National Precast Concrete Association (NPCA) has been representing precast concrete manufacturers and suppliers since 1965. In addition to providing members with the programs and information they need to succeed, the association works to expand the use quality precast concrete throughout North America.
Precast concrete has taken off since the mid-twentieth century, becoming an increasingly important component of modern construction. “The precast concrete industry has been the fastest growing segment of the concrete industry since WWII,” says association president Ty Gable. “We are using precast concrete solutions every day in new and exciting ways.”
Precast concrete “takes the world’s most versatile and most functional building material—concrete—and manufacturers it in a climate-controlled and quality-controlled plant environment,” Gable says. The result is a reliable and cost-effective solution that can be incorporated into almost any building project. “You know you are going to get a consistent, quality product. And you know you are going to get your product when you need it. It saves a lot of time and a lot of money at the job site.”
NPCA works hard to educate the public on the advantages of precast concrete, in addition to educating members on important industry information. “We provide our members with education and training to make them the best educated and most informed people in the industry,” Gable says. Educational opportunities for members include webinars, an online learning center, lunch seminars, classes, and Precast University. Member interaction also provides education. “We bring noncompeting precasters together and they can share ideas, they can share their challenges, and they can learn from each other,” he added. “And that is vital.”
NPCA’s educational initiatives also include training opportunities, according to the NPCA president. “We have a comprehensive training program that teaches people who work in precast concrete plants all about concrete and all about how to make really good concrete,” he says. “It is very comprehensive. It is the best in the industry.” NPCA members choose from multiple areas of study, including safety, quality assurance, production, and leadership. The leadership program deals with everything from technical issues to questions such as, “how do you lead others in the plant to work together to produce the highest quality products?” By laying out a pathway to leadership, the training program opens up significant new opportunities. “Not many years ago, there was not a career path on the production floor,” Gable points out. “And we have now created that, so that the people working in these concrete plants now have the ability to learn and grow and progress in their career.”
In addition to providing new opportunities, education helps ensure quality throughout the industry. “The people who are manufacturing these precast concrete products in these plants [that participate in NPCA training] are knowledgeable,” Gable says. “They are certainly up to date on the latest standards and they are practicing good concrete knowledge. That is very important.” Quality is also safeguarded through NPCA’s strict standards. “We set standards for the industry. We have a Plant Certification program in which a plant is inspected with over 150 different standards for the manufacture of quality precast concrete.”
The NPCA Plant Certification program is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which ensures the highest standards in every phase of the certification process. “That is an international standard of quality, so that our program conforms to all of the best practices for that international standard,” Gable points out. The program creates one standard of quality for all precast concrete products, leveling the playing field for all plants and keeping the industry operating at the highest level. As a result, consumers can trust that certified plants are producing reliable, quality products. “Our members are able to manufacture to a very high quality standard and there is an assurance to the customer that we are doing that.”
NPCA also works to promote safety. The association encourages a strong safety culture within the industry and provides the resources needed to maintain high safety standards. In addition to maintaining a safety blog, NPCA’s Safety, Health and Environmental Committee has launched a bi-monthly safety training series. Designed for precasters to use for conducting safety programs at their plant, each program includes a PowerPoint presentation and a copy of the program from the NPCA Guide to Plant Safety, as well as additional materials.
The NPCA safety guide is the definitive safety publication for the industry. “We author and continuously edit [the] publication,” says Gable. “It provides proven safety practices and standards that they can adopt in their own plant.” The initiative has been a remarkable success. “Since its introduction about 15 years ago, we have been measuring the safety performance of our members who have adopted this manual as it compares to the entire concrete industry. In this 15 year period—and these measurements come from an OSHA report—NPCA members have a 20 percent better safety record than those that aren’t affiliated members in the industry. So we have done a lot to make the industry a safer place to work.”
NPCA is also responsible for the industry’s leading tradeshow and conference. The Precast Show has grown to become the largest precast-specific trade show in North America, making it the one place where members can find all of the industry’s leading suppliers and equipment experts in a single location. The 2016 Precast Show was bigger and better than ever, which included a new partnership with the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute, Gable says. “This year was a very exciting year because we had one of the largest shows that we have had, and the largest attendance that we have had since 2008. This year we had 51 first-time exhibitors, so there was a lot of brand new technology for the industry to see: new equipment, new technology, new methods. The Precast Show brings together the suppliers of the industry—those that provide equipment and services for the concrete industry—with the precast concrete producers and it provides an opportunity for them to learn about new and emerging technology and also to purchase labor-saving equipment. It improves their efficiency and energy consumption and the manufacturing machinery and tools that the industry needs.” Next year’s show will be held from March 2-4, 2017, in Cleveland, Ohio.
This year’s Annual Convention will be held in Austin, Texas from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1. The convention will include presentations by industry leaders, awards, networking opportunities, sightseeing opportunities, and plant tours.
Bringing the industry together is crucial to maintaining progress, particularly since technology is advancing at such a rapid pace. New technology and techniques “allow us to make stronger, better, higher performing concrete than we did just a decade ago,” Gable points out. “There is continuing development in mix design and in form systems and in form liners, so the finished product is stronger today, better looking today, and longer lasting and more functional today than it has ever been.”
Mr. Gable believes that this upward trend will continue long term. “I see that just continuing to get better,” he says. “Looking at nano technology and some of the other emerging technologies—they are perfectly suited to be used in precast concrete to make precast concrete even better. The future for precast concrete is extremely bright.”