Ready for Business
- Published: Thursday, 19 April 2012 13:55
- Written by CP Staff
Greg Force is 2012 Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute Chairman
While the still slumping economy continues to be a point of focus throughout the construction industry, an increasing number of associations that count construction materials manufacturers as their members have made the necessary efficiency adjustments to not only maintain their ranks but in some cases grow and have budgets enough to keep valuable programs afloat. Newly elected Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute Chairman Greg Force, president & chief operating officer of Tindall Corporation, gives all credit to his predecessors, including Jim Sorenson of EnCon United and Donna Reuter of Oldcastle Precast, and PCI President James Toscas, P.E., who were “forward-thinking and conservative” in their approach to running the organization in the early days of the financial downturn.
“They took the necessary steps to consider how we would function with reduced revenues,” explains Force. “As a result, at this time fiscally, the Institute is in good shape. Of course now that we've been austere in terms of budget over the last several years, we're still trying to be cognizant about keeping programs funded. We really haven't had a major cutback in programming at all. We had some staff reduction, and that was painful, but even that was several years ago. But we haven't seen much reduction in membership [currently about 150 domestic producer members; 100 affiliate members] for the last several years. I think that speaks highly of the strengths of the companies in the Institute.
“Everyone is getting used to working under lean principles, and PCI is a shining example of that. These folks are doing quite a bit of work with a smaller staff. I think when the economy does return, one of the first things we need to pay attention to is building up our staff to more viable levels. We've watched our cash flow and we've delayed a few initiatives, such as overhauling our website, which is something we fully intend on doing, but bringing it to completion is taking longer than we'd intended.”
With PCI's website, Force says the group would like to increase its user friendliness, the opportunities to capture and exchange information, the amount of data that is accessible, and the number of offerings, particularly from a technical standpoint. “We are going toward electronic publication of some of our new manuals and technical publications, and we want people to be able to acquire those in a more straight-forward manner on the site,” he says. “We want people to know they can go the site, not just to see fancy pictures, but to get usable data that they can put to use for their benefit.”
Force acknowledges that forecasting and gauging the strength of the financial upswing is a difficult prospect, with cautious optimism being the order of the day. “We've fairly well determined there isn't going to be a significant upswing the next couple of years,” he admits. “It's the rate of growth that is still a question. PCI is still taking a conservative view in terms of making its plans for the next budget cycle and the one after that. We want to make sure we aren't doing anything that would allow us to get too far ahead of ourselves, and we're watching revenues very closely.
“There are certainly pockets of the country that are seeing or anticipating things to be very good, particularly in the upper Midwest, where there seems to be a lot of activity. I don't know if other parts of the country will see things quite as robustly come back, but I think people are getting a sense that things have leveled off and are making progress in the right direction. Both for Tindall and the PCI membership, there has been quite an emphasis on Lean principles, doing more with less, and being focused on creating efficiencies. I think that's the truth of manufacturing businesses across the country. And I think those who stay afloat and come out the other side are going to be better, stronger companies as a result of operating this way.”
FINDING NEW MARKETS
According to Force, most companies are turning over any rock they can in the hopes of finding new business, perhaps in areas where they had not looked before. “I've been in the industry nearly 30 years, and I know that one of the challenges is asking, 'How can we make this out of precast, and how can we do it better than the more traditional types of construction?'” he says. “I've heard people talk about making log cabins out of precast, and they're very successful with that. I'm also hearing about projects in transportation, including high-speed rail and prefabricated or precast pavement, in addition to things in the bridge industry.
“Over the past several years, there has been much more reliance on work in the public sector, particularly with military construction. Precast has always been a good solution for multi-family housing, and that goes back 30-40 years. There was a time when we were so busy that is was difficult to be more forward thinking and attack potential new markets sooner. That's too bad, because the result is playing catch-up, since many of these areas need the seeds planted early on, especially with some of the government work.
