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What's Worrying Your QC Manager?

What's Worrying Your QC Manager?

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    Customers are having trouble keeping up with the complexity of concrete mixes. “Thirty years ago, the only admixtures available were air entrainers and sugar-based water reducers,” says Dick Chatterton of Metro Ready-Mix in Salt Lake City. “Today, we have more things coming out all the time.”

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    Left: Some engineers do not understand the conditions in which a producer works. “Often, the engineers of record are from another state,” says Shawn Baker of S&W Ready Mix Concrete in Clinton, N.C. “They specify materials or combinations of materials that aren't available to us.”

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    Above: Quality control managers say it's difficult finding qualified employees. “It's been hard to find quality lab people or people to run operations in the batch plants,” says Pennsy Supply's Milan Lipensky.

Getting good employees

Much of ready-mix concrete's quality depends on the QC workers and truck drivers that formulate and deliver the product. However, people's interest in these types of jobs is fading.

“The next generation isn't finding this industry as attractive as the last generation did,” says Jerry Schnabel of Transit Mix in Colorado Springs. “That makes it harder to attract good people and motivate them.”

Several also complained about a lack of proper training for new people. “It's been hard to find qualified lab people, or people to run operations in the batch plants,” says Milan Lipensky at Pennsy Supply in Harrisburg, Pa. “There is little schooling for this, besides seminars here and there. The industry is growing, but the education is not. It's like you have to start from ground zero with just about everyone you hire.”

Aggregates and cement

Getting quality aggregates is also becoming more difficult. “The ready-mixed industry is in competition with the asphalt industry for intermediate-sized aggregate, and there is not always enough to go around,” says Jack Gibbons of Prairie Materials in Bridgeview, Ill. Public opposition to opening new quarries has worsened the problem, several producers add.

Cement availability is not nearly the problem it was a year ago. But on the flip side, everyone is now resigned to paying a higher price. “We are passing the cost on to the customer, and everyone else is in the same boat,” says Paul DeRosa of Eastern Concrete Materials in Elmwood Park, N.J. “We are experimenting to reduce our cement consumption.”

This article is dedicated to the memory of Norm Anderson. He was a great concrete man, a great family man, and also a great person.

The authors work for Building Works Inc., a consulting firm in Brookline, Mass., that publishes books and articles on concrete and helps companies with new construction products. Telephone 617-232-2862, or visit the Web site atwww.buildingworks.com.


Problems from a Global Perspective

In his 30 years involved in almost every aspect of concrete production, Denis Leblanc and his team at Lafarge's Corporate Technical Services are in the unique position of being the source of last resort. The lab and engineering service center in Montreal assists all of Lafarge's North American operations and customers.

Leblanc is in a great position to provide an overview. “We get involved in a problem solving situation only when one of regional folks has a problem,” he explains. “We're able to take an overall look at what could be the problem.” Leblanc has found that many questions are season-related, such as slower set times in early fall, and accelerated set times in the summer.

Cement-admixture compatibility, especially relating to slump loss, is one issue that is becoming more prevalent. The senior technologist believes that as producers become more concerned about maintaining tighter delivered water/cement ratios, the ability to add water to make things right for workability is taken away from the field QC technician. This causes a greater reliance on admixtures that control workability. “Producers need to make sure problems don't exist earlier in the mix design process,” he says.

To solve this problem, the Lafarge lab has introduced a new test to its troubleshooting tool kit. Researchers have adopted the rapid spread test for mortar. “We only combine the cement, admixture, sand, and water in a small mixer,” says Leblanc. The specified volume of mortar is placed into a very small cone. The cone is raised and the technician can quickly calculate spread. In most cases of admixture-cement incompatibility, the mortar just remains in its shape. “Sometimes just a simple push with a testing probe is needed to get the mortar to spread, and we know we have a problem,” says Leblanc.

The increasing professionalism found among his fellow QC engineers and technicians encourages Leblanc. “Our customers are receiving some of the best concrete we have ever produced,” he says. — Rick Yelton