Just off of Interstate 270, west of St. Louis, Mo., stand three new, multi-level parking structures surrounding a recently renovated Westfield Shoppingtown West County. The garages are impressive, with brick facades, cast stone, and precast concrete “bow tie” spandrels. What make these garages stand out, however, aren’t their appearance but the fact that the general contractor who built them finished the project at 10 percent less cost, in 15 percent less time, than budgeted. The reason for the savings: switching from the original plan to pour the concrete structures on site – the traditional method of building parking garages – to acquiring precast concrete components from a company called Raider Precast Concrete.
“We were looking at all different options, and precast was the fastest, most economical way to go,” says Bill Heitman, construction project manager for the mall renovation and the parking garage construction.
Raider Precast Concrete, as its name indicates, is a company that precasts concrete into specific shapes and sizes then ships the pieces to construction sites for assembly. Based in West Burlington, Iowa, Raider partners with construction entities, design teams, and owners by supplying and installing precast components for building structures in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. The components range from structural units such as: wall panels, columns, beams, and double tees to architectural wall panels and cladding.
“Precast Concrete is concrete that has been engineered for specific structures, cast into molds, shipped to a job site and assembled like a giant Lego set,” explains Jeff Moehle, sales manager for Raider.
Raider was founded in the mid-1950s by Vic Raider, an entrepreneur who made small, precast components such as steps and sidewalk block. In 1979, two brothers, Craig and Marc Wagenbach, bought the company and grew it from 10 to 350 employees. In 1993, the Wagenbachs purchased PBM Concrete, a supplier of commercial items including wall panels and parking structure components. It was this acquisition that gave Raider the experience and know-how to grow into many commercial markets. The brothers sold the two companies in 2001 to the Cretex Companies, nearly doubling the size of their Construction Products Division. Now, four pre-stress companies including: Raider (West Burlington, Iowa); IPC (Des Moines, Iowa); JWP (Burlington Wis.), and PBM (Rochelle, Ill.) service most of the central Midwest market. The four companies utilize team forces by sharing knowledge, production, and engineering services to better service customers.
Traditionally, of course, concrete is mixed in a truck, driven to a construction site, and poured at the location, a method known as cast-in-place. Precast Concrete offers several important advantages over cast-in-place concrete, Moehle says. For instance, Raider can “pre-stress” concrete components. Pre-stressing involves using forms that enable the embedding of steel strands in the concrete, creating a pulling force that gives the final concrete components a higher load-carrying capacity. The forms typically used for field placed concrete don’t have stressing abilities.
Because precast concrete is produced in a controlled environment, it has high degrees of uniformity. Variables affecting quality typically found on a job site – temperature, humidity, material quality, craftsmanship – are nearly eliminated in a plant environment. “A plant is a more quality-controlled manufacturing environment,” he says.
And Raider utilizes a high cement-to-water ratio that allows for casting product daily. This concrete is less permeable, stronger, and significantly more durable than field cast concrete.
“We use a super plasticizer, a chemical additive which makes the concrete more workable for short durations during casting. Due to the quick set times and sophisticated batching techniques required for this high strength concrete, it is not practical for cast-in-place construction,” Moehle says.
What sets Raider apart from other precast concrete providers, Moehle says, is that Raider is a one-stop-shop from budgeting and design to production and field services. Offering a complete line of products from structural components to architectural facades, Raider provides many economical solutions to other building products. Structural components for structures typically have a form finish while architectural units can include eye-catching features such as curves, polished finishes that resemble marble of granite, or acid-etched surfaces that like limestone. Raider also casts exposed aggregate and brick inlay pieces for an aesthetic appearance.
To expand its architectural line of precast items, Raider along with its “sister companies” has developed a new-to-the-market coating system called “Eternacrete.” This is a plant-applied acrylic, cementitious coating system that retains its color, stays pliable, doesn’t crack and is extremely durable.
“We can make it look like brick, stucco, sandblasted concrete, or just about any other surface. It’s amazingly durable and will not delaminate from the concrete. The stuff looks expensive but is an economical solution to many of the products it resembles,” Moehle says.
Such expansion is necessary. Diversification has helped Raider buffer the effects of an economic slowdown in its industry. A slight downturn in the $28 billion precast sector is likely to break a string of 11 consecutive years of expansion but still leave the industry at the second highest level in history, according to statements by the National Precast Concrete Association.
In addition, high on the top-10 list of things that are most certain in life are more cars and criminal. Raider is holding steady through the economic slowdown winning significant new business building parking structures and supplying prison-builders. The company is finishing some very large prison projects including a state facility in Jefferson City, Mo., and a Federal Prison in Terre Haute, Ind., he says.
Another growing market is office and residential buildings built from precast components. To serve this market, Raider and its sister companies are developing a new “Smart-Cast System,” a complete precast system including exterior and interior wall panels and floors.
Raider casts all its products on a 90-acre plot in West Burlington, Iowa. A 40,000-square-foot indoor manufacturing plant is used for architectural products and precast modules. A 20,000-square-foot area is used for operations, and the rest of the acreage contains outdoor facilities for casting structural items and storing product.
For each item produced, a piece ticket is drafted and engineered for load carrying capacity and other factors. Once the piece ticket gets to production, forms are set and casting is completed. Repetition is a key factor with precast so forms can stay in place and product casts daily. After the concrete meets required strengths, the piece is stripped, finished in the plant, stored, and shipped to the job site to be erected to its exact location.
Raider has a family culture with a great deal of loyalty to the owners and our customers. “It’s a pleasure working with a company knowing that our production people believe they can do anything. It is this ‘can-do’ attitude that has allowed Raider to grow into the company they are today,” Moehle says.
To further enhance its operation, Raider recently worked with a consultant on an intense lean manufacturing program focusing on retaining only value-added efforts to its business. “It is a continuous improvement program that we intend to keep working on in the future. We have recently shown considerable efficiencies with production that enables us to stay competitive in the marketplace,” he adds.
The early phase of a project is what Raider enjoys most in working with customers. “We like to help people with design, layout, and budgeting of projects. With the four companies, experience is perhaps our strongest attribute and we like to share our experience with whoever is building a structure. Following a project from a napkin sketch to an opened facility gives a sense of accomplishment that is very gratifying,” he says.
The end result for Raider’s customers is improved costs and project completion times, as Heitman attests. “How did it make me feel?” he responds when asked about the company’s ability to finish projects ahead of schedule. “We were all very pleased with the schedule and cost.”