“At this point, people are focused on the manufacturing sector, industrial, energy, data centers—those are going up like 7-11s all over the country. And precast's speed of construction, integrity of construction really lend itself to that. These projects require design for extreme lateral load situations, and heavy gravity loads elevated off the ground. That plays to precast's sweet spot.
“On top of that, being able to integrate the sustainable approach—something that is very much on people's minds these days—helps people look at the long-term assessment of the cost to have this structure in operation. We think that also plays to precast's strengths. In many cases, architects and precast manufacturers are looking beyond even what LEED certification demands. The owners are demanding that the designers and contractors come up with solutions that give them those long-term benefits of sustainable construction.
“One of the the things we really have seen in the market is better pinpointing what our true marketshare is, and finding opportunities for improvement. For example, we know that precast has traditionally done well, and continues to do well, with parking decks. But in insulated sandwich panels, there's been an uptick in the last year or two because of their inherent thermal benefits. We're seeing more opportunities for business in that area, as well as the ability to do quite a bit of architectural enhancement, certainly at Tindall that's the case.”
Force says that the total precast system approach, something that actively has been around for a long time, is gaining further ground around the country as owners and designers gain an understanding and appreciation of the inherent benefits of precast construction. The concept is where all major building components, including the structural frame and architectural cladding, are integratively designed with precast concrete.
“That's been a point of emphasis for years,” Force explains. “And it's the most viable solution, particularly when you have the precaster involved in embellishing or developing the conceptual designs. He brings the best knowledge on how to use that medium for construction. There has been so much work by our Institute and its technical committees in terms of understanding the total structural response of precast. The work that was done in the seismic area on diaphragms, making sure that the diaphragms were integrally tied together to act as a unit and transfer the forces to the various elements and the focus that has been given to load paths and the connections, that's been a big point of interest. I think that's led us to this further exploitation of total precast.
“The marketing folks were able to appreciate it all the more when they could bring the aesthetic qualities to the forefront. For so long, architectural precast was used as cladding for other types of buildings. Now, one of the major points of total precast solutions is that the architecturally enhanced element is an integral part of the structure itself, rather than being a redundant clad-on piece. Some producers have promoted that for a number of years, but I think it's something that we can emphasize throughout the country, particularly for mixed-use buildings that might have parking with retail, with office or with residential. In the last five or 10 years, that's where we've seen the greatest utilization of total precast solutions.”
GETTING MEMBERS INVOLVED
Much like his predecessor, Force sees a key element of his one-year term as being getting more involvement from PCI's membership and committee structure. “It's one thing to be somewhat removed and then throw stones and say, 'I don't know what I'm getting out of my membership.' There are plenty of opportunities to know that,” he says. “To Donna's credit and the leadership of PCI, there has been much improved communication between PCI and its membership. Jim Toscas does an excellent job with his President's Message. We get quite a bit of e-newsletters coming to us. If you don't know what's going on at PCI, you just aren't paying attention.
“I have an engineering background and I was involved with the technical committees, but as I moved up into more of a managerial role at Tindall, I get less involved with that and that led to me being less involved with PCI. But since I've gotten more involved again, I see there are so many good initiatives and activity going on that should preclude any doubt about value proposition. The more involved you are, the more evident that is. So that's certainly one of my objectives, trying to get that message out to the membership at large. Find a place to plug in and help us steer this ship in the direction it needs to go.
“As far as inviting people to come along, where we're really doing a good job with that is with our professional membership. We have more than 2,000 individual professional members and student members. We're doing a great job getting the word out to the campuses—engineering and architectural students—to get on board and expose them to what's going on.”
SUSTAINABLE PLANT PROGRAM
Although still in its earliest stages, PCI recently formally launched a pilot Sustainable Plant Program for producer members. The Institute released details on its tracking tool and guidance documents at its 2011 Salt Lake City convention. “It's a purely voluntary effort, but our Quality Assurance Council, Sustainability Council, and our Pant Certification Committee worked collaboratively to come up with a list of things that plants could be doing to make a plant be of maximum benefit to the overall construction team in terms of being able to prove its influence on sustainability,” Force explains. “To be able to show that we have recirculation systems for our washdowns, for example, shows that we are making efforts that are more knowledge based, not only for the benefit of the environment but also for what we can bring to the construction team.
