaboration. 

"Often it's only when you've taken the architectural drawing and converted it into a 3D model that unnecessary elements in the construction plan become apparent. In fact, they stand out like a sore thumb. We have had plenty of examples where SketchUp has enabled us to discuss potential glitches in an architect's drawing that we've then jointly resolved and avoided problems further down the line, as well as saving costs," says Alan. 

"SketchUp enables us to collaborate across the supply chain and it's a great tool for removing doubt or even the tendency for occasional guesswork at the planning stage. It makes estimating far easier, leading to more accurate quotations, and it helps reduce wastage on site."

Changing perceptions
Regarding the benefit of estimating accuracy, Alan explains that every course of ICF block goes on a layer within SketchUp Pro: "We use a wide range of the options from the SketchUp 3D warehouse. The estimator is then able to separate the layers and provide detailed costings on the basis of exploring the structure layer-by-layer in the model. 

Quantity surveyors are often telling us that we haven't quoted for enough material, but we always have. It's in ways like this that SketchUp is really helping to drive collaboration and accuracy. We have a product that's changing the construction industry and we are able to take it to market much more easily with a software tool that's also changing how people perceive things and how we all work together."

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