By Kayla Hanson, P.E.
Henry Ford is credited with developing the first ever moving assembly line, which began rolling out Model T automobiles in 1913. This was a major advancement because it increased manufacturing productivity, improved efficiency and allowed interchangeability of parts. Today, this concept still serves as the foundation for most manufacturing processes, even in a precast concrete plant.
Every employee in a precast plant, whether in the foreground or behind the scenes, plays a vital role in the plant’s operations. Everyone depends on the person before him or her to perform their duties correctly, completely and with a specific level of attention to detail. If any role is disrupted, the entire system is affected. Disruptions to productivity that may first come to mind are concerns over materials arriving on time, inclement weather, employee turnover, equipment breaking down or job site readiness. However, one pressing issue that can linger in the background is math skills.
From arithmetic and unit conversions to geometry, algebra and calculus, math is used everywhere in a precast operation, yet many people simply survived their math classes and don’t remember much of what they learned.
Math can be intimidating. The concepts depend on specific skills that can be confusing to learn in non-traditional settings such as in manufacturing or production applications. Also, the ability to apply these skills can get rusty if they’re not used regularly. Despite the aversion sometimes directed toward the topic or the difficulties associated with acquiring some of these skills, knowing and learning math is invaluable in the precast concrete industry.
Unfortunately, indentifying employees who could benefit from having a refresher lesson or learning a new skill isn’t immediately apparent. Certain needs may only be revealed when mistakes become more prevalent or when a costly pattern of errors develops. Some manual production practices that are crucial to manufacturing quality precast concrete products rely heavily on arithmetic skills.
Branielle Bergeron, general manager at Precast Concrete Products of Maine, attended the debut course at The Precast Show 2016 in Nashville, Tenn. She said employees at the plant use math every day from reading blueprints to setting up forms.
“We also use the volume calculations for figuring out how much concrete we will need to fill the forms,” she said. “The topics in this class are very vital to our plant operations and to the precast industry.”
Many sections in the NPCA Quality Control Manual for Precast Concrete Plants, such as reinforcement fabrication (Section 4.2.1), placement of reinforcement (Section 4.3.3), pre-pour inspections (Section 4.3), post-pour inspections (Section 4.6.4 and 4.6.5), fresh concrete testing (Section 5.3), moisture content tests (Section 5.2.2) and all quality control procedures and documentation are depend on a solid arithmetic foundation. These areas are also the source of many member inquiries.
Ensuring all plant personnel have the skills they need to perform their duties and contribute to their highest ability is a joint effort between employees and the employer. NPCA has developed resources to help make this possible. The course Math for Precasters was created specifically to meet the needs of production and QC personnel. It is taught in-person at The Precast Show or students can take the class online at their own pace.
The course content progresses in difficulty, beginning with arithmetic essentials and working with negative numbers and advancing to adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing and converting fractions. This solidifies the basic concepts upon which other skills are built. The material next covers percentages; decimals; algebra; unit conversions; geometry, area, volume and density calculations; and equation manipulation. Each section also includes real-world example problems with step-by-step solutions. Math for Precasters serves as a great preparation course for students prior to beginning NPCA’s Production and Quality School courses.
“This class would be beneficial for the experienced employee needing a refresher and to the new employee first learning skills and procedures,” Bergeron said.
Bergeron said the greatest outcome employers can receive by sending their employees to NPCA education courses is a sense of greater ownership in their employees’ work.
“The more you invest in your employees, the more your company receives in return,” she said. “In the end, when they know you care about them, it shows in their final work.”
The next in-person course will be offered at The Precast Show 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. Information about taking the course online can be found on the NPCA Online Learning Center. If you have any questions about the course, please contact Kayla Hanson, P.E. at [email protected] or
Kayla Hanson, P.E. is a technical services engineer with NPCA.