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Metromont, Tindall break new ground

In the first of two 2011 issues on precast/prestressed, we find the strongest story candidates in the Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., market: Metromont Corp., whose Bartow, Fla., plant is our cover feature (pages 20-23) subject, and Tindall Corp., whose proposed Kansas plant for precast wind turbine tower bases (page 12), warrants future spotlight. Both producers have responded to unique market catalysts with two of the more ambitious greenfield operations we’ll see this decade.

Prior to its early-2011 acquisition of West Palm Beach modular precast specialist Royal Concrete Concepts, Metromont saw Florida as fertile ground for a combined structural and architectural site. Sunshine State building activity through 2007 drove new ready mixed, block & paver, and pipe & precast plant openings, along with additional cement production and distribution facilities. Concurrent investment in precast/prestressed building product capacity seemingly lagged during a 15-year or longer window.

Enter Metromont at or near the bottom of the Florida market cycle, albeit with a concrete product subject to factors other than those straining the state’s ready mixed and concrete masonry producers. Phase one at the plant in Bartow, located between Orlando and Tampa, has crews testing fast, efficient mix delivery by traveling rail-mounted mix and bridge crane-mounted casting buckets. The initial production bay, plus companion bays in the master plan, could see multiple mix buckets transfer perhaps 400 yd. of structural or architectural concrete per hour—traveling nearly a mile of track.

How many mixer trucks or mix transport vehicles would that quantity require at schedule peaks, and at what volume of process water compared to automated, high-pressure washout stations Metromont incorporates at Bartow? The plant offers a future glimpse of sustainability-rooted production methods, coupled with automation-anticipating labor limitations at a concrete plant subject to Florida heat.

Metromont’s move is timed with construction demand spurred by likely 2012-13 resumption of pre-2007 population growth pace, amounting to 3 million new residents per decade. The company’s South Carolina neighbor has a bold move of its own, underpinned by federal and state governments’ renewable energy policies. Backed by nearly $17 million in Department of Energy tax credits, Tindall Corp. is scheduled to break ground this month for a sprawling plant with narrow product scope: pie-shaped precast segments or staves. When placed vertically in 10- to 16-piece cones, then post-tensioned in multiple directions, they form the Atlas Concrete Tower Base (CTB) for wind turbine masts.

The Atlas CTB is one part familiar value proposition, the other engineering mastery. It offers the plant-based quality control precast producers have long cited for alternatives to cast-in-place methods, and bears on a ring whose ready mixed concrete requirements—about 115 yd. for a 325-ft. tower—are one-third those of deep foundations turbine masts normally require. Citing streamlined foundation work and the utility of post-tensioned precast staves, Tindall engineers portray wind farm contractors’ site work as more erecting than constructing.

The greater value aspect lies in the Atlas CTB’s ability to economically elevate turbines above a common 325-ft. level toward 460 ft., where stronger wind patterns net higher wattage. Tindall engineers appear to have tackled a cost challenge—steel mast component hauling, welding and erection—that has limited the number of taller turbine structures capable of tapping optimal wind patterns.

The Kansas and Florida developments in no way insulate Tindall and Metromont from the soft building market projected for the next 18 to 24 months, but they remind us how leadership in precast/prestressed production belongs to those who can execute in terms of decades, versus years or quarters.