By Mark Crawford and Mason Nichols
For most precast concrete producers, manufacturing custom products is commonplace and crucial to success. When a project calls for a unique piece of precast, coordinated collaboration between the form manufacturer and precaster takes center stage. Here, two water projects showcase just how important solid teamwork – coupled with the right form – can be.
Massive water bottle
In 2011, Dapper Development, a commercial real estate development firm and owner of The Water Bottle, built its first water-filling station in Las Vegas to provide residents with filtered municipal water. Using precast concrete top and base pieces, the 15-ft-tall and roughly 8-ft-wide station is manufactured to look like a giant five-gallon water container. Inside, an eight-stage filtering process dispenses clean water to customers.
Originally, the construction team used a wood-fiberglass strip form to build the structure, a solution which flexed and became increasingly out of spec the more it was used. After the construction of a few more stations, the form had to be thrown away. With the increasing popularity of its stations and the desire to expand in Nevada and Arizona, Dapper Development decided to create a more reliable steel form.
After a year of rejection from various formwork companies, Dapper Development contacted Marks Metal Technology in Clackamas, Oregon, at the suggestion of Rockway Precast, a precast concrete producer in North Las Vegas, Nevada.
“When the original inquiry came in to provide a quote for a form that would produce a giant concrete water bottle, my initial reaction was to say that it wasn’t possible,” said Steve Tuttle, manager of Marks Metal’s precast forms division. “I remember even talking about it at an upcoming projects meeting and forbidding anyone on the team from even thinking about it.”
However, Tuttle was reluctant to let go of the challenge. He spent some time over the following weekend trying to design the form using standard metal-forming techniques. He rejected all the ideas he came up with because he was uncertain they could maintain the consistent shape necessary for producing a flawless concrete surface.
“Then, just when I was ready to give up, it hit me,” Tuttle said. “I realized this could not be just a single form. We would be able to efficiently produce this form if we created it as if it were a series of machined joint rings, stacked one on top of the other.”
Tuttle also realized it would be highly challenging to turn the concept into a buildable product. With key input from Rockway Precast and Joseph Randall, Marks Metal’s 3-D form engineer, Tuttle and his team assembled an engineered set of shop drawings for manufacturing the form.
“A lot of discussion went into designing a round form with all the angles that were needed to make it look exactly like a water bottle,” said Greg Taylor, operations manager for Rockway Precast. “We suggested window and door blockouts, made from steel, to ensure consistent quality for every bottle produced.”
The inside of the form was polished to provide the smooth concrete surface that the customer required, and Rockway Precast made sure to use the right mix design to achieve the desired results.
“Being an architectural piece of concrete, a lot of work also went into making a specialized mix design to create a visually pleasing finish,” Taylor said.
Pleased with the final product, Dapper Development is eager to start building an additional 15-20 stations in the Las Vegas and Arizona markets.
“It required a very different way of thinking to come up with this design,” said Christopher Donohue, director of facilities for Dapper Development. “With the help of Rockway Precast and Marks Metal, we are now ready for large-scale production of our water bottle stations.”
According to Taylor, bringing in other experts at the start of the project and letting them share their expertise and knowledge to help get everything right during the design stage played a pivotal role.
“Take your time and communicate thoroughly,” advised Taylor. “From starting design all the way through delivery of the finished product, communication is vital for a successful project.”
A clean water first
Standing high above neighborhoods across North America, water towers often serve as landmarks, signifying the local culture of cities and towns. But beyond aesthetics, these towers serve an important function that is often taken for granted – the storage and delivery of clean water to residents.
For members of the Wasauksing First Nation, a community of aboriginals inhabiting the 19,000-acre Parry Island on the eastern shore of Lake Huron in Canada, clean water is anything but taken for granted. For a decade, the community – which consists of more than 1,000 band members – was living under a boil-water advisory (1). But thanks to support from the federal government, the Wasauksing reserve secured funding for a water treatment system including the construction of a 120-ft-tall water tower.
While the tower’s base consists of cast-in-place concrete, the pedestal – which provides support for the reservoir tank – is manufactured from 16 conical precast concrete panels. For many water towers, a welded steel platform and tank are used; however, the Wasauksing tower combines a precast concrete pedestal with an enamel tank, making it the first of its kind. This pairing allows for minimal maintenance over the lifetime of the project and enhances the overall appearance of the tower.
Each panel is approximately 7 ft wide by 6 ft tall. In order to create the conical shape required for the pedestal, supplier Hamilton Form Co. manufactured a form with a curved base. Additionally, a raised insert within the form helps create the relief panel which can be seen on the face of the product. According to Bill Daily, president of Hamilton Form, going with a precast concrete solution resulted in many project benefits.
“If they would have had to cast the pedestal in place, the formwork would have had to extend all the way to the ground,” he said. “Using this method, the sections were precast, shipped to the site, put up with a crane and it was done. They saved time and a considerable amount of money by using precast concrete.”
Bill Stubbe, sales consultant with Stubbe’s Precast of Harley, Ontario, agreed.
“The contractor was looking to reduce the cost of building the water tower and felt that this would save an awful lot of work with the framing,” he said.
Although Stubbe’s Precast already had a product drawing of the pieces they needed to cast, Daily said he prefers getting involved in a unique project as early as possible to solve potential issues before they arise.
“When the precaster gets involved in some of these unique jobs, that’s the time to get the form manufacturer involved,” he said. “That’s when the form provider may see something that can help the precaster out.”
Manufacturing unique, high-quality precast concrete products requires exceptional coordination between the project’s form supplier and precaster. With the right balance of innovation and collaboration, infinite possibilities are created, making the seemingly impossible, possible.
Mark Crawford is a Madison, Wisconsin-based freelance writer who specializes in science, technology and manufacturing.
Mason Nichols is the managing editor of Precast Solutions magazine and is NPCA’s external communication and marketing manager.
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