By Don Marsh
Structural product prowess, architectural product competencies and a 148-acre operation between New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. have entrenched High Concrete Group, LLC in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast commercial building markets and underpinned its leadership in parking structure contracts among Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute members.
Without impacting prestressed double tee and structural component output, the producer announced in late 2019 a prioritizing of architectural product capacity and casting techniques at its flagship, which occupies a nearly mile-long, Denver, Pa. site just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Management outlined an $8 million capital investment plan, called Project Osprey, for architectural and structural casting lines—the former moving from a 360- x 120-ft. enclosure to the latter’s 600- x 120-ft. enclosure, and vice versa. The outlay would also see expansion and improvement of mix production capacity and delivery methods: A dedicated batch plant for each line plus crane and bucket mix delivery to replace three front discharge mixers previously serving the architectural line.
Over a 12-month window, High Concrete upgraded operations with the goal of providing clients more artistic and intricate structural and non-structural wall elements, cladding and panels. “The architectural community demands high-performing, beautiful building enclosures,” notes Vice President of Sales and Marketing Jeremy Metzger. “And durable, resilient and energy-efficient precast is the answer.”
Architect, developer and contractor signals—indicating steady parking structure prospects and growth in architectural precast, especially on the higher end—informed the capital investment framework of High Concrete President J. Seroky, who practices a philosophy former General Electric CEO Jack Welch preached: “Change before you have to.”
The peak of architectural and structural production line work overlapped pandemic response measures that ultimately had little effect on equipment relocation and batch plant construction. The Project Osprey label suits an undertaking of Seroky, an Army veteran who had a tour of duty in Iraq during the 1991 Desert Storm operation, and High Concrete Vice President of Operations Phoenix Rann, a West Point graduate.
The company’s vision for the architectural market, production flexibility and higher capacity parallel the V-22 Osprey combat aircraft, whose tiltrotor technology combines what Boeing Co. describes as “the vertical performance of a helicopter with the speed and range of a fixed-wing aircraft … filling an operational niche unlike any other aircraft.”
“This strategic initiative brings increased capacity and efficiencies for both of our plants. Project Osprey has enabled us to maintain our leadership role in structural precast, while successfully securing the lead architectural producer position in the Mid-Atlantic market,” says Seroky. “It proves a dual commitment to our longstanding heritage and to investing in technology that keeps High Concrete at the forefront of innovation in the precast market.”
Project Osprey has raised productivity levels and lowered the potential for safety incidents by minimizing mix delivery vehicle traffic under roof while curtailing indoor and outdoor foot traffic. “The larger enclosure allows us to position cage fabrication, carpentry, mold machining, form building and preparation on a plane with 6,500 square feet of flat deck and 19,300 square feet of prestress bed space, and three stationary column forms,” says Rann. “We have increased architectural product capacity by more than 25 percent.” Pre-pour productivity gains, he adds, are attributable to investment in CNC-driven mold or form routers and saws, automated welding machines for the steel shop, and lift-assist spools easing loads for carpenters operating pneumatic nailers.
AA CERTIFICATION AUDITS
Project Osprey coincided with the new PCI Architectural Plant Certification program, which premiered in October 2020 with a 12-month audit and implementation window. Effective October 2021, all projects stipulating PCI Plant Certification must be bid with reference to AA or four other new categories.
High Concrete was among 11 initial producers certifying for AA, tailored to plants producing panels or elements with intricate finishes, textures, color schemes, and complex accents or geometries. The PCI Plant Certification Committee retooled the categories so High Concrete and peers could demonstrate for architects and their clients precast enclosure possibilities thanks to Building Information Modeling tools; molds or forms fabricated with CNC-guided machinery; 3D-printed formwork; self-consolidating concrete mixes; and, new concrete quality control technology. PCI AA category parameters have helped architectural precast gain more traction among some of world’s top architects, including those behind major projects reshaping New York City.
High Concrete factored new architectural plant certification criteria into Project Osprey line items. It oriented the architectural batch plant and curing around AA tolerances for color and surface consistency, starting with the use of moisture probes in aggregate bins and new mixers. “We have gone from using three mixer trucks and a batch plant with twin shaft mixer—shared with the structural production line—to a dedicated plant with two planetary mixers. The truck drivers have been reassigned to, and welcomed by, our fleet division,” explains Quality Control Manager Ryan Rosenberger, who transitioned to his present role from batch plant manager responsible for both architectural and structural lines.
“The two mixers and two 6-yard buckets allow crews to cast in multiple beds with different mixes and no concrete delivery bottlenecks,” he adds. “The planetary models have more robust mixing mechanisms than a twin shaft, which in colored mixes helps fracture and disperse our granulated pigments. The changeover has allowed us to reconfigure material handling and storage, and improve quality and repeatability. We now have up to 20 different aggregates for panel mix designs. The technology we use for batching, mixing and color systems is the best available for architectural precast.”
Project Osprey has added architectural line working area and new processes, topped by the adoption of laser projection software to increase bed layout efficiencies and drawings presented on mobile devices and/or large flatscreens. “All production beds are lined with ceiling-mounted lasers, and large monitors have been added for visual aid in production installation,” says Architectural Plant Manager Ryan Gehman, who climbed the High Concrete ranks after beginning his career as a production laborer. “Our curing system is being redesigned with an IoT platform, capable of automatically communicating with plant and facility systems. For example, there are wireless connections to casting beds with thermal couple relay signals, which alert the system to activate radiant heat fixtures running the length of the production bays. We’re also considering using this platform to manage our mechanical and electric systems, which would create a ‘smart building’.”
Production area transitions were completed without setting back architectural or structural schedules. The structural line switch entailed the move of 1,000 feet of double tee beds, along with new material handling to serve a batch plant with 4-yd. Sicoma twin shaft mixer. In the interim, High Concrete maintains concrete delivery to double tee and other structural product forms with a front discharge mixer truck. The batch plant mezzanine, however, is designed for installation of traveling buckets running on rails below the structural product bays’ overhead cranes.