To accomplish this, they created a standardized code entry system for both pigments and final shipped product. Producers can list all the colors they wish to sell, and the basic pigment colors with which they batch the colored concrete. Their protocol also allows the recipe of concrete and the pigment batching to be shared.

When a colored concrete order is entered into the dispatching system, the order taker uses the producer's product code that identifies the strength, color, and other requirements. The batching system then handles it as a regular order.

Software designers thought it was important for each batching system to start independently. When the order is up for batching, a signal goes to the color pigment system. The signal allows pigment to be batched, mixed, and placed into the color batch holding tank before concrete batching sequence starts.

As the concrete is batched, the liquid pigment stands ready for discharge in sequence. This parallel batching can shave up to a minute off most times. There's another benefit: When batching several loads in a row, the pre-pigment mixing keeps the process moving forward. The system even has a flushing option that allows the dispatcher to know how much time to schedule between loads of different colors.

Another advantage involves mix water management. Technicians can establish target water volumes for each mix design at each plant. They can deduct amounts from total water of a concrete recipe from the concrete batch, allowing for the water in the pigment batching. This helps control water-cement ratios and creates a consistent color from load to load, says Wiggins.

When the batch is completed, the dispatcher provides the customer only one ticket listing all the ingredients, including color. He then submits this ticket simultaneously to the billing department. With all data is one spot, reports can be established to monitor colored concrete shipments. The software, in time, will also provide inventory summaries of pigment.

Results from this color interface software have been positive, says Wiggins. Command Alkon has installed prototypes of the integrated systems at producers in Minnesota, Connecticut, and Missouri.

Other dispatching suppliers recognize this need. John Rabchuk, president of Systech Inc., of Woodbridge, Ill., says that engineers are working on a similar color batching integration package that should be available by late this year.

Partnering with Command Alkon,, with color interface are BASF,; Lanxess,; and Solomon Colors,