Making your voice heard among those developing the codes and standards that shape the precast concrete industry may be easier than you think.
By Eric Carleton, P.E.
Do you know what ASTM International, AASHTO and ACI have in common? Do they all have a major impact on the precast concrete industry? Do they all allow for industry participation?
Are they all standard-making bodies?
If you don’t know the answer, you’re in luck. In this article, you’ll learn important information that will help you better understand each of these organizations and how your involvement within their standards-making processes will simultaneously strengthen your precast operations and improve the industry as a whole.
It is important to be knowledgeable about product and testing standards, along with related concrete production guide documents. One way to become familiar with a standard is to carefully read the associated document. But like all learning, the best way to understand and retain the knowledge is to dive deeper. In this case, that means becoming engaged and involved in the process of developing and improving these standards. Getting involved primarily means three things:
- Show up. Become a member of one or more of the institutions and attend meetings.
- Speak up. Participate in discussions, respectfully voice your opinions and volunteer to assist or lead task groups.
- Stand up. Vote on ballot items when available and submit public comments on important standards or code issues
In the U.S., the standards most familiar to the precast concrete industry come from ASTM International, which is often referred to simply as ASTM. Since being founded in 1898, this organization has grown to more than 30,000 members dedicated to developing product standards and testing methods using a proven consensus-based process. This process includes a variety of checks and balances to ensure all interested parties are heard.
Many NPCA members manufacture products required to meet ASTM standards requirements. Project specifications will often reference ASTM testing methods even for precast products that do not have an associated standard – such as sound wall panels, mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) wall panels and tunnel liner segments – to verify concrete quality and requirements concerning compression strength, entrained air content, flexural strength and freeze/thaw. Additionally, the acceptable raw material requirements of the cement, aggregates, admixtures and other components will likely be required to meet various ASTM standards.
ASTM is comprised of more than 140 technical committees responsible for publishing 12,000 individual standards. One of the most important technical committees in our industry is ASTM Committee C27 on Precast Concrete Products. C27 focuses on precast products including utility structures, architectural and structural products, water and wastewater containers, glass fiber-reinforced concrete and precast autoclaved aerated concrete.
Committee C13 on Concrete Pipe includes subcommittees devoted to reinforced and non-reinforced concrete pipe and concrete low-head pressure pipe. This committee, which is nearly 100 years old, also covers the standards for circular precast manholes, precast concrete box sections (culverts), 3-sided bridge structures, joints for concrete structures (rubber gasket, butyl and bitumen sealants, external wraps) and the effects of biogenic sulfuric acid on concrete pipe and structures (microbial induced corrosion, or MIC).
Finally, Committee C09 on Concrete and Concrete Aggregates is a massive group, consisting of 30 subcommittees. C09 deals with all facets of concrete’s raw materials, sampling, testing, normal and lightweight aggregates, fibers and testing of fiber concrete, requirements for ready-mix concrete, and more. This committee also includes subcommittee C09.47, which continues to develop and modify industry standards for self-consolidating concrete.
If any of these standards are important to your product lines, or you wish to learn more about them, you may consider joining ASTM. To do so, visit astm.org/membership. With your membership, you can join as many technical committees as you’d like.
As mentioned previously, ASTM uses a consensus-based methodology for decision-making. This is to ensure that the technical committee’s votes are balanced between industry members (producers of a product) and owners (users or purchasers of the project) along with general interest groups (knowledgeable participants who are not financially tied to a product standard or test). Membership permits access to committee activities, meetings, agendas and minutes, along with the opportunity to vote on formal ballot items. Depending on the status of your business or your job function, your membership classification may be “producer.” This could result in you being placed on a wait list within the committee or subcommittee until a producer membership becomes available. However, the wait list status does not preclude you from participating.
ASTM members can sign up to receive notifications concerning any new committee work item or revision of an existing standard. This will allow you to be ahead of the curve both with developments within ASTM as well as the precast industry as a whole.
More than a century ago, 14 state highway engineers formed the American Association of State Highway Officials. The organization’s main focus was to secure federal aid and legislation for improving highway and transportation systems. In 1973, the group sought to include the broader transportation sector, resulting in a name change to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).
