Plant certification programs can provide assurance that consistent quality products are used on your projects.
By NPCA Staff
The competitive bid process is used regularly in the construction industry – it’s the mainstay for many project owners, especially federal, state and local government entities. The process usually works quite well. However, in highly competitive instances, the contractors (and their subcontractors) often are forced to lower their bids in efforts to increase the likelihood of being awarded the job, often at the expense of quality. In turn, the project owners are put into situations where they must police their projects. A prime example is when state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) send field inspectors to precast concrete plants to observe the precaster’s manufacturing process.
Shrinking department and project budgets only compound the problem. Consequently, DOTs and other specifiers are seeking ways to decrease the number of field plant inspections. Wouldn’t it be better if the precast concrete industry policed itself and assumed the burden of quality assurance?
Fortunately, a tool exists that benefits the project owner, the specifier and the precast concrete manufacturer, all at the same time. Plant certification programs – both mandatory and voluntary – have proven very successful for specifiers in addressing the issue of quality manufacturing while sparing time and resources used for plant inspections.
Precast and prestressed manufacturers can also greatly benefit from plant certification programs, and the benefits are not limited to U.S. manufacturers. Canadian precasters who provide products for U.S. state DOTs not only would meet the mandatory requirements required by the state specifier, but the certified precaster shows a commitment to quality and achieves a more efficient manufacturing process by participating in a certification program.
Good for you
On projects where a plant certification program is required, a single standard of quality is set for all precast and prestressed concrete manufacturers and their products, effectively leveling the playing field for all plants wishing to supply products to the project.
The program creates additional opportunities for plants and the precast and prestressed concrete industry as a whole by showing a commitment to produce high-quality products. As the level of quality increases, satisfaction from owners and specifiers improves, the reputation of the industry grows and the number of new opportunities for plants increases.
Plant certification provides recognition for plants that strive for and achieve a high degree of excellence. A certified plant stands out among plants wishing to supply products to a particular project.
NPCA’s Plant Certification Program is a valuable tool to precast and prestressed concrete plants of all sizes. Of the more than 300 certified plants in the Program, 57 percent have 30 or fewer production employees, and 41 percent have 20 or fewer. The average number of employees for all certified plants in NPCA’s Plant Certification Program is 28. NPCA’s QC Manual is an essential resource for smaller plants because it can provide the framework for a formal quality control program. Likewise, the NPCA QC Manual can enhance already existing quality control programs to provide an added layer of quality for the plant.
A survey conducted by NPCA polled certified plants regarding their opinions of the NPCA Plant Certification Program. Ninety-six percent of the respondents reported that the certification program was beneficial to their plants. In addition, 100 percent of the respondents reported that they would recommend other precast concrete plants become certified.
The survey results also showed plants can save a substantial amount of money, often more than the cost of the program, by becoming certified. This is possible because plant employees learn proper manufacturing and quality control procedures, which lead to a reduction of rejections and repairs, greater efficiency and increased new and repeat business.
Good for them
Project owners and specifiers can benefit by requiring that precast and prestressed concrete used on their projects be produced in certified plants. Such benefits include:
• Greater assurance of quality and durability. Precast and prestressed concrete components delivered to the job site are produced in a plant that is certified as a high-quality manufacturer. Higher quality leads to greater durability of the precast and prestressed units, resulting in reduced life cycle costs.
• Reduced field plant inspections by agencies. By pushing responsibility for inspections and quality assurance back to the precast and prestressed concrete producers and the industry, some DOTs and other agencies have been able to reduce the frequency of their own plant inspections. This allows agencies to either reallocate or reduce manpower, providing greater efficiency or cost savings.
• Industry self-regulation of quality issues. Self-regulation by the industry removes some of the burden and cost from the agencies. This also forces the companies and associations representing the industry to constantly strive to improve in the eyes of the specifying community. As experts in manufacturing precast and prestressed concrete, the industry should be the best resource for maintaining a certification program.
• Prequalified list of quality producers. By certifying more than 500 precast and prestressed concrete plants across the United States and Canada, various third-party certification
programs have built a substantial list of manufacturers that meet stringent quality control programs. This offers specifiers a list of precast and prestressed plants that have made the conscious effort to be among the best quality producers.
• Greater quality assurance for products received from producers located out of state. Many
agencies have problems personally inspecting production facilities that lie outside of their state or region. Certification helps ensure consistent quality regardless of where the product is manufactured.
Adding it up
Plant certification programs generally have three basic components: a quality control manual, a predetermined grading schedule and an inspection process.
Precast and prestressed concrete-specific plant certification programs
generally include minimum requirements in their quality control manuals for anything that can affect the quality of the final product, including:
• Plant quality control procedures and management policies
• Raw materials such as admixtures, aggregates and cement
• Concrete mixes
• Batching and mixing
• Plant safety
• Production practices
• Fabrication of reinforcement and blockouts
• Pre-pour, casting, curing, stripping and repair operations
• Post-pour and final inspections
• Product handling, storage and shipment
• Concrete and aggregate testing
• Quality control record-keeping
Plants are scored on the degree of compliance with the requirements in the quality control manual using a predetermined grading schedule. All plants must attain a minimum passing score in order to be certified.
NPCA plant certification inspections are performed by independent engineering firms, ensuring an unbiased opinion of the plant. Additionally, since the inspectors have usually been in numerous plants, they can offer tips to an individual plant on improving operations, efficiency and quality.
“Our inspection last year was great,” said Donnie Womack, plant manager for Barbour Concrete, Independence, Mo. “(The inspector) was thorough in his inspection, and he actually understood what a precast plant has to achieve on a day-to-day basis.” Expecting to hear only criticisms during the closing conference, the plant workers heard an unexpected message from the inspector. “He recognized all the hard work we have put into being an NPCA certified plant. They sat up a little straighter in their chairs and held their heads a little higher,” exclaimed Womack. “It was a great feeling. They walked out of that room focused and determined to do better.”
By specifying that precast and prestressed concrete manufacturers supplying products to a particular project must be certified, the minimum level of quality is set for all producers who bid on that project.
The precast and prestressed concrete industry helps build confidence and ensures quality in the projects of owners and specifiers while benefiting the industry as a whole. Precast and prestressed concrete-specific plant certification programs reinforce the inherent characteristics of all precast and prestressed concrete products – namely quality, value and permanence.
For more information regarding the NPCA Plant Certification Program, please contact Phillip Cutler, P.E., (800) 366-7731 or [email protected]. For assistance with specification writing, please contact Claude Goguen, vice president of technical services, at (800) 366-7731 or [email protected].