By Phillip Cutler, P.E.
With so much competition in the marketplace, precast concrete manufacturers should look at ways to set themselves apart and attract more business from engineers and specifiers. Providing shipping or delivery incentives and rolling out new marketing strategies may prove helpful. But no matter your approach, NPCA Plant Certification should be on your short list.
While certification is often required just to bid on a job, there are many additional benefits for your business. As Lisa Roache, CEO of Gainey’s Concrete Products in Holden, La., said, “Discipline and integrity come with NPCA certification.”
Each of the following advantages is a key component of a precast operation that is on track for success. The NPCA Quality Control Manual for Precast Concrete Plants provides a non-prescriptive approach to selected requirements in support of these areas.
The certification process begins with the most fundamental approach: a commitment from management and personnel to manufacture the highest-quality product during every pour. There is no path to success without this dedication from leadership and a similar response from personnel. Sound processes and manufacturing procedures also help make this your company culture. Certified plants must continually meet stringent requirements to maintain certified status; however, they are free to choose how to get there via the processes and procedures that shape quality production.
Bill Bundschuh, president of Kansas City-based PRETECH Corporation, explained that, even though his state does not require certification to submit bids for work, his company still commits to NPCA Plant Certification.
“We are going to manufacture a quality product no matter what, so why not shoot for a quality bar recognized by specifiers?” he said. “Why should we reinvent the wheel when the NPCA manual and program contain everything we need? We sell our products on quality.”
Drew Wieser, plant manager at Wieser Concrete Products in Roxana, Ill., noted that his company operates with a similar mindset.
“At the end of the day, we are members of NPCA because we are committed to building the best possible precast products we can,” he said. “We believe that NPCA certification holds us accountable and helps us accomplish this goal. Even when we are not producing for a DOT specifically, we still hold to the same requirements of NPCA certification, so it helps us on all the products we make.”
Production efficiency requires a systematic manufacturing approach. A documented set of plant-specific policies and procedures will lay the necessary groundwork to set up an efficient production space.. With processes and policies in writing, this will help establish a higher level of product consistency.
Coupling this with highly efficient production operations helps streamline processes and eliminate waste. Again, the NPCA Quality Control Manual for Precast Concrete Plants provides a great outline of general and product-specific requirements – no matter which products you manufacture. Applying an efficient and systematic approach to material validation, mix design, batching and mixing, testing, casting, stripping, yarding, and shipment are all critical steps on the path to success.
Another key component for high-performing plants is top-notch customer service, a goal that may seem easy but can be difficult to accomplish in practice. On the other end of the spectrum, poor customer service can have catastrophic effects on your company’s bottom line – even with just a handful of bad or subpar reviews. News travels fast, and with enough poor performance, customer loyalty can go away even faster.
Whether it’s a critical delivery date that must be met or a loyal customer that needs a favor, great customer service is a must-have for your business. NPCA Certified Plants with high product quality and efficient operations will generally be in a great position to offer quality customer service thanks to program requirements.
While NPCA Plant Certification is not a safety program per se, there are certain minimum requirements established and related to plant safety that certified plants must meet. In plants where the staff is fully trained, processes and procedures are documented, expectations and requirements are fully understood, and a safety program exists, employees will work efficiently with safety top of mind.
Continuous improvement activities
Most precast plants participate in some form of continuous improvement. This is important, because if you’re not moving forward, business will grow stagnant and eventually fail. As the saying goes, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
In 2019, the NPCA Quality Assurance/Quality Control Committee added continuous improvement requirements as an option for plants to potentially receive a perfect score on their annual plant audits. The committee chose four unique areas in which plants can document improvements: areas of production, processes, facilities and operations. Without these continuous improvement elements, plants can only achieve a maximum score of 92. Over the past two years, the number of NPCA Certified Plants participating in continuous improvement efforts has increased from 18% of all plants in the program to 28%. In addition, plants can participate in document upload, additional industry-related employee education and semi-annual self-audits.
“We are always looking to do better,” Bundschuh said. “The NPCA program made us use the manual, and it has become second nature to our quality personnel.”
Whether your local market requires NPCA Plant Certification or not, certified plants can use the items noted above as well as their own personal experiences as selling points when meeting with specifiers. Tracking and monitoring concrete strengths, providing history related to product quality along with production and product delivery data, and providing a copy of your annual audit report and corrective actions may also be used as selling points towards your companies quality assurance commitment.
Confidence and assurance
Greg Roache, president of Gainey’s Concrete Products, summarized the importance of NPCA Plant Certification – including the methodologies outlined here – in achieving success.
“The NPCA QC Manual offers a summary of industry best practices that, if followed, gives us great confidence and assurance that quality products will be produced with supporting recordkeeping,” he said.
With a dedication to quality products and the support of the program, that same confidence and assurance in your own products will also be felt by project owners and the specifying community.
For additional information on the NPCA Plant Certification program, visit precast.org/certification or contact Phillip Cutler, P.E., director of quality assurance programs, at [email protected] or (800) 366-7731.
Phillip Cutler, P.E., is NPCA’s director of quality assurance programs.