Building a Strong Business with Concrete
No one can accuse Precast Services, Inc., of Twinsburg, Ohio, of thinking small. Precast is a subcontractor specializing in erecting architectural and structural precast components. The company works with precast concrete, that is, concrete that’s been poured into a mold and cured to create a specific shape.
One of the largest firms of its kind in North America, Precast Services has helped build parking garages, exterior building facades, airport control towers, prisons, athletic stadiums, arenas, and more. Precast’s Managers are proud of the company’s safety record and attention to detail.
No matter what job the company is involved with, the work usually entails moving around precast pieces of extreme weight.
“We do a lot of parking garage work. We would consider those projects to be structural in nature – assembling the bones, so to speak, of the building. In those types of projects, we have pieces that could be in the range of 100,000 pounds or 50 tons, and probably most pieces are around 35 to 40 tons. In the architectural planning world, we might be doing high-rise structures or office buildings… whose pieces tend to be smaller. Still, they’re 10 to 20 tons,” says Bo Kusznir, Precast Services’ President and Chief Executive Officer.
The actual casting and concrete pouring process is done by other companies. The reinforced precast concrete pieces are transported to work sites where they are hoisted into place and assembled by Precast Services.
Precast Services was founded in 1988 by three ironworkers in Ohio. The company launched in response to a perceived void in the construction market for firms that exclusively specialized in erecting precast concrete components.
Other companies erected precast components, but the main part of the businesses involved steel erection with precast concrete work done on the side. Erecting precast concrete takes complex skills and knowledge that are particular to the industry, and this was something Precast Services felt it could offer.
With a satellite office in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, Precast’s business operations are primarily based in the Eastern United States. The firm is active in its home-state of Ohio plus New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. Precast has also handled jobs in Texas, Michigan and Kentucky. Precast has not worked in other countries but is open to the possibility of eventually taking on contracts in Canada.
Some of Precast’s most noteworthy projects include the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, the Nanotechnology Research Facility (NFX) in Albany, New York and the Fayette County Detention Center near Lexington, Kentucky. Precast has erected control towers at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Detroit, Michigan, at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron, Kentucky and at Louisville International Airport in Louisville, Kentucky.
Precast Services can construct sports facilities for football, baseball, soccer, basketball and hockey. Past projects of this nature include the Notre Dame University Stadium in South Bend, Indiana, the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, the Cintas Center at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio and Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.
In addition to putting up precast structures, Precast provides a service called ‘controlled dismantling’ which involves taking precast structures apart in a cautious, methodical manner. This careful approach can involve detailed bracing and a pre-project stability analysis. The goal is to ensure there’s no damage done to adjacent buildings and other structures. Controlled dismantling is ideal for projects in which wrecking balls or the use of explosives is not viable for space or safety reasons.
Precast recently dismantled a shopping mall parking garage in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania in a controlled fashion. The mall owners “wanted to take down the parking garage, but not demolish it” for fear of accidentally injuring pedestrians with debris, says Kusznir. He describes the project as “quite different and interesting. We’re looking at other projects of a similar nature.”
Precast uses social media to offer details and regular news of various company projects. Recent updates include photographs of the New Jersey Turnpike Maintenance Facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey as well as projects in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Fort Worth, Texas.
The size of Precast’s workforce varies with the demands of each job. “The number of employees we have goes up and down quite drastically and quickly. On average, we have 80 to 100 employees,” says Kusznir. When doing a project, Precast will hire union tradesman from the surrounding area, he adds.
Not surprisingly, given the mammoth scale of its operations, safety is a major component of Precast’s company culture. The company has been granted Certified Erector status (Category A and S2) by the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (PCI), a Chicago-based industry group. To achieve Certified Erector status, companies must meet exacting PCI Safety and Quality Standards, and to maintain certification, Precast’s work crews are audited twice a year by PCI Certified Field Auditors. At least one of these audits is conducted by an independent auditor.
“They’ll come to the job site and go down a seventeen-page checklist and inspect our work, safety, quality, and all those types of things… Then, once a year, an independent auditor will actually come to our office and review all of our paperwork and records to make sure we’re following the requirements of the program in order to remain certified,” says Michael Hudgins, PCI Corporate Safety and Health Director.
Precast Services, Inc. is involved with various PCI Committees, including one responsible for reviewing guidelines for erecting precast concrete structures. The plan is to update guidelines where necessary, says Hudgins.
Precast’s focus on safety has influenced the company’s choice on investing. Precast owns three state of the art construction cranes.
“We felt it was necessary as part of our safety program to control the cranes ourselves as much as possible. Typically, an operation like ours would rent cranes and work with different crane companies… we’ve made a significant investment in purchasing these cranes,” explains Kusznir.
The argument for ownership is simple: as owners, Precast employees can get to know the exact operating capabilities of the three cranes—their quirks and peculiarities, how they work under different weather conditions, how they respond to heavier than normal amount of work activity, etc. This kind of information would be difficult to ascertain if Precast used a series of rental cranes.
Given the enormous pieces they handle, the cranes themselves are impressively large. “They are [huge] machines. If you take them apart, it takes fifteen tractor trailers to move one of them. We’re proud of them.”
Kusznir is also proud of the company’s safety record. The Precast CEO cites recent statistics to demonstrate the benefit of the firm’s safety-first ethos. “Last year, we’ve seen improvement. To give you some numbers we’re tracking, we’re looking at a 53 percent decrease in the reportable injury rate and a 30 percent decrease in lost work days for the past year,” says Kusznir.
“We’re proud of all of our structures,” says Kusznir. “We recently did a smaller architectural job in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [at] the Navy Yard… the building actually leans forward. You can see photos of that on Facebook. It’s very unique in nature and certainly something to be proud of.”
While Precast does not keep architects and engineers on staff, many of the company’s managers have engineering backgrounds. Kusznir himself has a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering from Pennsylvania State University and served with the Army Corps of Engineers, from which he received an honorable discharge.
Although safety is foremost at Precast, another secret to the company’s success is close attention to detail. “One of the most unique things about Precast Services is that we really believe in planning our projects,” says Kusznir.
“We’re probably heavier on the top end in terms of management than some of our competitors, because we believe so strongly in planning out the project ahead of time… we plan exactly where the crane is going to be, for example.”
The future looks bright: projected revenues for 2016 are up slightly from 2015. As for expansion, Precast is dreaming big while moving cautiously.
“We see ourselves further establishing our company in the southern Texas Market and strengthening our Midwest position.