Launch Slideshow

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Looking Back & Ahead

Looking Back & Ahead

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Dan HoukFebruary 2006

Dan Houk is president of Wilbert Precast in Spokane, Wash., a precast concrete producer whose innovations are expanding on 100 years of tradition.

Over the last 10 years, self-consolidating concrete (SCC) has been a real godsend for precasters. Concrete itself takes on any shape you want to pour it in. Now, with the smoothness of SCC for architectural precast, there are a million things you can do.

There are also benefits for employees, because you're not vibrating and screeding. That used to be the most strenuous, backbreaking work of the day. Of course, there is a higher chemical cost and higher cement content, so you have a cost shift. But you really can't put a price tag on some things, like the human aspect. The mood throughout our plant is very high, and I give SCC credit for boosting employees' morale.

There is enough SCC being used now that people are starting to do cutting edge things. For example, there is some new testing going on with prestressed bridge beams and it has performed beautifully. There's a lot of room for growth with DOT-specified applications like wall segments, freeway overpasses, and bridge sections.

It's already happening with sound walls along freeways. The technology of rubber molds has developed a lot over the past five years, and SCC makes the shapes come out so crisp. Now when you're going along the freeway, you might see a wall with shapes, patterns, or whole woods scenes with eagles, deer, and trees. What you can do is just about limitless. You just have to come up with the creative ideas.

Dave FrentressFebruary 2000

Dave Frentress, marketing director for Glacier Northwest Inc., Portland, Ore., is a graduate of the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Sustainable Building Advisor program. He won NRMCA's Promoter of the Year award in 2005.

We've really turned a corner over the past decade. Instead of being apologetic about being in the industry, we're proud of what we do for society. But we also have a responsibility to ourselves to communicate with people about the durability and sustainability of concrete.

Our industry needs to communicate more with people like architects. They have lots of materials to design with, and concrete's probably one of the best. But until we get out there and teach them what they can do with it, they tend to look at it only for footings and slabs.

We also need to work with the green movement to move to a different level. Sometimes we want to run away from it, but if we look at our industry differently, we could get even more value for our products.

Fly ash has a lot of benefits for concrete, but when you go off the “green” end of the spectrum, you have issues with it. For instance, I was talking to a contractor who wanted to use a high-volume fly ash mix on a three-day, post-tension deck for a library for greenbuild. He also said the building envelope was made of wood. If it's a library, you'd want energy savings, high fire ratings to protect the books, and quiet.

The post-tension deck was not a good place to use high-volume fly ash, but an insulating concrete form wall would be perfect. That's the kind of education we need to do with recycled materials.