This month we are pleased to feature Panhandle Concrete Products as part of our Meet a Precaster blog series. Answers were provided by Andy Hayward, production and quality control manager.
Don’t forget to check out all of our Meet a Precaster blog posts and if you’re an NPCA producer member and would like to be featured in a future Meet a Precaster post, please send an email to NPCA’s internal communication and web manager, Sara Geer.
1. Where are you located?
Panhandle Concrete Products Inc. is located in Scottsbluff, Neb., at the base of the Scotts Bluff National Monument. Yes, we do have a panhandle in Nebraska; and yes, we do have a national monument in Nebraska. We are about 20 miles from Wyoming, 90 miles from Colorado, and 100 miles from South Dakota. We primarily provide product to Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, Kansas, and North Dakota; however, we will ship our products much further and are happy to do so.
2. How did your company get its start?
Platte Valley Cement Tile began operations in the mid 1940s at our current location. At that time, the company was producing concrete pipe and block. It continued operations under Platte Valley until the mid-50s at which point it was purchased by American Marietta. During the plant’s tenure under American Marietta, and later on Hydro-Conduit, concrete pipe, block and ready mix were produced. Around 1975, a group of individuals purchased the plant and renamed it Panhandle Concrete Products.
Just five years prior to this, Craig Hayward was getting started in the precast concrete industry in Loveland, Colo. He worked for his father, Harry Hayward, at Colorado Precast Concrete until 1997. During those years, he became involved with NPCA, winning many Gimmicks and Gadgets Awards (currently named the Pinnacle Award) along the way.
In 1997, Craig and his wife Cindy moved to Scottsbluff, Neb., and bought into Panhandle Concrete. At the time, PCP’s main focus was ready-mixed concrete supplemented by concrete pipe and a small selection of precast products. Craig and Cindy immediately turned that around, making the main focus of PCP precast concrete. Panhandle Concrete joined NPCA that year and has been an active member since.
Craig and Cindy have worked very hard turning Panhandle Concrete into a plant that is known for quality. Today, we are a proud family-owned precast plant that employs second- and third-generation precasters. We also have considerably expanded our product lines from the early days to include: box culverts, RCP, manholes, inlets/catch basins, septic tanks, interceptors, agricultural products, utility vaults, utility buildings, median barriers, and more.
3. What value does NPCA bring to your company and the industry?
NPCA brings a lot of value to Panhandle Concrete and the precast industry. One of the foremost values is the forum NPCA provides to bring producers, specifiers, and associates together to share ideas, stories, projects, and innovations. NPCA is made up of similar-minded members who are striving to improve their products and the industry as a whole.
The NPCA Plant Certification Program is another value it provides. This program has helped get our industry’s products out in front of many DOTs and specifiers. This program is a shining example of NPCA’s and our industry’s dedication to providing products with a lifetime of worry-free service. The program has also helped to unify requirements among DOTs and specifiers making it less intimidating for plants to provide products to neighboring DOTs.
We can’t forget about NPCA’s dedication to education. There are numerous courses, webinars, and seminars that continue to provide a wealth of knowledge to our members and their employees. This educational mindset even extends to developing the next generation of precasters. The NPCA Foundation provides scholarship opportunities to undergraduate and graduate-level college students with a goal of recruiting new blood into our industry.
NPCA goes above and beyond to promote every aspect of our industry and helps us fight the daily battles we all face against competing products. All of this is thanks to the amazing staff it has assembled over the years.
4. How have the relationships you’ve developed through NPCA membership impacted your business?
We have had the pleasure of meeting many individuals and families through NPCA over the years. These meetings have provided generations of friendships and a shared love of precast. Third and now fourth generations still get together at the Precast Show, Convention and other times throughout the years. These bonds have allowed us to share ideas and experiences and learn a great deal of information we can apply to our own business. Knowledge isn’t the only thing that comes from these relationships. We have also been able to borrow and loan forms and help to sell each other’s products. Along with the old friendships, new contacts and relationships are made at every NPCA event.
5. What are the top advantages of precast concrete products?
Precast concrete provides a diversity that few other materials can provide in the construction industry. Precast can be used underground, above-ground, inside, outside, underwater, for utilities, for architecture and in any number of shapes or sizes. However, versatility is not the only advantage of precast. Project completion time and costs can be reduced using precast. Contractors, engineers, and owners love to have products shipped to the site that are ready to install and use very quickly.
