The following article is an original publication from Apeiron Construction.
Understanding the requirements of an industry is not an easy feat. Being able to respond to a client’s needs, to work with them to identify and execute a project to their specifications, even more so. It is a hard learned skill and one which separates industry leaders from the pack. Many companies share a desire to move ahead of others, to offer a service that surpasses all competitors. While this may not always be possible, the most forward thinking businesses are the ones that try. Cemcast Pipe and Precast is a company that, while still technically in its early days, has gathered enough experience to work with its clients to provide an unsurpassed service. To achieve this, the company uses its two main skills; knowledge and people.
Cemcast Pipe and Precast was set up in 2015. However, the heritage and history of the business goes back much further. In 1993, Carl Carlson set up the Carl V. Carlson Company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The company was a concrete contractor, specializing in both curb and gutter and storm sewer inlets. By 2012, having amassed a huge amount of expertise in the industry, Carl explored ways to develop and grow the business even further. ‘’I did about three years of research, we looked into the concrete pipe and manhole industry. We felt we had a very good knowledge and understanding of how the product worked and we thought it would be a good fit for us because we have people in the company who are very good with concrete and reinforcing steel. In 2014, we moved ahead with the idea and we opened the concrete pipe plant in May of 2015.’’
“Today, the company is an industry leader in concrete and precast products with a focus on customer service and satisfaction.”
Today, the company is an industry leader in concrete and precast products with a focus on customer service and satisfaction. This combination of knowledge and service is at the core of everything Cemcast Pipe and Precast sets out to achieve. Within the company is a focus on meeting the wants of the customer. Carl believes that timing and efficiency is a huge factor in becoming a leading figure within the industry. ‘’I think we are the leader in our industry in our state. We believe delivering on time is delivering when the customer wants the product. And we do everything we can to make sure that we deliver when the customer wants it.’’ This is achieved by working closely with clients to understand their production schedule and also by allowing an element of flexibility to their own production techniques. Carl feels that being adaptable can foster a mutually supportive relationship with the customer. ‘’We are continually updating our production schedules. We leave forms open so that when we get that call at five o’clock, we are able to produce a product and deliver it the next day for customers. By the end of the day all forms are set and poured, but we wait and leave some open until the very last minute so that we can accommodate those schedules. We are also very proactive in speaking to our customers continually about their needs. What do they see upcoming? What is their anticipated ship date? We are vigilant about that, and we spend a lot of time between sales and engineering. Knowing when our customers want their products is critical to on-time delivery.’’
In addition to this, there is the small matter of quality. Years of experience and knowledge goes into every product the company produces. This ensures that the customer receives exactly what they need for their particular requirements. ‘’We also believe that shipping a quality material is paramount. It is the most important thing we do for our customers is to provide a quality product that is accepted by the engineer on the jobsite the first time.’’
This commitment to quality and timing permeates throughout the production process. For Cemcast Pipe and Precast, the goal is for client satisfaction right through the installation process to enable an ease of use that isn’t found anywhere else. ‘’The best part for our customers is that it goes together in the time that it takes to put it together. What this means is that there is no struggle with it. They don’t have to fight or maneuver to try to get the pieces to fit together. They go to get together very well, and all of our products have gaskets so they are watertight. That lowers the operator’s frustration.’’ Carl is aware that, in order to build a relationship with customers, the company needs to deliver on its commitments. ‘’Our customers trust us because we come through on what we promise. We do not promise things that we cannot come through on. We are realistic with what we can do but we are also very motivated to give our customers what they need, when they want it.’’
While most industries are struggling to various degrees with restrictions brought on by COVID-19, Carl believes that the local industry coped well in comparison to many others. Aside from some additional protocols, the adversarial effects were minimal. Instead, Carl identifies securing workers as the key challenge for the company. While he admits that sourcing people can be difficult, he believes that the people within Cemcast Pipe and Precast are of the highest quality. ‘’Finding skilled labor frankly is impossible and those skill sets we need do not walk through the door. We have an aggressive training program where we get people up to speed quickly and now our people are multi skilled. That’s always our goal, to be multi skilled. We want people to be problem solvers.’’ This approach ensures that the company is benefitting from both a highly skilled and highly motivated workforce. ‘’The best people are mechanically inclined and really enjoy being part of this. It excites them. We try to treat people extremely well and we seek their input on how to do things better. When they can voice their opinion and identify the changes that make their day easier and more productive, the results are phenomenal. Above all, the reason we are successful is because we have wonderful people who are talented, who want to learn more and they work hard. They do a great job. It’s because of our people that we are successful.’’
One thing that the company is eager to avoid is waste. In order to ensure this, the company has engaged in a dedicated training programme to identify and implement Lean goals. Carl believes that by incorporating Lean goals into the business process, the company benefits on multiple levels. ‘’Lean is primarily about creating flow and at the same time, decreasing your inventory levels significantly. So, what we did, we have a supermarket of products in the yard and we predetermine the amounts and quantities of what we would like to have there. That becomes the scheduling point for the plant. They can look outside and see that we are down to five stacks. It is a signal to make three stacks of pipe. We also use a Kanban system. Essentially this is a self-perpetuating signal to reorder materials, and through using Kanbans, we’ve been able to always have what we need, while maintaining minimal inventory levels of raw materials. The goal is always to eliminate waste, it’s not to work harder. By eliminating waste, you’re able to produce more. And when you can produce more with the same amount of labor hours, then everyone benefits.’’
“Above all, the reason we are successful is because we have wonderful people who are talented, who want to learn more and they work hard. They do a great job.”
Carl believes that this focus on flow allows the company to redistribute staff wherever they are needed, ensuring efficiency and thereby allowing the company to offer their customers and staff the best possible experience. ‘’By improving your processes, you need less people. You know what we do when we figure something out and we get better at it through our continuous improvement projects? We repurpose those people to do other things that need to be done. This helps improve our flow even more.’’ It seems as though this is a company fully aware of the need to work more efficiently and sustainably. While these Lean goals go some way towards achieving that. Carl is fully aware of the carbon emissions of concrete, largely through cement production. In order to address this, the company is always trying to reduce the impact it is having on the environment by identifying and working with the most sustainably minded suppliers. ‘’We met with our cement supplier yesterday, Holcim cement. They are working towards creating cements that reduce the amount of carbon released.’’
Cemcast Pipe and Precast is forecasting steady growth and further success long into the future. Carl feels that the area of precast box culverts is where the company will focus in the coming years. In response to this goal, the company will imminently be opening a new specialized facility to support the company in this regard. However, the issue of sustainability is still at the forefront of Carl’s mind and he is eager to stress that the evidence for any sustained future development is borne from the history and reliability of concrete. He is keen to point out that in comparison to other materials used to produce pipe, plastic for example, concrete seems to be bearing the unfair majority of blame when it comes to environmental issues. ‘’One thing that I really want to stress is that plastic pipe comes from petroleum. That’s why it burns. It’s a petroleum product. Plastic just disintegrates, it doesn’t ever go away. It just disintegrates into smaller and smaller pieces. And what’s beautiful about concrete pipe or precast or anything we make is that, 100 plus years from now, it may need to be replaced but you can take that concrete pipe out to an aggregate quarry where they can crush it, recycle it and turn it into aggregate with no waste. So, I look at our product as fully recyclable. While our industry is working towards reducing the carbon emissions, we are not a petroleum based product. You know, we’re not a fossil fuel product.’’