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Prospering in precast/prestressed

We focus this month on precast/prestressed in advance of the PCI Convention and National Concrete Bridge Conference, September 29–October 2 in Nashville. Plant and project visits remind us how the segment has fared during the recession: Producers tied to the transportation market, fair to strong; those in commercial building, fairly weak. Among the companies we examine are Florida’s Finfrock Design-Construction-Manufacture (pages 26–29) and Texas Concrete Partners (pages 30–33).

Putting it mildly, they hail from states at the opposite ends of a spectrum as measured by overall effects of the recession. Texas has enjoyed economic activity in the past five years many other states would envy, Florida included. As we saw in an April 2011 profile of the Metromont Corp., Bartow, Fla., greenfield plant, however, the Sunshine State is projected to return to a strong population growth clip by mid-decade—spurring demand for manufactured and ready mixed concrete toward more normal levels.

In this month’s cover report, we find Finfrock gearing up for a Florida rebound while forging ahead with technology that will improve productivity in architectural and structural panel fabrication. A new plant enclosure at the company’s Orlando headquarters is equipped with ceiling-mounted lasers to guide form preparation. When coupled with 3D modeling software of Finfrock subsidiary StructureWorks LLC, the lasers can reduce to minutes certain functions that might have once been measured in hours.

In addition to time savings with the laser-guided form preparation, the company is using StructureWorks’ PieceTracker product management system. Program developers note how it presents accurate, instantaneous fabrication, delivery and erection information; establishes finished inventory storage according to shipping schedule; tracks shipments from yard to jobsite; promotes teamwork behind data analysis and problem solving and prevention; and, supports initiatives for performance measurement and more efficient and responsible methods.

StructureWorks and PieceTracker deployment dovetail Finfrock’s introduction of the DualDeck Composite Truss. A simple flooring system with 40- to 60-ft. spans, it combines thin precast panels joined by steel angles and high strength deformed wire—becoming finish-ready floors or ceilings in mid- or high-rise buildings.

Moving to the Lone Star State, we visit a precast/prestressed producer in a segment considerably stronger than the Florida commercial building market. Texas Concrete Partners is among a handful of fabricators supplying a bridge segment fueled by demand from Texas Department of Transportation plus public or private toll road work. Boosting TexDOT activity are bond issues—bringing billions in road, bridge and transit investment beyond SAFETEA and MAP-21 funding—that state legislators approved during the past decade.

Texas Concrete has upgraded its Elm Mott operation, located near Waco along the Interstate 35 corridor, with one of the more ambitious batch plants delivered this year in precast/prestressed. The equipment meets immediate needs—faster output to eliminate mix delivery truck cues—and has capacity for future mix volume requirements as Texas Concrete expands its straight-line bulb tee girder production space.

The dual-lane plant is set up for two twin shaft mixers, which have become standard in precast/prestressed due to their speed and ability to raise cement efficiency through robust mixing cycles. Supplier Concrete Plant Restoration tells Concrete Products that the dual-lane design, with seperate weigh belts directly charging the twin shaft mixers, has the makings of a model for precast producers interested in eliminating priority call delays and mix delivery inefficiency.

Texas Concrete and Finfrock were both founded in the 1950s, at the dawn of the North American precast/prestressed industry. The plant investments they have made under contrasting conditions in their core markets show how the path to longevity is paved in innovation and efficiency.