Producer members of the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute have long prided themselves on their quality-assurance programs, which help them produce
Craig Shutt and Don Talend
Producer members of the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute have long prided themselves on their quality-assurance programs, which help them produce high-quality products with tight tolerances and uniform appearance. The group recently extended those quality procedures into the field with its Field Qualification program, and it will increase those assurances to the construction team this year with an upgraded Field Certification program.
The goal for the program, precasters say, is to ensure the quality they produce Û and the promise they make to owners and specifiers for high-quality products Û is kept when the products must perform throughout their long service life after installation.
We as an industry tell our customers Û building owners, architects and engineers Û that we are building a PCI-certified product, explains Jerry Kriegel of Concrete Structures Inc. in Marshfield, Mass., and the chair of PCI’s Field Certification committee. And, we are producing just that. But we’re also implying that our products are produced for the owner in a form that is useful to him, with the highest quality possible. But, it’s not useful to him until it goes into his building, and we have to certify that part of the process to ensure what we are producing performs as everyone anticipates it should once it’s installed.
PCI’s qualification process, which began in 1999, is well-known in the industry among the top erectors. More than 80 companies participate in the Qualified Erector program, including approximately 45 independent erectors. Many of those companies are expected to upgrade to the certified level during 2007, when PCI is putting an emphasis on the value that the higher level of evaluation can provide.
PROGRAM USES EXISTING STANDARDS
In the qualification program, each erection crew, whether run by independent erectors or precast companies, is audited according to nationally published criteria. Those include PCI’s two publications, Erectors’ Manual: Standards & Guidelines for the Erection of Precast Concrete Products, which offers techniques and details; and, Erection Safety for Precast & Prestressed Concrete, which provides supplemental information. Two audits are performed each year, one by a trained in-house staff person and a second by an independent third party.
Erectors are qualified in three categories of work: Simple Structural Systems; Complex Structural Systems, including total precast structures; and, Architectural Systems. Trained field auditors review the company’s processes and ensure they are performed consistently.
The new Certified Erector program, which a handful of precast producers already have joined, requires a thorough documentation audit each year. PCI provides the independent auditor with certified field audits that have been conducted on the erector during the year, and in turn, the auditor requests from the erector, in advance, a list of projects over the past 12 months and the crews assigned.
The auditor alerts the erector to the impending visit, giving the company time to prepare the paperwork. During the visit, the auditor determines whether all of the primary crews have submitted to the field audit during the past year. The company audit ensures that all of the erector’s projects are being performed to the same standards as those projects that have had the specific field audit. Companies that don’t have the proper documentation are noted for nonconformance and have an opportunity to meet the standard and report compliance.
The independent review doesn’t have to mean added paperwork for the erector, PCI members say. The auditor wants to see evidence in the documentation that the quality-assurance procedures are being used thoroughly and consistently, explains Carl Harris, vice president and general manager of Carl Harris Co. in Wichita, Kan., and a certified auditor in the program. If companies currently are documenting their procedures, they should be able to provide the documentation to achieve certification without undue hardship, he notes. As long as the processes are in place and the files show how they are implemented, that’s acceptable.
For those who document their processes well already, preparation for an audit shouldn’t be extensive, adds David Buesing, vice president of Wells Concrete Products Co. in Wells, Minn. The paperwork will probably be the same for many erectors, but it will have to be better organized so it can be reviewed by an outside third party, he explains. In-house auditors used during the qualification program are aware of the company’s procedures, he notes, so they don’t always track down the procedural paperwork that the certification auditor will need to have at hand.
ENTIRE TEAM BENEFITS
The incremental effort for documentation will pay off for erectors, all agree. The program benefits everyone in the construction channel in different ways:
The precast producer benefits because his product will be erected out in the field by an erection crew that maintains tight industry standards, stresses Tom McCabe, vice president of construction for Shockey Precast Group in Winchester, Va., and a member of the Certification committee.
The precaster also benefits because he’s ensuring the owner and the designer that his product will be erected by a qualified erector, to continue the quality process that begins with the PCI-certified plant audit. The Institute’s plant-audit program includes questions about whether the product remains under the manufacturer’s control during erection and what percentage was erected by a qualified erector, he notes. Shockey clearly stepped up its professionalism when the company’s erection teams were qualified, he says. And frankly, we’d been pretty good. But we’re a better erection department because of it.
Ed McDougle of consulting specifying engineers Ross Bryan Associates in Nashville, Tenn., agrees that the qualification program has made a difference and saved precast companies trouble and money. It gives the precaster a totally successful project; no matter how good their product is, if their erector is not qualified or certified, it costs them money.
