Challenging Times

Continuing pressure from a weak residential market combined with the persistent assault of plastic pipe portends a challenging year in 2008 for the concrete

Tom Kuennen

Continuing pressure from a weak residential market Û combined with the persistent assault of plastic pipe Û portends a challenging year in 2008 for the concrete pipe industry, according to the American Concrete Pipe Association’s new chairman. What the rest of the country is now facing, we in Michigan have been dealing with for quite some time, observes 2008 ACPA Chairman Bill Washabaugh, who is vice president in charge of production at Northern Concrete Pipe, Inc., Bay City, Mich. Washabaugh was installed at the helm during the association’s mid-March annual convention in California.

The economy poses a lot of challenges to our industry, Washabaugh tells Concrete Products, but ACPA is not going to step back and wait for things to come to us. Instead, we are strengthening our membership and finding ways for companies to get more out of the available membership dollars, despite decreases in revenue as tonnages go down. We will move forward.

Acknowledging economic hardships facing the concrete industry and ACPA, he nevertheless remains optimistic about both. The association has an exceptional staff, whose relationships continue to build with the people who make decisions on use and design of our products. We know the challenges of the market downturn are temporary, as we have been through this before: much uglier than things right now was a period in the early 80s when we had 20 to 22 percent interest rates. As the cycle corrects itself, the market will come back, Washabaugh observes.

The ÎgreenÌ revolution will benefit the concrete pipe industry, he notes. Drainage infrastructure must be replaced, and with the new ÎgreenÌ evolution in society and construction, we will see a tremendous amount of money put in drainage and water treatment, Washabaugh asserts. There are many opportunities to come as people continue to take responsibility for our environment. We are looking forward to taking part in these opportunities when they happen.

Meanwhile, ACPA is revising its strategic plan. Originally intended to be revisited every three years, the association is now reviewing it annually. In fulfillment of its plan, ACPA added a (Central) regional engineer in 2007. We are considering adding more, says Washabaugh. They are good at opening doors and building relationships with governmental agencies. Furthermore, they have been successful in bringing in new members.

Besides producer and associate members, ACPA now welcomes civil engineers and allied individuals with the recent addition of a new professional membership category. The association will offer online continuing education courses at no charge to all members. Monthly webinars will also be added in the near future.


ACPA is anticipating the debut of The Precast Show, sponsored in partnership with the National Precast Concrete Association [see related sidebar]. Our production short course will be attached to that event, Washabaugh reports, and we are looking for other ways to grow The Precast Show.

Besides offering ACPA a greater share of the proceeds than its predecessor [Manufactured Concrete Products Expo, or MCPX], The Precast Show will allow the association to provide a more member-friendly show schedule. In contrast to MCPX’s extended mid-week schedule, the new show will be held over a weekend, Friday through Sunday, with ACPA classes available before the event. Accordingly, the new schedule is amenable to both floor visits and participation in ACPA’s continuing education programs: the Production Short Course School and Concrete Pipe University (CPU).

We may be able to bring other courses and other meetings to The Precast Show, Washabaugh tells Concrete Products. With all the members, associates, manufacturers and presenters, it’s a great opportunity. We’re also working with NPCA, getting a greater focus on precast and developing the synergies there as we promote concrete products in challenging times.


Demonstrating the importance of continuing education to his tenure, Washabaugh firmly is committed to continuation of the Production Short Course School and the Concrete Pipe University. The Production and Marketing Short Course Schools offer different tracks, he points out.

His family-owned company sends between a dozen and two dozen employees every year, Washabaugh notes, depending on where it is being held. The Production School offers leadership, quality, basic production and general production courses, as well as machinery clinics and round tables to discuss any problem a person might have. You can’t measure all the benefits that come out of it, but we’ve seen great results when our people return with ideas from the school and from talking with their peers in the industry.

Technology is evolving rapidly, and we need to know what we are competing with, Washabaugh asserts. That’s the best way of impressing our employees with the need to adapt and change.

The necessity among seasoned veterans to stay on top of their game is evidenced by the fact that only about a third of those who attend the production short course are first-time attendees, he adds. We continue to offer and develop a curriculum that keeps our audience interested and coming back, says Washabaugh.

In addition to classroom sessions, the Production Short Course School takes its attendees out in the real world. Last year, course participants visited a rod mill where billets of steel are manufactured for production of reinforcing rods. Next year, we are considering going to a wire mesh facility, Washabaugh reports. If employers allow the time for their employees to come, it’s a great opportunity to observe things they may never see otherwise.

To keep the program fresh, the entire Short Course School catalog is being updated, Washabaugh affirms. We are bringing in both marketing and production people to promote each element’s understanding of the other’s responsibilities and the reasons behind their actions, he explains. We are raising the bar even higher, to bring more middle managers into the program. Next year’s school will be different from anything we’ve done in the past. A volunteer task group, in coordination with ACPA staff, will finalize the Short Course School content revisions in April.

The Fall Short Course School offers sessions in Marketing, Basic Engineering and Advanced Engineering. This training is open to both members and nonmembers. Courses are revised each year based on the needs of attendees.

The Concrete Pipe University provides an opportunity for people to understand our Q-Cast program for certification of plants, Washabaugh emphasizes. Some of the state DOT and other officials may want to know what qualifies someone to manage a Q-Cast program. With CPU, we can train and certify Q-Cast program managers, ensuring that not only are they assigned the responsibilities of maintaining plant certification, they understand the standards, the requirements, including their function and intent. Additionally, members’ needs determine other courses offered through the CPU program.


ACPA’s Q-Cast plant certification program is fine-tuned specifically for concrete pipe producers. It encompasses pipe and box culverts, and we now are including manholes, too, Washabaugh reports. We are considering other products as well.

