A good indicator of the population growth and construction demand Texas has sustained much of this decade lies on a 17.5-acre Houston site, new home to an operator that leveraged customization to build a brand in a business where economy turns on product repeatability. A specialist in underground precast concrete for energy, utility and municipal markets, Locke Solutions chose the property to succeed a nearby, four-acre charter operation with 27,000-sq.-ft. plant enclosure.
|An affiliated business, Syncho, designed and built Locke Solutions’ new headquarters and plant. Compared to the producer’s charter site a few miles east, the new operation is equipped to deliver increasingly larger and more engineered structures.
|While the design team handled the office and yard space, along with building specs, it deferred to Mixer Systems on the best approach to positioning the batch plant under roof, in close proximity to two production bays, and at a point easing transfer of aggregates loaded in outside bins. In the transition, Mixer Systems expanded equipment originally delivered in 2014 such that three 40-ton bins replaced two 30-ton bins, and the mixer stand was raised 15 feet so it could reach buckets from 50- or 10-ton overhead cranes. Cement storage was maintained in the move of the original 350- and 270-bbl silos. Locke Solutions has standardized self-consolidating mixes for production economy, along with finished structure quality and appearance.
|Locke Solutions built the office and plant with the aim of showing a) customers how precast concrete has climbed on the construction value chain; and b) employees that they have a safe, efficient place to work plus a comfortable spot for a breather.
Relocation to a site with 40,000 sq. ft. of production under roof, 17,000 sq. ft. of office and break room space, and more than quadruple the acreage is no surprise. When Concrete Products visited upstart Locke Solutions in 2015, the writing was on the wall: Demand for stock and custom precast underground components and structures was beyond what the producer could handle from the site, where outdoor space equated to gate-free storage, coupled with the occasional fabrication and testing of larger products in public view. Through landscaping and building setback, the new plant very adequately buffers production and truck staging from neighbors in a subdivision opposite the entry.
“We decided to move forward with the idea of a new facility at the beginning of 2016. The old plant was becoming crowded and we could foresee it constricting our ability to grow in the near future,” says Asher Kazmann, a Texas A&M University engineering graduate who founded Locke Solutions in 2013. “From 2017 to the present, revenue has increased more than 175 percent, while our backlog has risen sixfold over the same period. It won’t be long before we need to increase capacity by expanding our footprint at the new facility.”
Locke Solutions maintains a catalog of smaller, stock structures or components across Communication, Drainage, Electrical, Industrial and Trench programs. “We have continued to grow by focusing on designs and alternative methods to cast-in-place construction to help reduce our clients’ costs,” Kazmann observes. “Most of our contracts are awarded to us because we have proven to be able to shorten the project schedule and mitigate part of the risk contractors deal with during cast-in-place concrete construction.”
The producer has significantly upped capacity for innovative structures in all size classes, especially those 20 tons and up. The old site had lifting capability of 40 tons and a 21.5-ft. crane hook height. The new plant’s main production bay has a 50-ton bridge crane with 31.5-ft. hook height; a 10-ton model affording 42.5-ft. hook height serves a companion bay.
“Compared to the original facility, we have more options in how we design precast structures in terms of both weight and maximum height,” Kazmann affirms. “On contracts requiring structures that exceed our lifting capacity, we set up a 40- x 100-ft. casting area.”
The new facility has 5,000 square feet dedicated to metal fabrication, including miscellaneous steel embeds, mold fabrication, and maintenance work. Although Locke Solutions enlists a few key vendors to provide metal services—thereby allowing team members to focus primarily on concrete operations—the fabrication space assures flexibility to control lead times when needed.
PERPETUAL BUY IN
Locke Solutions launched six years ago as the Texas economy was outperforming the rest of the country. While building and utility infrastructure market tailwinds boosted sales prospects early on, the producer knew ultimate success hinged on making strong first impressions by timely delivery of precast concrete solutions. Creative engineering and production flexibility attributed to in-house mold fabrication capability jolted initial market development.
“Several projects we have worked on through the years have started with a single structure or small scope of precast work,” Asher Kazmann explains. “Over the life of the project, orders have grown in scope and product variety as contractors or owners see the value in precast over cast-in-place concrete alternatives. Often times, we have converted up to five concrete elements as a schedule takes shape.”
A 2015 electrical manhole and traffic barrier contract for a large industrial site set a template that has carried the company to its new home. Shortly into the precast delivery cycle, Kazmann recalls, “The customer asked if we could redesign large cast-in-place stormwater junction boxes and box culverts into precast. Next we were given an opportunity to redesign cast-in-place pipe sleeper foundations and meter valve enclosures. Finally, we worked with the contractor to redesign a cast-in-place concrete sloping trench drain into a precast alternative system. All of this additional scope was derived from the contractor and owner recognizing they could shorten the project duration and reduce the manpower needed on the site. We have seen several projects with new clients play out in this same fashion over the years.”
Upholding the precast concrete value propositions of delivery certainty, quality control, and reduced project schedule risks has netted Locke Solutions orders from major energy and petrochemical customers, a handful of them accounting for shipments of 2,000 tons or more. Competencies in precast production and re-engineering cast-in-place concrete designs have also earned the producer consistent business with its largest accounts thus far: Houston Airport System and Port Houston, whose combined precast orders have eclipsed 20,000 tons.
“The Texas and Houston markets have continued to maintain a steady pace the past few years,” Kazmann concludes. “From corporations planting their headquarters in the Houston area to the general growth in population, we have been fortunate to see continued growth and product demand. We still have a strong focus on the industrial and heavy commercial markets in the greater Houston area. The build out of infrastructure related to Port Houston has created an abundance of marine and warehousing work. We also continue to see activity stemming from petrochemical facilities due to lower energy costs related to natural gas production.”
Management strives for culture and vibe that make Locke Solutions an attractive place to work; well-appointed cafeteria and break rooms in the new location, along with a diverse workforce, attest as much.
“Keeping a good culture in place is always a challenge, especially when you experience the growth in personnel that we have over the last couple years,” Kazmann observes. “Our team members are easily our biggest differentiator in the industry and they are the ones who have helped us get to this point. We have seen the same challenges in hiring as the rest of the industry, and are fortunate to have brought in the majority of our people through internal employee referrals.”
A motivated workforce that can assimilate new team members has Locke Solutions poised to continue building out its new home and advancing precast concrete methods in one of the country’s most fertile grounds for construction.