By Andrew Nashawaty
Having grown up in the precast industry, I jumped at the opportunity to write an article for Precast Inc., a publication I’ve read for years. I was asked to write a non-technical, quality-based article through the eyes of a longtime National Precast Concrete Association member. Topics I want to discuss include how to prepare your certified plant for an NPCA plant audit and the positive experiences I have gained as an NPCA Product Committee member.
The first time I heard about NPCA was in 1979. I was 5 years old and my parents, Richard and Judi Nashawaty, were preparing to attend the convention. Nowhere else in 1979 could they gain a national perspective on all issues. They owned Ray Precast in Marshfield, Mass., which is now known as Scituate Concrete Products. The pride they had as NPCA members astounded me. The logo was placed everywhere – on precast products, pads of papers and even cigarette lighters. Yes, I said cigarette lighters. Can you imagine your company giving those away in 2016? But their favorite part of being members was the people.
My father always told me, “These are some of the best people you will meet,” and that statement is still true today. His favorite person to talk to about the precast industry was Ted Coons, president of Spillman Co. Ironically, I found myself 37 years later sitting next to Ted during a recent QA committee meeting in Indianapolis sharing industry stories and felt the exact same way as my father after the meeting. It’s amazing how things come full circle!
A precast value
While growing up in a precast plant, I quickly learned manufacturing processes as well as the strengths, weaknesses and value of our products. My parents sold Ray Precast, and after nine years away from the industry, I returned in 1997 to work for Scituate Concrete Products and Scituate Concrete Pipe, owned by Richard and Bill Hoffman.
In 2006, I was put in charge of quality assurance and plant certification for both companies. My first task was to join the NPCA Concrete Pipe Committee, since that was the best way to get involved and learn about upcoming updates or changes to the NPCA Quality Control Manual for Precast Concrete Plants. So, I contacted NPCA, filled out an application and months later was appointed.
Preparing for an audit
Being a part of the NPCA Plant Certification Program has helped us hold both companies accountable when it comes to maintaining a higher standard. Now working for third-generation owners Justin and Craig Hoffman, it has improved our overall quality, keeping us compliant with department of transportation regulations. DOT certifications are typically tied directly to having an NPCA plant certification. Our production practices have improved and our products reflect the improvement. We also stay informed on industry news, updates and changes and continue to grow our relationships with other precasters and vendors by attending NPCA events, classes and plant tours.
Preparing for an NPCA plant certification audit can be a worrisome task. However, once policies and procedures are in place, certification can be a manageable endeavor as long as your staff is diligent and mindful of its importance. Here are some tips that may help your staff prepare for your annual NPCA audit:
- QC meetings and communication. The most important thing you can do to prepare for an audit is have the quality control department meet on a weekly basis, if not more often, to discuss NPCA and DOT responsibilities. This is a great way to hold everyone accountable because it takes the focus of the entire staff to ensure quality is consistent.
- Testing and calibration calendar. A calendar is a must-have to remember annual testing, calibration dates, watertightness tests, the manhole step test, absorption, scale calibration, testing equipment calibrations, admixture dispensers and more. Remembering everything in your head leaves too much to chance.
- QC stations. Setting up QC stations in each department is very helpful. This ensures all the proper pre-pour and post-pour protocols, structural drawings, reinforcing placements, steel information and overlaps are easily accessible for any employee.
- List critical sections. Make sure your staff is well aware of what a critical section is and what it is not. It’s the difference between passing and failing an audit.
- Industry education. Have employees attend PQS courses, NPCA live classes, plant tours, ACI Concrete Field Testing Technician – Grade 1 and other courses your local DOT may require. Employees feel a sense of pride and connection to the company the more you invest in them.
- Monthly and annual certs. If you receive certs for cement, fly ash, aggregates, etc., keep records updated on a monthly basis. Train the staff to stay diligent and follow up if they don’t receive them from the supplier. It’s up to you to get them.
- Layers in your QC staff. Creating layers in your QC staff may be one of the best things you can do for your company. This avoids gaps or confusion when QC staff members are out or no longer with the company.
- Keep your staff aware of previous deficiencies. By fixing your previous deficiencies and not letting them happen again, your score will improve each year.
- Technology. Use the latest technologies to save paperwork. Doing so may also increase the QC manager’s time on the floor inspecting product. Plus, some DOTs may soon require electronic filing, so you may want to put it on your radar.
- Look at your finished product. By simply looking at your finished product, you should be able to identify repeated defects in your form and fix them before they become a bigger problem.
- Auditor etiquette. Address your employees about being respectful to anyone who visits the plant, but definitely be mindful and respectful of DOT, OSHA and NPCA auditors.
NPCA audits are a great tool for management to gauge staff’s work as well. It’s a true team effort and involves the entire staff. The main thing I tell our employees is they should treat an auditor similar to how they would like to be treated themselves.
NPCA committee experience
I’m very lucky to have served on NPCA Product Committees since 2006. I’ve met great people and learned so much about the industry, the QC Manual and audits by getting involved. I believe it is the strongest part of the association because you work side-by-side with other precasters and suppliers to try and solve industry-wide problems. This is the best way to learn about the association.
In 2006, at my very first NPCA committee meeting, I was extremely nervous. I was 32 years old and intimidated by the experience of the people at the table. Ron Craig called the meeting to order and after the antitrust paperwork was filled out, said, “The first order of business is, where are we going to dinner tonight?” After a good laugh by everyone, we got right into serious, meaningful business. I remembered my dad’s statement, “These are some of the best people you are ever going to meet.” It was true because Ron, who I thought was intimidating at first, as well as Jim Skinner, Bill Bundschuh and Randy Beelman became some of my closest NPCA member friends.
A wealth of knowledge
Whether it’s attending committee meetings, walking The Precast Show floor to look at the latest industry products or seeing self-consolidating concrete poured in person for the first time on a plant tour, NPCA has given me a wealth of knowledge and many great experiences. And there are a couple things that will always be true – the industry will continue to grow, people will continue to make this industry great and Ted will always be up for a great conversation.
Andrew Nashawaty is the compliance officer at Scituate Concrete Products in Marshfield, Mass., and Scituate Concrete Pipe in Scituate, Mass.