Even in states where plant certification is not required, we have certified members, he tells Concrete Products. Association members just know it’s a good way to do business and control their operations.

Q-Cast’s successes contrast sharply with efforts by the promoters of concrete pipe’s competitor, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe. They may have had a nominal QC protocol of their own, but are now intertwining their program with American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO) testing.

AASHTO is doing some very minimal testing as evaluation for conformation, not as an acceptance program. And, we are concerned, because the HDPE industry is deceptively referencing this evaluation protocol as a certification program through AASHTO, Washabaugh explains.

HDPE advocates claim that AASHTO has a formal certification program like we do, but they don’t, he stresses. AASHTO denies being the responsible agency determining whether or not HDPE pipe meets standards. But, the HDPE people have promoted the evaluation program as AASHTO certification at the last two AASHTO meetings I’ve attended.

In fact, AASHTO visits each HDPE pipe plant annually and tests a minimum of one pipe and one resin sample in accordance with a requirement that all pipe styles and sizes be tested every five years. By contrast, ACPA’s Q-Cast program may entail testing a size of pipe daily on a three-edge bearing machine, and concrete samples are tested many times throughout the day. There is a huge difference between the result and the intent of the two programs, Washabaugh asserts. We may have as many as six different inspecting agencies in a plant on any given day.

ACPA is responding to the HDPE industry’s obfuscation via its AASHTO and ASTM contacts. We are involved as members of the committees, and we are spreading the word among the proper people, keeping them informed as best we can, Washabaugh affirms.


In 2008, Q-Cast was further buttressed by the release of a new Q-Cast Plant Certification Manual V. 4.0, effective January 1. The new manual has many changes, says Washabaugh. Some are based on experience. The frequency of testing has increased, for example, with more testing of joints. While concrete provides the best joints in the pipe industry, we constantly are trying to improve performance, so we have implemented new means and methods of verifying what we have. We also have to make adjustments to meet or exceed ASTM standards, which change every year.

Moreover, ACPA is upgrading its certification standards. We are raising the standard to qualify, because our industry is so good at what we do, Washabaugh exclaims.



Celebrating its golden anniversary this year, Northern Concrete Pipe, Inc., comprises two plants, both in Michigan: a Bay City headquarters facility and an operation in Lansing, the state capital. The company was founded in 1958 by Beatrice and Edward Washabaugh, grandparents of 2008 ACPA Chairman Bill Washabaugh, as well as his parents, Norma and William, and an uncle, Peter.

Today, Northern employs approximately 160. It continues to operate as a family enterprise: both parents are involved, plus their five sons (including Bill Jr.), two of Bill’s sons, Bill’s wife, and two brothers-in-law.

Northern produces and markets a variety of concrete pipe and ancillary materials. Its offerings include reinforced concrete pipe, precast box culverts, Hy-Span culvert systems, jacking pipe, manholes and castings, gate wells, catch basins, wet wells, elliptical concrete pipe, and Stormceptor stormwater treatment products. The company also supplies fuel storage tanks, precast buildings, Anti-Hydro products, Speed Crete, Mirafi filter fabric, Fernco fittings, and joint compounds.





Vice President-Production
Northern Concrete Pipe, Inc.
Bay City, Michigan


Senior Vice President
Hanson Pipe & Precast
Houston, Texas


Rinker Materials
Concrete Pipe Division
Frederick, Maryland

Founded in 1907, the American Concrete Pipe Association (ACPA) is a nonprofit organization comprising producers of concrete pipe and box culverts, as well as equipment manufacturers, and suppliers of products and services related to the concrete pipe industry. Member companies are located throughout the U.S., Canada, and 30-plus foreign countries. This year, membership is being expanded to include a professional category for engineers and allied individuals. Matt Childs, P.E., serves as ACPA president.

In all matters affecting the welfare of the concrete pipe industry, ACPA is the advocate of producers, manufacturers, and suppliers. Association members contribute to the nation’s infrastructure and safety by providing quality concrete pipe, engineered to offer a lasting and economical solution to drainage and pollution problems.

ACPA supports members with a wide range of programs and services to promote and advance the use of concrete pipe. Accordingly, it addresses marketing, training, technical innovations, manufacturing, quality, safety, government relations, and research.

A variety of resources, available for both members and nonmembers, can be downloaded from the ACPA website, often at no charge. ACPA also has a selection of manuals and software to assist in the design of concrete pipe and box culverts for drainage and pollution-control applications.

More information can be obtained by contacting the American Concrete Pipe Association, 1303 West Walnut Hill Lane, Suite 305, Irving, TX 75038-3008; tel.: 972/506-7216; fax: 972/506-7682; e-mail: [email protected]; or, visiting the ACPA web site at


The American Concrete Pipe Association is partnering with the National Precast Concrete Association to launch a new trade show, dubbed The Precast Show. As its name implies, The Precast Show is devoted exclusively to the precast concrete industry. The inaugural event will take place Feb. 20-22, 2009, at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. The show will replace the former Manufactured Concrete Products Expo (MCPX).

Developed by leading precast suppliers and manufacturers within the industry, The Precast Show will feature the latest equipment, products and services. In addition to an expansive trade show floor, the event will include technical education programming, plant tours, and networking events. According to ACPA and NPCA board members, the new trade show will be tailored to precast and concrete pipe producers in a growing industry that includes hundreds of products for both underground and above-ground construction.

The partnership is a natural fit for both trade associations, affirms 2007 ACPA Chairman Tom Wheelan. We share many of the same suppliers, we have many of the same production equipment needs, and we run our plants in similar ways, he observes. The opportunities for technical training and networking will benefit both groups greatly.

More information is available at, or via NPCA’s Brenda Ibitz, 317/582-5109; [email protected].