Industry Influencers is a regular series in Precast Inc. magazine in which we talk with people who are looked to for guidance and advice by NPCA members across generations.
For this article, NPCA talked with Gary Munkelt of Gary K. Munkelt & Associates LLC. Gary, who was heavily involved in NPCA and ASTM and produced The Precaster’s Notebook, died in March before the magazine was published. This article also appeared in Precast Inc. magazine’s Quarter 2 edition.
By Heather Bremer
How did you first get involved in the precast concrete industry?
I was working in the pharmaceutical industry, and I had one project that had a precast product on it. So once I got my master’s degree, I started looking to get involved with the precast concrete products. My first exposure was H.C. Miller back in 1973. He’s a precaster even today.
I started doing calculations for him. At that time, it was a very new industry, and so we struggled a lot to do the designs because they were all new, not something you would find in textbooks.
I was let go from H.C. Miller in 1975. So, I bought a burial vault firm and got some experience of how precasting is really performed, much more so then just being the engineer. And that didn’t turn out too well.
I had met Jack Ditcher in 1980, and he was a precaster in Atlantic Concrete Products. He was very active in not only the ASTM committees but also in the NPCA. I had joined ASTM back in 1974. Jack was very interested in it, and he was the main reason why I got into so much with NPCA and with the ASTM committees. He encouraged me to go to the ASTM committees, ASTM C27. And he also got me involved in things like … I had to do a speech down in Washington. I was really amazed. I’m standing up there giving a speech on precasting, and there’s two little boxes with somebody in them. And one was translating my speech into Spanish and the other was translating it into German.
How have you seen the industry change over the years?
Well, I haven’t really seen a change. I’ve seen it grow because of the efforts of the committee members on the ASTM standards. The ASTM standards have been big benefit in terms of helping the industry convert people from the standard pour-in-place concrete. The ACI 318 is a document that is referenced by the standards for formulas but not for light cover. ACI 350 is something that was made for poured-in-place concrete. And so they’re very, very overly conservative. They’ve recognized that they are and make a statement in the first page of their documents that the ASTM document prevails over the ACI 350, if the product is built that way. Now, the reason they were able to do that is that the industry, and this is all through NPCA. The industry has accepted this plant certification program, which involves inspections and coordination of how a record should be kept. So that’s done a tremendous amount of helping the industry show that it’s got a better product. I argue all the time with engineers who don’t understand precast, and they are only used to poured-in-place documents, like ACI 318 and ACI 350. So with that, we have to keep fighting.
But that’s the way the industry has improved. I have been so grateful to be part of it and see it grow. (Former NPCA President) Ty Gable, when he came on in 1994, did a tremendous job to help the industry along. I worked with him several times on projects to improve the industry.
I have written a precaster’s notebook since 1991. I try to put a page out a month, and so it’s gotten pretty thick now. But the idea there was to try to inform the engineers that are just coming out of college what precast is all about and how you go about designing the products. It’s also helpful for precasters because there’s material in there for conditions that they come upon in terms of problems in the field and problems in the yard. So, I’ve tried to help the industry in that respect, and so people have told me that I’ve been successful there.
Your website biography describes your true love as writing and teaching. What makes you gravitate toward that?
You know, I often think about that, and the thing is that my biggest goal is to teach people. That’s where The Precaster’s Notebook comes in.
I did a lot of teaching at the NPCA shows. But I guess it’s something that’s in me. I almost ended up going into teaching altogether, teaching at the college level. But I had gotten married, and we had two children. It was too expensive to get a doctorate, so I ended up going into the precast world instead. So, I had an intuitive desire to do the teaching. I’m trying to do the teaching now for new people we have in the organization.
What lessons do you hope to pass along to younger members of the precast industry?
We had our holiday party about a month ago, and so I always have to give a speech at that. And what I was concentrating on was that they should know their product. In other words, make sure to do the research, whatever it takes, so that you understand how concrete is working. Just throwing a bunch of formulas together isn’t gonna come up with the right answer every time.
The second thing I was trying to put out there was the problem with software. It’s a great tool. It makes things go faster. But there are a lot of mistakes and errors in software, and you have to make sure the software is right. It’s a matter of doing a check to make sure that the answers of the software are in the right ballpark.
The software scares me because there’s too many people who won’t bother to check the answer, and every once in a while there’s been a problem. Sometimes people can’t understand how to use it, and that’s another problem, but it is concerning. So anyway, I have much desire to teach and help people.
The precast industry has gotten a lot from you through your participation in various committees and within NPCA. What have you gotten out of the industry?
The biggest thing I can say is satisfaction. When I see a product go out with the design, and everything is hunky dory, I’m very satisfied that I’ve been able to have a part in the final product. It also satisfies me when I can find some engineers that turn around and understand what precast is all about.
Of course, I’ve gotten a whole life of involvement. It’s all helped my family grow. But the biggest part is a satisfaction. Here I am 84 years old, and I’m still pumping out calculations. I had a real interesting problem this morning, and it’s a real challenge, and I’ll feel so good when I have found an answer for it.
Where do you see the future of precast concrete?
I think there’s a good future for it because the industry provides a big advantage for infrastructure for installing manholes and wet wells and bridges and buildings. They’re all being made with precast to an advantage. They don’t cost as much because of the speed in which they can be done because, well, it’s just easier for the contractor. I see that continuing.
I see the engineering department at NPCA doing an awful lot out there to promote it, with good reason. It just gets more people to understand.
I had an interesting situation about six months ago, the state of South Dakota was very much against the precast product, specifically precast manholes. I got involved on a product that one of the precasters wanted to do. I hit up the head honcho of the engineering department, and in talking to him I was able to convince him by answering all of his questions, the concerns that he had and get them to understand precast. So once they did, they permitted this project to go through. The project went through so fast, and it was so easy to do, even the inspection department from the state was happy with everything. The state now build precast into their specifications.
What they did was they discarded an old bridge, rerouted the traffic over the box culvert. They’re going to have more products like that. I thought that one was really, really great as far as satisfaction. We were fortunate. We got a nice plaque out of that. That to me is the kind of thing that needs to be done … precasters, precast engineers, NPCA all need to get to the people who have make the decisions as to whether you go pour-in-place or precast. We’ve done a gjob of that for the last 30, 40 years. And I think if we can keep it up in the future is gonna be great.
Heather Bremer is the NPCA communications manager.