The program also enhances the industry’s image overall, which can expand the use of precast across the market, points out Gary Wildung of precast designer FDG in Arvada, Colo. If precasters are instituting this quality program in the field, it gives the industry a lift in the eyes of the design community. That can give designers an incentive to make precast their first source for design ideas.
The independent erector
The erectors will be recognized for the quality work that they do, which, in turn, will generate more work for them, says Bill Miller of Building Erection Services in Olathe, Kan. The idea is also the fact that they’re doing it more safely. Workmen are not a commodity you put on the shelf; they are the heart of the business.
It puts them in position to market themselves to producers, adds McCabe. He’s telling the specifier, ÎI’m a certified erector and I’m going to do it right; I have a track record.Ì When the producer is being graded on his plant audit with the percentage of product erected by a certified erector, then it benefits the producer to use a certified erector. And it puts the erector in a position to say, ÎI’m certified.Ì
Adds McDougle, It raises their stature; it allows them to provide a quality project and even though it costs them a little money, it will significantly reduce their costs in regard to callbacks and problems.
The general contractor
In addition to the building owner or developer, the contractor who subcontracts out erection work is another type of customer for the erector. The bottom line: the general contractor is the one who’s got to put the building up; if he gets someone who just slaps it up and makes a mess out of it, you’re in a heck of a position because time-wise, you can’t stop and remake the building, says Miller.
Contractors focus on the safety aspect, and that’s a big plus for them, Wildung says. If you get people more focused on that and documentation, it’s big for the general contractors.
The quality and planning that make the job run smoother are key elements for the contractor, notes Shockey Precast’s McCabe. When you’ve got preplanning and preconstruction thought out going into it, then the job goes smoothly on site. It goes more quickly and there’s a little bit less congestion.
The owner or developer
Last, but certainly not least, the owner cares that he is getting exactly what he wanted: a quality finished structure that will maintain its high-quality appearance and function for decades. A good erection process ensures that owners receive a quality building, says Ross Bryan’s McDougle. They’re not buying precast concrete components Û they’re buying a building. They care only that the building is built correctly, it looks good, it fits, the joints are even, they didn’t spend a lot of extra money, and they weren’t delayed. Time is money.
Miller points to the example of a parking structure, where long-term upkeep and maintenance will be reduced significantly if the facility is constructed properly and to close tolerances. On the aesthetics side, if you have somebody who hasn’t beaten it up and damaged it, you have a better-quality building. If an owner wants to sell the building after 10, 15, 20 years, and the person buying it can recognize quality, the price is going to be much higher. If it’s beat up and patched up, it’s not going to bring as much.
As more owners and designers become aware of the availability of the program, erectors will find themselves under more scrutiny to participate, notes McCabe. There will be cases where certification will give the owner or designer a comfort level, certainly in this day and age of liability concerns, he says. Certification tells the owner and contractor that they’ve got a guy who’s committed to planning ahead, and that’s a big part of meeting the schedule. That’s going to make the job go smoother.
The cost of the program shouldn’t deter anyone, fearing that passing along those fees to cover costs will lose them work, the erectors agree. It’s really not a big dollar amount, says FDG’s Wildung. Plus, there are efficiencies built into the program that are going to save them more money than it will cost them. Erectors may also be able to realize lower insurance rates by showing their documented safety procedures, says Miller, which will help reduce their operating costs.
The program definitely will aid erectors in marketing their services to precasters and general contractors who recognize this as a true quality-assurance program, says Kansas auditor Carl Harris. It validates the way you do business. Competitive forces are creating a necessity for the industry to establish uniform field-quality standards in any event, the erectors say. The steel industry has such a certification program in place that includes significant documentation requirements.
I believe that once the specifying and buying community is educated, the program will become common, says Ed McDougle. They’ll realize that to have a totally certified project, they need to specify plant certification and erector certification both. No matter how good the product is, plant certification stops at the gate.
That need to continue the process to ensure the owner’s and designer’s vision is achieved will ensure precasters and independent erectors participate in the process, says Wells Concrete’s David Buesing. Precasters in particular have expressed interest in the program, because they want to ensure everyone on the construction team that the projects are being erected correctly, and that those processes are being checked by a professional.
Ensuring that vision is achieved to provide generations of use and consistent quality is the key to a precaster’s long-term success. PCI’s Erector Certification program represents the construction team’s guarantee that precasters are keeping the promise.
Û Prepared by Craig Shutt and Don Talend for the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute, www.pci.org