High Profile

Of the four Spancrete Group, Inc., producer companies serving the greater Milwaukee/Chicago market, it was never a question which plant would be expanded

Steven Prokopy

Of the four Spancrete Group, Inc., producer companies serving the greater Milwaukee/Chicago market, it was never a question which plant would be expanded but how soon the expansion would take place. According to Brett Evenson, general manager of the company’s Valders, Wis., plant, only his operation had room. Most of the other plants are land-locked, surrounded by developed property with no room to grow, he explains. This property was a corn field before we bought it.

Just as the frost was coming out of the ground in early spring 2005, major construction started on a 71-acre site of an all-new, wet-cast facility adjacent to the company’s already expansive operation in Valders, near Manitowoc, about 40 miles from Green Bay. (For more on The Spancrete Group, see page 28.) The new production center is actually phase one of a possible long-term, three-phase site development plan that would ultimately see the new plant grow to about four times its current size and manufacturing capacity.


With the goal of operating one of the most modern facilities of its kind, Spancrete’s vice president of operations, Roger Becker, and operations manager, John Schnell, selected Simem America Corp. of San Antonio for the design-build greenfield undertaking, based on a turnkey supply of a tower batching plant facility two years ago. Spancrete purchased a fluid-zone-zero-gravity, twin-shaft mixer for a retrofit at Valders, and found the results impressive.

Built in the late 1950s, the original Valders plant is still running at capacity producing primarily hollowcore, and eventually growing to manufacture double tees and wall panels. (If there’s an 8-ft. hollowcore project anywhere in the area from Spancrete, it comes from here, says Evenson.) But in recent years, the need for additional precast/prestressed products in the marketplace has experienced a major boom, according to Evenson. Most Spancrete operations started with just hollowcore and have branched out, he says.

The scope of the new plant project included a new indoor wet-cast facility and two outdoor double-tee production beds. The main plant consists of three, 14- _ 150-ft. self-stressing steel forms from Hamilton and a 20- _ 180-ft. wooden deck for custom molds, still with stressing capabilities. The plant mainly handles wall panels and can accommodate insulated sandwich products. In addition, a steel stair form is used as needed. The twin-shaft mixer is used for structural mixes, including self consolidating concretes, while a planetary mixer handles material for architectural work. Going with the twin-shaft was a no-brainer, says Evenson. Any precaster will go to that for faster batch times and product quality. You use a high-intensity mixer for high volume.

The company began experimenting with SCC about six years ago, slowly increasing use of it over the years. Most of our products use SCC mixes, says Evenson. We went with it for all the reasons everybody tells you about: product quality, less man power, not as much vibration. Since we usually don’t pour anything out of Valders that requires DOT approval, all of Spancrete’s highway jobs [including major work on the Marquette Interchange in Milwaukee] are poured at our Green Bay plant. Valders produces retaining walls, tees, beams and columns, plus structural grade jobs, brick inlay products, and thin-brick work.

Each bay in the new building has two, 25-ton overhead cranes for product handling. Outside in the double tee pouring area, an overhead lift moves product around the yard, usually the morning after the tee is poured.

Evenson explains that the operation’s lack of stock in the yard is not an unusual thing, since most of the product goes right out when it’s ready. In fact, the 8-ft. beds at the old plant are booked through August. All quality control work, including cores, is done on site, as are invoicing and purchasing.


Since the new Valders facility was a greenfield project, Spancrete’s in-house corporate engineering team was able to design the flow of production to eliminate wasted labor and time. With the older building, we just kept adding on as we moved into new products, says Evenson.

Spancrete Valders became one of the first precast companies to take a page out of the automotive industry’s book and adopt Lean Manufacturing practices. With an emphasis on maximum throughput, each bed in the new plant has a color-coded tool center. Rather than running around the plant looking for the right tool, each bed has its own set of tools, each one clearly colored and marked as belonging to that bed, explains Evenson.

Also, each of the plant’s 40-plus employees wears a color-coded hard hat, designed to distinguish between the bed leader, workers, and new employees who are not trained to do certain tasks or use particular equipment. Evenson adds, We have seen a measurable growth Û and so have our competitors Û but the market hasn’t changed. We believe that Lean protocols are making the difference.

By Evenson’s measure, efficiency at the Valders plant was, for a time, threatened by the process of getting raw materials to the operation. Aggregate and product used to be shipped in by rail, but with the limited availability of rail lines, we now bring cement and aggregate in by truck, and ship our products out the same way, he says. Cement from St. Marys Cement’s Charlevoix, Mich., plant comes in through the Port of Manitowoc.

With seven drivers on staff, Spancrete handles about 20 percent of its own hauling, equaling 50 to 70 loads per day. But Evenson is quick to add that roughly 75 percent of the heavy haul work Û such as bigger bridge beams Û is done by the plant’s drivers. We have the expertise to move the larger pieces, so it just makes sense, he says.

Although no timeline is in place, the Valders property has acres of land to grow. Taking into consideration the current location of the raw materials bins, Phase 2 of the Valders expansion would see the construction of a second plant in the space between the new plant and the bins. Phase 3 would expand into the yard. Evenson adds that there may also be changes in store for the old Valders plant as well. About three-quarters of that building is extruder, with the remaining one-quarter being similar to the new operation. Eventually, we may get wet cast out of the old building entirely and only run it out of the new one, he explains.


Last year, in our visits to CastCon-Stone (July 2005) and High Concrete Structures (October 2005), we offered details and history on Lean Manufacturing principles, which are also being utilized at Spancrete, Inc.’s Valders operation. Concrete Products provides a refresher course on lean practices.

Early attempts to boost company profits by implementing strategies to improve output, reduce costs and increase market share can be traced as far back as Eli Whitney in the 1850s, who introduced the concept of interchangeable parts.

After World War II, Japanese manufacturers charged with rebuilding industry were challenged by a drastically reduced workforce, limited raw materials, and little money Û conditions that led to the development of ÎleanÌ practices, with Toyota being the primary trailblazer.

Following the 1990 publication of James Womack’s The Machine That Changed The World Û an examination of Japanese, American, and European automotive assembly plants Û Massachusetts Institute of Technology undertook a formal study of the mass-production process. The resulting Lean Manufacturing theory gained widespread popularity in American factories and continues to set the standard for mass production.