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Precast concrete is a building component for construction that is produced by casting concrete in a reusable mold. There are over 2000 precast concrete manufacturing businesses in the US alone, with many more factories across the world.
As a growing industry within the broader building component market, precast concrete factories are subject to the same rigorous quality control standards and third party inspection criteria expected of factory-built construction products. These processes and standards include both internal quality management, conducted by factory employees and external auditing, certification and reporting conducted by third-party inspectors and state inspectors. Such processes include the testing of products, tracking materials, reviewing and confirming reference drawings and documentation, identifying and resolving non-conformance issues before shipment, and providing consistent progress updates and reporting to owners, state inspectors and third-party inspectors.
In this Expert Insight we sit down with Carson D. McCain, Owner & Principal Consultant of Preferred Point Consulting, a third-party precast concrete inspection service provider, to discuss why software like Offsight can streamline critical factory internal quality processes and provide a means to easily organize and share information needed for third party inspection and auditing.
Q: Carson: Today many precast and building component manufacturers still rely on pen/paper, spreadsheets and other manual processes to manage critical aspects of their internal quality tracking and external reporting. Why do you think this is still the case? Do you see precast concrete factories moving to digitize in the near future?
Precast has been around for a long time, but since around the early- to mid-1900s, it has become a more common staple in the building industry having been more widely adopted by builders for major construction projects (like bridges, residential buildings, drainage structures, etc). Since then, the governing agencies of the concrete industry have had to adapt by establishing standards for the safe and effective use of precast, including the type of documentation for assurance that precast components are built according to the standards, project specifications, and approved design parameters.
Since the 50s and 60s, requirements for documentation have gotten far more thorough, and many members of our working community have not developed quickly enough to evolve beyond the age-old documentation processes. Many manufacturers are still filing paperwork in large file cabinets, performing QC checks on clipboards, and scanning large stacks of documents for project submittals. The reasons for this vary.
We’ve heard people say that the documentation requirements are simply too much, that new technologies are difficult for some to learn and manage, that not everyone is interested in a digital revolution, that management won’t buy in, that training is too time consuming or costly, that some simply prefer the old methodologies.
But as an expert inspection and consulting firm, we’re seeing that the most successful precast manufacturers are the ones that accept that changing landscape. General contractors, for example, are increasingly seeking precasters that can collaborate digitally for more ease, better traceability, quicker resolution of non-conformances, and easier closeouts so payments can be processed more efficiently and projects can be delivered more successfully. We see some precasters accepting this, but still so many behind the curve.
Q: Carson : As more construction moves offsite and owners source more prefab components, there’s a much greater need for visibility into the production, delivery and quality process at the factory. How can software provide this level of visibility and what would you look for in a software solution to address these visibility gaps?
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and we believe that visibility helps capture the picture. We’ve performed inspections for many clients that are seeking more transparency in their offsite precast operations because quality assurance is challenging to achieve without it. Our clients are asking for narratives on the process because they want to sleep at night knowing that they aren’t going to be blindsided by some major issue when they wake up the next day.
When we use software and hardware that helps tell the story of how our clients’ products are being built, we actually see their trust in the process increase significantly. They request inspections so that we can be their eyes and ears at the precast plant, so it’s in our best interest to report our experience to them.
Additionally, our “clients” include Project Managers, Engineers, Quality Representatives, Estimators, Erectors, and so on. They all have different responsibilities and needs on a project, so providing visibility into the precast process helps them all to manage schedules, budgets, and ultimately make informed decisions in the roles they play. Software that helps them get informed, communicate adequately, and solve problems quickly is a tremendous value added.
Q: Carson : As an owner of a third-party inspection service company, what role can software play in enabling better collaboration between third-party inspectors and in-house factory inspectors? If this process were completely digitized could these parties save on time and costs?
Software like Offsight is a great tool for connection, collaboration, and communication. In third-party inspections, we act as a liaison between the buyer and the builder. That means we’re essentially aiming to be connected to the in-house inspectors to hopefully enhance quality and communicate that to the buyer. Our inspections are based on in-person visual observation but in today’s digital age, we’ve shown our clients that some required points of inspection can be performed remotely with some of our best precast collaborators.
Precasters that buy into the idea of digitization, and leverage software like Offsight, could save time and cost on inspections in a variety of ways. The biggest example is that now we don’t always have to travel to plants to review quality control and production documentation. That’s a big time and cost savings for us and our clients. Through the power of digitization, everyone wins.