By Mason Nichols
When Nissan introduced the GT-R sports car in 2007, it became one of the fastest production vehicles under $100,000 available in the world, satisfying consumers’ dual needs for speed and affordability. Today, the GT-R continues to be a popular choice among motor enthusiasts looking to quell their desire for speed without breaking the bank.
While speed is incredibly important in the world of transportation, it is paramount to success in the construction industry, where completing a job on time – or ahead of schedule – is essential for earning a profit. Thankfully, precast concrete is affordable, often saving contractors thousands of dollars in on-site time, and fast, with installation times as short as a few hours to one business day.
A competitive advantage
As the construction industry continues to evolve, it takes on more characteristics of society at large; notably, an insatiable desire for instant results. Mike Vaughn, P.E., president and general manager for Vaughn Concrete Products Inc., has witnessed this and many other changes over the past 30 years. “Today, general contractors don’t have people that are as well-versed in doing many different things like building forms and cutting, bending and tying rebar,” he said. “The lack of a labor force is one thing, but everybody now is just in a considerably faster-paced mode.”
This faster-paced mode has resulted in jobs being pigeonholed into tighter and tighter completion windows. Although many building materials simply can’t keep up, precast concrete has continually met and exceeded the needs of the industry, as showcased by the projects below.
“Everything was just perfect”
After suffering through several months with a failing septic system, officials at West Hickory Haven, an assisted living facility in Milford, Mich., decided to install a new wastewater treatment tank. According to Jeff Field, president and owner of J.W. Field Grading & Excavating, West Hickory Haven worked with the local health department for approximately six months before receiving project approval.
Though the project was initially designed for a cast-in-place solution, Field contacted Lauren Sustic, product engineer for Advance Concrete Products Co. (ACP), to determine if a more efficient method could be employed. Sustic submitted drawings to Field for the new monster-sized precast tank, which measured 27 ft, 8 in. long by 16 ft, 8 in. wide by 7 ft, 4 in. high. Field then received approval from the county and project engineer for the changed plans.
Despite working with ACP in the past, Sustic noted Field was concerned whether the tank would be installed correctly and on time. “He asked questions like, ‘How long will this take?’ and ‘What if we don’t have enough time?’” Sustic said. “We simply told him that this was a normal installation for Advance and that everything would be finished before he knew it.”
And it certainly was. According to Sustic, the behemoth tank was installed in less than five hours, a feat that greatly impressed Field.
“The precast solution probably saved six weeks on the job by them doing it ahead of time and storing it in their yard,” Field said. “The entire digging of the tank and setting the product took basically two days, and both the county and engineer loved it. The project fit all the little measurements and keyways, and everything was just perfect.”
Precast to the rescue
When a wildfire ravaged northern Arizona in 2010, many residents were left without access to their homes. The fire, which took more than a week to contain, damaged several wooden bridges, leaving affected homeowners in need of a quick solution. Thanks to its speedy turnaround time, precast concrete came to the rescue.
Eric Jensen, chief marketing officer for Jensen Precast, said his company manufactured a series of 12-ft-long, 6-ft-high culverts to restore access for those in need. “We were able to pull off a couple of these bridges in literally less than a week,” he said. “Cast-in-place would not even have the most remote dream to do it that quickly.”
Precast’s speed is also proving handy on another of the company’s projects currently being planned for the city of San Francisco. Jensen said his company is negotiating with the city to install underground infrastructure in the heart of the downtown district.
In this kind of situation, time is really on the side of precast because of so many major intersections. “Here, precast’s speed has another advantage, because having an intersection tied up for the several weeks that poured-in-place would require is a horrible idea from a traffic-flow and disruption-of-business perspective,” Jensen said.
Quickly accomplishing such a project presents yet another advantage of specifying precast: It allows an excavation to be quickly opened and closed, reducing the risk of on-site injury and liability.
“There could be plenty of cases where a contractor is not pressed for speed, per se, and preplanning is involved,” Jensen said. “But the case could be, ‘Look, when we open up this hole, it’s going to be a giant liability target for vehicles, people or critters to fall into this open excavation.’ And bad things can happen.”
Blazing a trail
Although advancements in tools and technology continue to alter the nature of the construction landscape, one constant remains: Jobs need to be completed affordably, correctly and on time. Precast concrete remains up to the task, and, like the Nissan GT-R, blazes a trail through the industry, zipping and zooming past competing materials on its way to the finish line. Luckily, there’s plenty of room to come along for the ride. All you have to do is hop in.
Mason Nichols is NPCA’s communication coordinator.