AASHTO is often mistaken as a government institution, but it’s a private, not-for-profit association with a voting membership comprised of state highway officials. Non-voting membership is provided to Federal Highway Administration employees and Canadian province representatives.
Today, AASHTO’s two technical committees – the Committee on Materials and Pavements (COMP) and the Committee on Bridges and Structures (COBS) – have a direct impact on the precast concrete industry.
COMP is a group of material engineers and lab technicians who establish material and testing standards used for transportation construction. The committee is further broken down into subcommittees, including 4a Precast Drainage Structures, which impacts the precast industry. Many of the AASHTO precast product standards reference or mimic their respective ASTM standards. For example, ASTM C478 and AASHTO M199 both apply to precast concrete manholes. However, there are slight variations that do exist, so be aware of them to maintain compliance with your state’s department of transportation specifications. More information on COMP can be found at materials.transportation.org.
As mentioned, voting membership within AASHTO is restricted to DOT employees. AASHTO committees are comprised of appointed state representatives with a requirement that no state is represented by more than one voting member. Though industry is not allowed to vote, it is encouraged to participate in proposed new or revised standards discussions. You can get involved by attending and participating in COMP meetings and conference calls or through active dialogue on the issues with your local DOT materials engineering department. If all parties agree, the local DOT official can bring your concerns to the meeting or ballot.
COBS is comprised of DOT structural design engineers who develop the design methodology for all concrete, including precast transportation structures. This group is responsible for writing and maintaining the LRFD Bridge Design Specifications manual.
The primary subcommittee within COBS related to buried precast products is T-13 Culverts. Though the name implies “pipe,” the scope of this committee includes all drainage-related structures, including inlets, manholes and box culvert. MSE walls and large precast block section wall design criteria fall under subcommittee T-15 Substructure and Retaining Walls. Another important COBS subcommittee that has developed many important documents related to accelerated bridge construction and the associated prefabricated bridge elements and systems is subcommittee T-4 Construction.
Like the rules within COMP, only DOT appointed representatives have a vote within COBS and private industry does not have a vote, but is permitted to register to attend committee meetings for information and discussion. Contact your local DOT’s bridge engineering department for any issues requiring attention.
The final member of the “century club” group is the American Concrete Institute, which was founded in 1904. ACI was originally created to improve the quality and consistency of preformed concrete masonry block. The group’s first convention was held in 1905, and it sought to share information and experience; to promote best practices with various uses of cement through conventions, papers and meetings; and to study materials, machinery, and methods. Interestingly, these objectives are still being met through today’s modern ACI committee and convention structure.
While ASTM and AASHTO COMP develop material and testing standards, ACI committees develop best practices documents and “how to” guides. Examples include how to repair concrete structures, develop concrete mix designs or apply best practices for cold weather or hot weather concrete placement. Additionally, many ACI committees develop building code documents which are adopted by legislative bodies to become the rule of law as to the methods of designing and building concrete structures. Other ACI committees are responsible for the development of the important technician certifications – including field technician, SCC and strength testing technician – which are requirements for many precast plant certification programs. ACI’s large committee structure touches on every aspect of concrete.
The individuals who make up these committees are the leading concrete experts. They gather twice a year for ACI’s conventions in addition to many conference calls. Several committee meetings take place at these conventions, along with a variety of technical sessions and paper presentations on all things concrete. If you’re looking to learn more about best concrete practices or the latest cutting-edge technology, this is the organization for you and your company.
Like the other organizations referenced here, each committee requires a balance of members from industry, government and academia. Committee membership begins with an application that is reviewed by the respective committee’s leadership. The committee’s current membership and availability will determine if you will be placed as a voting member. Typically, new members become involved with various committees by active participation at the subcommittee level, then work toward main committee membership appointment by the chairperson. Regardless of the voting membership status, committee meetings are open and pertinent participation by all attendees is encouraged.
In 2021, consider showing up, speaking up and standing up with one or more of these vital industry bodies. Doing so will allow your voice to be counted among the industry leaders developing the codes and standards that shape our precast world.
For more information about how you can get involved, email NPCA Vice President of Technical Services and Professional Development Marti Harrell at [email protected]
Eric Carleton, P.E., is NPCA’s director of codes and standards.