In 1998, while he was director of engineering and quality control for ready-mix and aggregate producer Lattimore Materials in McKinney, Texas, Richard Szecsy realized he couldn’t just stand by and wait for change to happen. “Standards have such an enormous impact on our business, I had to get involved,” he says.
After becoming a producer-member of ASTM International, Szecsy joined Committee C09 on Concrete and Concrete Aggregates. Drawing on his industry expertise and Ph.D. in civil engineering, he helped develop and update standards, including C1602/C1602M, Specification for Mixing Water Used in the Production of Hydraulic Cement Concrete and C1603, Test Method for Measurement of Solids in Water.
Szecsy became subcommittee chairman of C09.40 on Ready-Mixed Concrete in 2008—the committee responsible for what he calls “one of the big dogs” of ASTM’s catalog, C94 Standard Specification for Ready-Mixed Concrete. He continued to take on more responsibility, and has served as executive secretary for Committee C09 since 2011.
Szecsy became president of the Texas Aggregates & Concrete Association (TACA) in 2010, an organization that represents producers of aggregate, concrete, cement, admixtures, fly ash, and construction materials, and is the largest of its kind in the U.S. “ASTM’s mission really overlaps with what TACA is doing in terms of education and promotion,” he says.
The right place and time
In the meantime, something unusual happened under Szecsy’s leadership of C09.40. “A lot of factors were coming together to create an opportunity for change,” he recalls. “At the time, we were just doing what we thought was best for the industry.”
Szecsy’s chairmanship coincided with significant shifts in the marketplace, including a move from prescriptive to performance specifications, a greater focus on environmental impacts, a concern for material availability, and new government regulations and specifications affecting concrete producers’ businesses. At the same time, ASTM was adopting newer, faster technology, such as using online collaboration tools instead of faxing and mailing ballots, that expedited internal communications.
Within six years, the subcommittee was able to enact a series of major changes to ASTM C94. “We made changes to some things that have been in place since the first half of the last century that have had an immediate impact on the industry,” says Szecsy.
More work to be done
Although Szecsy’s chairmanship of C09.40 ended in January 2014, his tenure at ASTM has not ended. In January 2015, he will become chairman of Committee C09.20 on Normal Weight Aggregates.
Meanwhile, the recent updates to C09.40 have opened the door to other significant changes under consideration, including the 90-minute limit for concrete to travel in mixers, and standard practices for handling returned concrete. “Now, more than ever, we’re aware that specifications are impacting the way we make business decisions,” says Szecsy. “Everyone has an equal opportunity to give feedback, but the industry won’t wait if you choose not to participate.”
Szecsy continues to write articles for several industry publications, including The Concrete Producer, and travel the world as a speaker and educator for ASTM and TACA. This fall, he will travel to Saudi Arabia to teach concrete standards and technology to representatives of the Gulf State Organization, a group that is coordinating economic, commercial, and industrial regulations among several Persian Gulf states, including standards for the way concrete is used.
Changes to ASTM C94
“We made changes to some things that have been in place since the first half of the last century, that have had an immediate impact on the industry,” says Richard Szecsy. Some of the most significant changes are remarkably simple:
A sack of cement no longer weights 94 lbs. Since the 1930’s, the specification has “taken a very prescriptive approach to how much cement someone uses, without a technical reason,” says Szecsy. Now the document better reflects the practices of its users, who can specify their own weights for a “sack or bag” of cement if desired.
Water can be added to concrete in transit. Historically, water could only be added at the plant or jobsite. Within the last decade, truck technology has advanced, allowing producers to save time by bringing concrete to a specified slump on the way to a jobsite, but the standard did not allow it in practice.
Concrete is still good after 300 drum revolutions. Szecsy researched the reasoning behind the standard’s 300-rotation limit and found it was based on a calculation from the early 1940s. The standard writers multiplied the speed of a single phase engine truck motor, rotating at 6 rpms, by 50 minutes, the average delivery time of concrete in New York City (the largest U.S. concrete market at the time).
Thus, 301 revolutions became the number at which “the concrete magically wasn’t good anymore and couldn’t be used,” says Szecsy. “With today’s scarcity of materials, the environmental impact of building with concrete, and business considerations, people were questioning how many millions of yards of concrete were being thrown away on a daily basis based on the 300-drum-revolution limit.” The committee collected new data based on modern concrete mix designs, and in the absence of any contrary data, updated the standard to make a drum rotation limit to be specified based on the purchaser or concrete producers limits based on environmental conditions, jobsite conditions, or transportation limitations.
“C94M-14a is significantly updated to reflect the way the international concrete industry produces and uses concrete,” says Szecsy. The new standard closes the gap between state-of-the-art technology that’s being applied today, and outdated “state-of-practice” technologies that are no longer applicable.
Although Szecsy can’t quantify how many yards of concrete have been saved or how much cement is no longer arbitrarily wasted, he says the new standard empowers producers and contractors to make an immediate impact. “People can take this new document to specifiers who are still operating in the old ways and ask them to update their practices,” he says. “Some producers started promoting the new standard the day it was released.”
“ACI Names 36 New Fellows,” Concrete International April 6, 2013
Szecsy was honored with the rank of Fellow of the American Concrete Institute (FACI) in 2013.
“Navigating Constant Change” SpotLight, by Richard Wilhelm. Standardization News, May/June 2012.
“Changing the Way Concrete is Ordered in ASTM C94,” by Dr. Richard S. Szecsy. Concrete InFocus, Spring 2008
“Mixing a Winner,” The Concrete Producer, December 2003
Rich Szecsy describes a three-point strategy he used in the ICF Mix Design contest.