There are more benefits to the precast concrete plant certification program than just a badge of honor for making quality products.
By Randy Lindsay-Brisbin And Dean Frank, P.E .
Randy Lindsay-Brisbin is former Chairman of NPCA’s Quality Assurance committee, and Dean Frank is formerly NPCA’s Director of Industry Standards & Certification Programs.
The NPCA Plant Certification Program is not the only way to ensure that a precast concrete plant is producing quality products – but it is the best way.
All reputable precasters want to produce top-notch, quality products. And it is vital to the well-being of the entire precast industry that quality products are manufactured at all plants. Poorly designed or poorly manufactured products can do far greater damage to the precast industry than its competition, such as plastics, composites or poured-in-place concrete.
So we all want to make quality products. How can the NPCA Plant Certification Program help us be quality producers?
Provides a “game plan.” The Plant Certification Program, through its Quality Control Manual, provides a comprehensive game plan that any precast concrete plant can follow to produce quality products. The manual covers such critical topics as management policies and commitment; quality control procedures; raw materials; concrete mixes; production practices; reinforcement fabrication and placement; pre-pour and post-pour inspections; casting, curing and stripping operations; storage and handling; and quality control record keeping. The game plan is clearly laid out.
Provides know-how. Besides the top-notch technical information provided in the QC Manual, certified plants also benefit from the annual visit by the inspectors. Inspectors from a respected independent engineering firm perform the on-site plant audits and bring with them the experience of observing many precast plants throughout the United States and Canada. At the conclusion of the inspection, the inspector conducts an exit interview to review his or her assessment of the day’s operations. While no pass/fail decisions are made at this meeting, the plant can benefit immediately from the inspector’s insights on how to improve processes, operations and products. Plants rate this opportunity for immediate feedback as one of the most important parts of the inspection process.
Within 30 days of the inspection, the plant will then receive a full report of the findings gathered by the inspector. This report will outline all deficiencies and areas of concern, giving the precast facility a checklist for improving not only the quality of its products but its score for the following year as well.
Provides discipline. Whether in business, sports, education or other life endeavors, quality doesn’t happen without a commitment to pursue it consistently and persistently. The precast concrete Plant Certification Program offers a discipline that management and production employees alike can use to ensure that important best practices are being followed day in and day out. The Plant Certification Program provides a framework through which production or material problems can be identified and corrected before product is sent to the customer. It offers a system of accountability that managers can use to secure productive and consistent quality from their plant operations.
Provides training. Just having a strong quality control system in place does not guarantee results. The precast concrete Plant Certification Program, through its Quality Control Manual, offers precast plant managers a vital tool for training employees. The QC Manual is a “must read” for all plant personnel and can help get everyone on the same page. Quality doesn’t occur by accident at a certified plant, but rather occurs because of trained employees following a common plan on a daily basis.
It’s cost effective. In surveys completed in 2002 and 2005, many certified plants indicated that they improved their profitability when they became certified. Areas of improvement brought about by participation in the program included savings from reduced rejects and field repairs; improvements in efficiency and production practices; increased business due to new referrals and repeat business; increased employee retention due to improved training; increased employee morale; and reduced time spent in the plant with local inspectors.
Commitment to quality requires an investment by the precast plant. Many plants must spend money to become compliant with the requirements of the Plant Certification Program. Examples of possible investments include cost of a part-time or full-time quality control manager; materials and product testing; equipment calibrations; modification to existing production practices; purchase of additional equipment; and cost of documentation, training and housekeeping.
Both surveys confirmed that plant certification is a good investment. After factoring in the application cost of the program, plants indicated that the program more than paid for itself.
The bigger picture of precast concrete plant certification
As shown, there are many benefits to the individual precaster who chooses to become certified. But are there advantages to the precast industry as a whole?
More and more specifiers and owners are demanding assurances that quality products be provided for their projects. Increasingly, specifiers are recognizing value in the quality certifications on which they rely. Today, approximately 20 state agencies, including DOTs and other agencies, recognize NPCA precast concrete plant certification as a program they can depend on to assure that best production and quality control practices are followed. The number of agencies realizing the benefits of certification continues to grow.
By joining together, precast plants can help ensure that the quality standards by which our products are evaluated will be determined by members of our industry, not by third parties. The best vehicle to do so is NPCA’s Plant Certification Program.
The future of precast concrete plant certification
Quality control programs and certifications in our industry are not going to go away. No doubt, the demand for such programs will only increase in years to come. Several certification programs for manufactured concrete products currently exist. The challenges facing these programs include:
- How to make the programs as affordable as possible, so as many precast plants as possible can benefit from certification;
- How to make the programs as comprehensive as possible, covering the wide range of products and manufacturing processes in the industry;
- How to provide options to producers who may want to certify only specific product lines; and
- How to make the programs as technically relevant as possible to address new technologies, processes and products that become available to the precast producer.
Currently the various industry certification programs are differentiated by the types of products the plants manufacture. The intent of the NPCA program is to be the most comprehensive and affordable certification program available and provide clear and concise quality standards to specifiers and owners of all concrete products.