While we are talking advantages of precast, let us not forget the quality control procedures and manufacturing facilities it is produced in. Most products are poured in facilities that provide protection from the weather and elements. This, along with the rigorous testing and inspections that are performed, ensure a product that will last for a lifetime or more. A product that lasts that long will be better for the environment since it doesn’t require replacing. This makes precast a great product for LEED projects. Most of the raw materials come from nearby sources to the plant. Many mixes utilize SCMs that are by-products like Fly Ash. In the era of “green” building, precast is a logical choice. Lastly, precast offers staying power. Concrete has been around for hundreds of years. Scientific progress and new innovations continue to push the envelope and provide more uses and capabilities for precast concrete. This guarantees that precast concrete will be around for a long time.
6. What’s the most interesting or unique precast project you have worked on?
There are a few unique projects we have worked on over the years. The first and foremost that comes to mind is a column cap project we did for the local St. Agnes Catholic Church about 12 years ago. They were adding onto the front of the church and wanted similar column caps to the originals. This required a tedious process of creating scale models and mockups. This hard work was rewarded with an end product that accented the addition without taking away from the original architecture.
Some other unique projects that we have been involved in include:
- Skeet shooting house for an individual to practice his skeet shooting. This individual made the USA Olympic team and placed 8th in the 2012 Olympics.
- Defensive Fighting Positions for Minot Air Force Base. These structures are used to train/practice defensive combat positions.
- Pedestrian underpass at Colorado State University. This underpass featured a stone-faced form liner.
- Water quality outlet structure made of colored concrete.
7. What drives you and your employees to produce quality precast products?
Pride and a sense of accomplishment go a long way to motivating us to produce a high-quality product. We want to produce a product that will arrive on the jobsite and make the contractors or specifiers say, “That is a good-looking product.” We see new products or sizes of current products come through every day. This challenges us to continually work hard and not become complacent in pouring the same old product over and over. Nothing is better than seeing a new product stripped for the first time; or showing the plant personnel pictures of the product they made being installed or used as a finished product. That really gives them a sense of fulfillment in their work. Also, following quality control procedures gives a sense of security knowing we have done everything in our power to produce the highest quality product we can.
8. Tell us about a time when you changed a spec to precast on a project and why the change was made.
A municipal water well field is located a few miles from our plant. The city wanted to install pump houses there. The plans called out for plain old block buildings. However, we talked to the engineers and sold them on the aesthetics, quality and production time that our precast buildings would have over a traditional block building. This was enough to get them to make the switch on the first building to precast. After that, they specified the remaining buildings on the well site to be made of precast as well.
Another project that originally called out for cast-in-place was for a headwall. We talked to the contractor during the bid process and convinced him that a precast headwall would provide the best profits for him. Instead of being on site to set forms, pour and strip forms, he would only need to be there to set the product. This reduced his labor and time on site significantly. This headwall was 29 feet long, 12 feet tall and 9 feet deep. It was poured in two pieces to allow for easy installation of the pipe in the field.
9. What makes precast concrete an even better product today than it has ever been in the past?
Scientific advancements have allowed concrete to do things that people couldn’t think of generations ago. Admixtures are evolving and getting better every year. They can slow set, speed set, allow the concrete to flow, provide high strengths, just to name a few. This has helped to accelerate the building process and also to create new uses for precast. More research is being conducted on concrete at the university level. Any advancement made in those research projects will equate to a better precast product.
Plant efficiency has improved. More automation is available now than ever. Forms are becoming more innovative and accelerating production times. Cranes, forklifts and other equipment can handle more material. The batching equipment now mixes to tighter tolerances and produces more consistent product. Quality control processes have also come a long way and continue to evolve. These attributes all add up to a precast product that is superior to products made 20 years ago.
10. How do you see the precast concrete industry – and your company in particular – evolving in the future?
The world we live in becomes faster paced every day. Lead times on projects are getting shorter and shorter. Yet, we are seeing a reduction in employable individuals. Due to this fact, we envision increasing plant efficiency by utilizing newer technologies, more automation and continual innovation. I also see a trend in the lack of skilled employees.
Our society has put large stock into receiving a college education and getting as far away from labor as possible. This has left a large gap in the field of skilled trades. I believe we need to adapt to this and start encouraging students to look to these careers. A great way for our industry to do this is to get producer members involved at their local high schools, community colleges, trade/vocational schools and even the universities. Our industry needs to tell the educators and students that there are very promising careers out there and we are in need of employees. If we don’t inform them about this, who will? We need to be our own advocates and make the changes to better our companies and industry.
The precast industry evolves quickly. The more proactive our company and others can be to initiate these evolutions, the brighter the future of our industry will be. By doing this, the sky and maybe more is the limit for precast concrete.
The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the member, and not of NPCA or any of its employees.