“That is being rolled out this year at a number of plants, and it's going to evolve until it becomes part of our certification process, I believe. Tindall is one of the companies that volunteered to be a part of the pilot; one of our plants is doing it as sort of a pilot for the company, seeing how this works out and seeing how we do with it. We're collecting the data, doing the recordkeeping and trying to be good stewards of the environment. We would anticipate that very shortly we'll roll this out to all the Tindall plants.
Force adds that PCI recently instigated a life-cycle assessment project that will project, cradle-to-grave, the environmental and energy performance of a typical precast structure over its lifetime. “Initiated by PCI's Sustainability and R&D Councils, this comparison on comparable precast, cast-in-place and steel structures looks at a range of energy and environmental impacts—not limited to just greenhouse gas emissions,” Force details. “We are completed with the tracking, and the data is being compiled, making certain we've done a parametric analysis to quantify the sensitivity to various design parameters. We anticipate that by the end of the year, we'll have the full report ready for review by PCI's Technical Activities Council.”
LEVERAGING THE BRAINTRUST
Having spent a great deal of time on various committees throughout his time with PCI—Parking Deck, Chair; Justice Facilities, Chair; Technical Activities, member; 7th Edition of PCI Handbook, Chair—Force is well acquainted with the technical side of the business, but as he recalls, things are always moving forward and changing. “I want to continue to leverage that. It never ceases to amaze me the body of knowledge and true experts we have in the field that are collaborating to work on these various committees to produce these technical publications,” he says. “It's important that people are using that knowledge in terms of making sure these things are translating into influences for construction through codes, as well as practical applications.
“There's more engagement to be gained by having more producer members involved to see these things and spark these ideas and push these new ideas forward. I think we'll see more efforts going forward, in terms of looking for the larger-type projects. Some of these projects move so fast and are so big that you may see multiple companies tag-team to get them done. It allows us to distance ourselves from other types of construction by showing that we can put a building in place faster than any other type of construction, as well as its being well designed.
“The other thing we need to continue pushing is the reliability and viability of our certification programs. We've had the plant certification program in place for 45 years, and a couple of Tindall plants were recognized for having been participants since the program's inception, as did others. We're also waiting to bring that focus to the field; we have very competent erectors out there, but we also need to have that level of inspection that augments and assists the special inspections the code calls for. We've almost completed special inspection training for third-party inspectors for the field installation of precast concrete.”
PCI's continuing education program continues to see an increased number of attendees to such events as monthly webinars, including the recent “Perspective Gained from the Earthquakes of Japan, Chile and New Zealand,” which drew more than 400 participants, according to Force. “It was fascinating what the team brought back from a technical standpoint, such as what they learned about the response of precast structures, the discreet points of load transfer, and how total structures performed overall. They also observed some innovative designs as well as buildings that had been up for some time that held up quite well,” he says. “To see that much solid evidence of resilience of this type of construction really speaks well of precast. We talked about the viability of total precast buildings; this is great supporting evidence as to the merits.
“It goes to our long-term strengths of leveraging our technical brain trust, we can continue to build on what we already know. That was the point of sending these teams to these three places. We could have sat back and said, 'We'll wait and see what we hear,' but we wanted to be more active. And the people in all three countries were extremely accommodating and collaborative with us. There are a lot of positives to come out of that, and it helps us build on our body of knowledge.”
The second edition of the Seismic Design Manual was released in conjunction with the Structural Engineering Institute Congress in Chicago at the end of March; it should be available electronically and, in limited quantities, hardcover format. “The design parameters, requirements and body of knowledge as far as the characteristics of structures is always changing and progressing, so it's about keeping current,” Force says. “By the time the third edition of the Seismic Manual comes out, those lessons learned from those three events will be reflected in those pages.” In addition, the delayed publication of PCI's new hollow core manual will happen by the end of the year. The manual was drafted entirely by volunteers with no paid consultants.
