Renier Mulder

When your passion becomes your job

Our South African project engineer Renier Mulder already knew at an early stage where he wanted to go professionally. “I’ve been building and taking things apart since a very young age. So, it was always clear to me, that I’m going to be an engineer.” At our Middle East and Africa Engineering Competence Center, he has turned his passion into a profession by bringing 3D models to life. We spent a day looking over his shoulder to find out what fascinates him so much about his job.

It's Monday morning in Cape Town, South Africa, and already pleasantly warm and sunny. But the beautiful weather is not the only reason why Renier is in such a good mood. He is currently working on the 3D model of a complex project – the expansion of the aquarium in Seattle, USA. “There are no straight walls, just double-curved surfaces and lots of openings,” Renier tells us enthusiastically as he guides us through the 3D model.

The expansion of the aquarium is a truly unique task. It is one of those projects that many engineers call their “once-in-a-lifetime project”. Due to the special architecture, it was not clear at the beginning whether the building could even be built as planned. Creative solutions, countless calculations, customised formwork and effective scaffolding systems are required. While the team in the USA is mainly responsible for providing the right formwork and scaffolding solution, they asked Renier if he could help with the 3D models. Because the project could only be realised with the help of sophisticated 3D planning that looks beyond the horizon – precisely Renier's expertise. “It was immediately clear to me: I want to do this,” he says admiringly.  

“I like zooming in and finding 3D solutions to problems. The more complex, the better.”

Renier Mulder
Project Engineer at our Middle East and Africa Engineering Competence Center

“I like zooming in and finding 3D solutions to problems. The more complex, the better.”

Close collaboration across borders

One of the people Renier works with the most on this project is Dan Burke, Lead Engineer at PERI USA. While he’s based in North America, Renier has his office in South Africa. But that’s not a barrier at all. Quite the opposite! The two work closely and seamlessly together, making effective use of their time. “At the end of his day, Dan makes a handover with all the to-dos and sends it to me. As my day has just started, I can get straight to work,” Renier explains. So, every morning, Renier starts with lots of coffee and checking emails from Dan.

In this project, Renier’s task is to create 3D models that show what the formwork looks like around the concrete. On this morning, Renier receives a picture of the concrete shape from Dan. “So today, I make sure that the shuttering around it conforms to the concrete shape”, says Renier with excitement and continues: “The shaping surface was made of CNC shaped foam, so the challenge for me is to make the foam volume as small as possible so that it can be properly shuttered.” And then Renier already opens his 3D tool AutoCAD.

While the programme loads, he tells us that the whole team works in phases. “That means we first make a model of one portion. Then comes the next one. By cutting it down, you get the job done,” says Renier. Although it’s a simple method, it requires a maximum of concentration and precision. “That’s when I don’t want to be disturbed for a while and I jokingly say to my colleagues 'excuse me, I'm going into the matrix'.”

Then Renier starts working on his 3D model to find a fitting idea for one corner of the curved concrete walls. Due to its complexity, the Seattle Aquarium is different than the projects Renier worked on in the past. “There are various ways to assemble VARIO GT 24 girder wall formwork. The challenge here is to find the right combination of standard parts and methods and combine one or more standard solutions into a completely new solution”, says Renier. The more he thinks about and tries out different ideas, the better they become. “At the end, I want to find the best practical solution while still fulfiling the project requirements,” he says.

3D Model

Renier found his place at PERI

Just after noon Renier is off to lunch. “This always gives me time to let my ideas sink in and look at them again later with a fresh head. Or get inspiration for new ideas from the conversations.” In the canteen, he meets up with his colleagues and tells them about the Seattle Aquarium project. “With the VARIO GT 24 girder wall formwork, we already have the most versatile standard system which is intended for complex building geometries. However, as the shape of the aquarium is so complicated and the requirements for the concrete walls are so high, we cannot use a standard VARIO configuration as it is”, he says. So, Renier instead uses an alternative arrangement. “We could use the panels from the VARIO GT 24 girder wall formwork system but flip the orientation from normal. We then arrange GT-girders horizontally, with the steel beams vertically”, he says. This allows us to build taller and heavier panels while still being able to lift them without the need for special lifting equipment. At the same time, we avoid having to split the panels into smaller portions.

An hour later, Renier is back at his desk, tinkering with his idea again to tweak it further. He transfers his thoughts directly into his 3D environment and little by little realises that this could be the breakthrough of the day! Once he has worked through all the to-dos from Dan's email, he finally hands the most recent 3D model back to the US team before starting with the next adjacent portion of the curved wall. “First, fresh coffee, then it’s back to the salt mine,” Renier says with a wink and a smile.

Working with passion and dedication

After a follow up call from Dan to finalize the 3D model from earlier, Renier closes his computer and goes home feeling like he has accomplished something – not only because of solving a complicated problem in 3D space, but because he was able to live out his passion by creating 3D models. “Seeing a solution come together in the end is what makes me very happy,” says Renier.

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