The Precast NZ Plant Certification Program is starting to gain critical mass and is setting the benchmark for off-site precast concrete manufacturers, says Rod Fulford, executive director of Precast New Zealand Inc.
“A number of precast plants have now achieved certification and many others have either applied or are intending to. The program provides project specifiers, head contractors and building owners with the confidence they are dealing with an established operator and a plant with the appropriate facilities, quality assurance, and high levels of expertise and experience in place.”
Purchasing from a Precast NZ Certified Plant also ensures it has been audited by an independent and accredited inspection body, such as those on the JAS-ANZ Register.
Precast NZ introduced the program a few years ago, however the global financial crisis provided an initial barrier to entry, says Rod.
“When times were lean it wasn’t really a priority for our member but now things are booming there has been a positive uptake. The main challenge for companies is fitting the process in around their workload as certification does require them to jump some fairly high hurdles.”
Precast NZ hopes the majority of its members will eventually certify their plants as they recognise the point of difference the program provides.
“Anyone with a few moulds on a spare bit of land can call themselves a precaster. A Precast NZ Certified Plant guarantees the operation has met the highest industry standards, is committed to producing a quality product manufactured under controlled conditions in a special purpose facility, and prioritises customer satisfaction.”
Rod says anyone procuring precast concrete should choose certified plants displaying the Precast NZ Certified Plant logo.
“We know of many contractors who have accepted the lowest price for precast concrete only to find issues with quality, performance, delivery, program and sometimes all of the above.”
He says the benefits of precast concrete are well recognised in New Zealand.
“Precast concrete can add value to a building project by adding quality and reducing construction time. The most successful projects are well planned and make the best use of the precaster by ensuring their involvement at appropriate stages. With good communication and adequate information, suitable lead times can be met, resulting in shorter construction times and earlier occupation.”
Small to medium precast projects achieved with very short lead times in busy market.
While the current construction market is very busy and lead times for precast are often quoted as been several months, the reality is many projects run later than planned, which creates “gaps” in pre-casters forward work load.
Hence smaller projects can often be achieved with quite short lead times by filling these gaps. One example recently was an order placed 11th October for 16 large 7.5 tonnes pre-cast foundation units for a CSP culvert in Karaka South Auckland. Shop drawings were completed within one week of order, and production commenced 19th October, with manufacturing complete early November and all units installed on site by 15th November. Hence a lead time of just over one month from order to project completion.
Other similar examples exist.
Other benefits of precast include quality, durability, dimensional accuracy, tight tolerances, speed of construction, and a reduction of labour on-site in addition to the environmental and sustainability advantages, says Rod
Precast NZ was established in 1999 to promote, aid, foster research and develop the interests of the precast concrete industry.
It currently represents around 50 percent of off site concrete precasters in the country.
“Most of the larger operators are members, with our total membership accounting for around 80 percent of all precast production in New Zealand for the residential, commercial, industrial and infrastructure markets.”
Precast NZ is involved in a range of activities, including running seminars, exchanging information with other organisations in New Zealand and offshore, lobbying, representation on trade associations, training, development of industry standards, establishing members quality manufacturing standards.
Rod has represented the industry on the revision of the NZS 3101 concrete design standard, which is about to be finalised.
“The changes are a result of observations of precast performance in the Christchurch earthquakes. Some areas, such as the diaphragm action of floor systems, weren’t in accordance with our expectations and we decided a number of issues needed further research.”
Precast NZ has worked with the University of Canterbury and University of Auckland on various research projects, the results of which have been incorporated into NZS 3101.
“The outcome for concrete and precast concrete is that there is no better or worse material as long as whatever is used is detailed and constructed properly which is where revision of New Zealand Standards comes in.”
Rod says there are other issues still being researched, with any future changes to be incorporated in a total review of the standard, which is expected to commence within the next two to three years.
Precast NZ is also working with WorkSafe to develop new industry practice guidelines in line with the new health and safety regulations.
The executive of Precast NZ meets four or five times a year and also has a close relationship with the National Precast Concrete Association of Australia.
Every two years the organisations combine for their annual conference, which in early November was held in Sydney.
“The Australians were celebrating their 25th anniversary, so it was a great event, including a black tie dinner for over 240 people at the Sydney Opera House.”
In addition to the general conference programme the event included some tours of Australian precast plants, and the opportunity to network and share ideas.
Rod says Precast NZ is currently part of a wider consolidation of the various concrete industry associations in New Zealand.
“There are several different associations representing different sectors of the concrete industry, which can cause some confusion for people wanting information or feedback on concrete matters. The work to consolidate under the umbrella of one organisation, possibly to be called Concrete New Zealand has been ongoing for nearly two years and expected to be in place by mid 2017.”
He says consolidating makes sense, although he would still like to see some differentiation of the various sectors within the concrete industry.
“We are mindful of not getting lost in a big new organisation and will continue to work to support and represent the interests of precast concrete manufacturers in New Zealand. We use funding to sponsor a number of research projects in the precast sector, something we definitely want to continue under the new regime.”