When last we spoke to a PCI chairman, some areas of the country were adopting new bridge girder profiles in an effort to save money on certain projects, a trend that PCI was tracking closely. “The reaction to these new girders has been very good,” Force declares. “People that are producing bridges are proactive in trying to push the envelope. The NEXT beam was developed by the PCI Northeast Bridge Technical Committee—comprised of precast manufacturers, design consultants and DOTs—to be efficiently designed to minimize labor at both the manufacturing plant and the job site.
“The development of this beam started five or six years ago, and was first introduced in 2008. It has already been specified in projects in New England, and has been accepted for use or as an allowed alternate in the mid-Atlantic, and is being evaluated in the Carolinas and Georgia.”
Tindall is a diverse industry leader in the design, manufacture and erection of precast, prestressed concrete systems for mixed-use, educational, commercial, industrial and parking structures. The company also is a leading supplier of underground structures and fully upfitted modular prison cells.
In 1963, the Lowndes family purchased Tindall Concrete Pipe Co., Spartanburg, S.C., which had six employees manufacturing concrete utility pipes. The company’s product line soon expanded to include additional underground utility units, with particular attention to manholes, and by 1967 Tindall completed a new facility in Spartanburg and began manufacturing prestressed concrete framing system components.
The 1970s saw steady growth and the successful completion of noteworthy projects in the Carolinas, which brought about the company’s first expansion in 1974, when the Spartanburg facility was upgraded and expanded to meet increasing demand. During the 1980s, the company's success required a new office building to house the growing engineering and administrative functions. In 1986, Tindall purchased two precast production facilities in the metro Atlanta area, forming Tindall Concrete Georgia, Inc. Two years later, the Lowndes family formed Tindall Concrete Virginia, Inc., and established a state-of-the-art production facility near Petersburg. The company’s product line also expanded to include correctional cell modules.
In the early 1990s, the company initiated operations in Mississippi with a major Biloxi parking deck project, followed shortly by the opening of a fully operational satellite facility in the city. With the opening of this fifth facility, the company had a total production area of more than 350,000 sq. ft. In 1997, Tindall Corporation was formed, uniting all Tindall entities under one corporate name. The name change allowed a stronger identity in all three major market areas—precast, prestressed concrete framing systems; correctional cell modules; and underground utility products.
Tindall entered the 21st century resolved to continue providing its customers with the finest products, expertise and service to assist them in gaining a competitive advantage in their markets. This dedication has resulted in Tindall becoming one of the largest privately held precast companies in the country, with plants strategically located throughout the south.
In recent years, Tindall has opened a high-tech precast facility in Moss Point, Miss., to replace the Biloxi plant damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005; the Virginia plant went through its third expansion and capacity increase to meet the growing demand of the Virginia, Maryland and District of Columbia areas; and production of correctional cell modules began at the newly built San Antonio facility.
Prestressed/Precast Concrete Institute
Although the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (PCI) has headquarters in Chicago, its membership ranges worldwide. PCI maintains a full staff of technical and marketing professionals to foster greater understanding and use of precast and prestressed concrete.
Founded in 1954, PCI is the foremost developer of standards and methods for designing, fabricating, and constructing precast concrete structures. The institute also operates the world's leading certification program for producers and individuals in the precast concrete structures industry.
PCI publishes a broad array of periodicals, technical manuals, reports, and other informational documents, including an award-winning technical journal. It also conducts educational seminars, technical conferences, conventions, exhibitions, and awards programs.
Institute members include companies comprising the precast concrete structures industry, as well as architects, consultants, contractors, developers, educators, engineers, materials suppliers, service providers, and students. PCI has 11 regional affiliates across the U.S. and maintains relationships with allied organizations, both national and worldwide.
James G. Toscas, P.E., is PCI president. The institute moved in February 2010 to its new address at 200 W. Adams St., Suite 2100, Chicago, IL 60606; tel.: 312/786-0300; fax: 312/621-1114; e-mail: ; website: www.pci.org.