I felt a sense of optimism as I walked the aisles of The Precast Show/ICON Expo 2013 last week in Indianapolis. There was a buzz that hasn’t existed in this industry segment for a long time. Paul Ramsburg, one of our frequent contributors, was pleasantly surprised by who he met at the show. “I saw producers here who I haven’t seen for a few years,” he said.

I spoke to a precast plant manager from the Northeast who summed it up best. He said this was the first budget cycle in a long time during which he had focused on plant improvements, not planning layoffs. Another manager from the southeast added that he never wants to be in a spot again where he has to play the grim reaper. “I’m focused now on doing everything I can to improve productivity.”

What’s hot?

These middle managers’ sentiments appeared to capture the spirit of this year’s show. Every exhibitor with whom I spoke mentioned that projects long on the shelf are now being put forward. According to sales managers at both SIMEM America and Sicoma, financing for capital projects has loosened up now that the effects of the fiscal cliff negotiations are known.

Inventory control seems to be the big buzz word. This is a good sign — it suggests customers are buying. Several manufacturers displayed new automated tagging and labeling equipment packages. “Producers want to be in better control of their just-in-time inventory,” said Jim Boyd, sales manager at Diagraph. Tom Tilson, president from ICT, said several producers were interested in learning how to connect their product codes and tracking to BIM projects. Tilson expects coding products for BIM will become an even greater trend in the next year.

Production chemical agents seem to be back on everyone’s buying list. There were a number of companies touting new environmentally- and worker-friendly release agents. Romix unveiled a new cleaning product that is also environmentally safe.

What’s not hot?

Several supplies of onsite water treatment systems indicated that the federal funding of municipal treatment facilities is directly affecting the number of new onsite installation. Municipalities are actively looking for more funding. Combined with tighter EPA regulations, the onsite industry rebound may lag behind other concrete segments.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be reporting on some of the products displayed at The Precast Show.

Stay in touch with Rick at ryelton@hanleywood.com.