Massachusetts precaster Unistress Corp. won a $70 million contract to manufacture concrete deck panels for New York City’s new Tappan Zee bridge, replacing a deteriorating structure built in 1955.
New York Thruway Authority Massachusetts precaster Unistress Corp. won a $70 million contract to manufacture concrete deck panels for New York City’s new Tappan Zee bridge, replacing a deteriorating structure built in 1955.

Modest but steady growth continued for precast concrete in 2013. The sector grew by 5% last year, compared to 2.5% in 2012, according to the National Precast Concrete Association’s (NPCA) 2014 Benchmarking Report, an independent survey of U.S. precast producers. The report identifies three emerging product lines: architectural wall panels, concrete pavers, and precast concrete pavement systems, an application that generated $37 million for precasters last year, thanks to growing department of transportation approval of rapid repair road systems.

Other infrastructure projects have suffered from the same funding problems experienced throughout the industry, resulting in lower sales of box culverts, three-sided structures, and manholes. The report notes 17% growth of “other precast concrete products,” attributed to “the growing diversity of precast concrete products in the construction marketplace and the increasing ability of precast manufacturers to create customized products.”

Precast producers responding to the TCP Survey reported mixed results. About one-half expect this year’s revenue to exceed last year’s, while one-third expect it will stay the same. Infrastructure, industrial, and parking deck projects have picked up; institutional work and burial vaults are in decline. More than 80% expect enough growth to hire new employees in 2014.

Prestressed concrete producer Unistress Corp. in Pittsfield, Mass., proves that one big job can provide much-needed momentum. “Our bridge division has had incredible growth since we received our largest job in history, a $70 million contract to provide precast concrete deck panels for the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge,” says company president Perri Petricca.

In contrast, producers specializing in burial vaults expect revenues to stay the same or even decline in 2014. Wilkes-Barre Burial Vault in Hanover Park, Pa., is exploring different product lines due to “product saturation and a flat death rate,” says Terry Vonderheid. Bailey Monument Co. in Waycross, Ga., “will diversify to survive,” faced with “more competitors and a declining customer base.”

Atlanta-based Oldcastle “registered solid gains” in its precast sales for utility infrastructure applications, primarily in the Great Plains, northern California, and the Mid-Atlantic.

NPCA expects precast sales to grow 6%, or $16 billion, in 2014. “The prevailing trends in construction are favorable for precasters,” says Ty Gable, NPCA president. Opportunities include LEED v4 standards for durable materials and the growing adoption of building information modeling (BIM) for precast (See “A Model of Precision,” page 23, July-August 2014, TCP).

Shelby O. Mitchell is a Berwyn, Ill.-based writer and the former editor of TCP. E-mail shelbyo.mitchell@gmail.com.