Excerpt from the July/August 2012 issue of Precast Inc. Magazine by Chris Von Handorf, P.E.
New material technologies and intelligent mix designs can significantly decrease production and labor costs.
Reducing material and labor costs makes sense for any manufacturing company, and increasing profits is even more imperative during a slumped economy. Companies in every industry have been forced to look at ways to lower production costs to remain competitive in our rapidly evolving marketplace. The precast concrete industry is no exception. Concrete constituents are only a portion of the costs incurred by a precast concrete manufacturing facility. This article shows how a smart mix design can help you cut costs. The important point to remember is that a lower-cost concrete does not always result in an inferior product. In fact, in some cases, lowering the cost of your mix design may actually yield a higher-quality concrete product.
Admixtures offer many cost-saving options
The cost of the materials that make up concrete is but one of the many expenses incurred by a precast concrete manufacturing facility. Another major expense is the labor cost to place and finish the product. This cost varies widely depending on a plethora of factors including: the type of product; the climate; the experience level of workers; and reinforcement required.
Here are just a few of the admixtures available that, in the right application, have the potential to significantly lower production costs:
1. Supplemental Cementitious Materials: The use of supplemental cementitious materials, such as silica fume and blast furnace slag, has the potential to enhance the performance of concrete while reducing any bleeding that may occur. When used properly, silica fume can improve concrete’s resistance to chemical attack. It can also increase concrete strength while reducing the permeability of the concrete.
2. Accelerators: The use of accelerators in precast applications has some obvious advantages. The faster concrete reaches the required stripping strength, the quicker the forms can be cleaned, prepped and used again. For a precaster, a quicker strength gain is huge if you are looking to go from pouring once per day in a given form to twice per day.
3. High-range water reducers: High-range water reducers (HRWRs) are excellent for nearly every precast concrete application. A good high-range water-reducing admixture will allow you to produce concrete batches with more consistent air entrainment and more consistent ultimate strengths.
4. Release agents: While release agents are not a constituent of the mix, the use of a high-quality release agent is essential for a better-looking, lower-cost, finished product. As with HRWRs, release agent technology has improved significantly in recent history. Although many new release agents are more expensive per unit, most of them do allow for a lighter application than traditional release agents. As a result, the cost per square foot of coverage is often significantly lower using the newer form release agents.
Emerging technology and processes surrounding the concrete industry are rapidly advancing. Admixtures that cost only $1 to $2 per cubic yard may have the potential to save you hundreds of dollars or more in labor and rework. Many of these admixtures were not available a few years ago. Some material testing techniques that were not available years ago, or were very expensive, are now relatively inexpensive. Therefore, it is no longer economical or wise to continue precast production methods with a familiar, long-standing mix design simply because it has been the traditional way of doing things for the last 20 or 30 years.
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