Q&A with Concrete Quality Expert Patrick Frawley at Central Concrete

Welcome to our first of two blogs where we ask concrete quality experts questions about sustainability, technology and innovation in concrete production! Today’s blog features an interview with Patrick Frawley, the Director of Quality Assurance at U.S. Concrete Company Central Concrete Supply — one of CarbonCure’s first adopters! Read the blog below for his insightful comments, and advice for other quality concrete professionals when it comes to embracing sustainability and implementing CarbonCure.

How has sustainability changed the ready mix business?

Patrick: More than ten years ago, Central Concrete saw the strong desire to reduce the carbon footprint of structures in the San Francisco Bay Area. We decided to meet that challenge by becoming a leader in sustainability and introducing the first low-carbon concrete mixes in the United States. It has taken our entire team to continue the vision former Vice President Jeff Davis set forth, and I want to make sure I give a shout out to everyone in our team for being at the leading edge of the sustainable concrete conversation. 

Today, we have continued to expand our research and leadership position, working with innovators like CarbonCure and collaborating with the design community and our customers to meet the evolving industry carbon reduction goals. We use Supplementary Cementitious Materials (SCMs) to reduce the percentage of Portland cement in our mixes, along with premium aggregates to reduce the total cementitious materials. We then rely on CarbonCure and water-reducing admixtures to further reduce the Portland cement. Other strategies to secure a low-carbon concrete include batching consistency and promoting performance-driven specifications.

Our job, as Quality Assurance (QA) professionals, is to test and integrate new technologies, like CarbonCure, into our products and ultimately our operation and ensure that these new products meet any and all project specifications. While many design professionals have a desire to secure new sustainability goals, they can be hesitant about changing their specifications without understanding how these new products will stand the test of time. 

As a result, the Central Concrete and U.S. Concrete teams have committed ourselves to research and analysis and then presenting those findings to the design community and general contractors to secure trusted relationships. For example, we provide the critical data to the engineer so they understand how the innovative mix design will meet their specification requirements for hardened concrete. Next, we talk to our customers about how to be successful putting these mixes into practice so they can stay on schedule and on budget. Our aim is to offer the lowest-carbon mix design that meets the structural requirements and has the fresh properties required for the intended placement method.

What is your advice to other concrete QA managers initiating sustainability projects?

Patrick: Remember that it is a “bit of the chicken and egg.” When first entering a market, you do need to have a couple of projects that are being driven by ownership – people willing to put some time into development. But once you have initiated a few projects, the success brings on more interest from additional owners, architects, engineers, and general contractors. A key to securing buy-in is to have each project documented so that the success story can be easily shared. While every project has its own considerations and constraints, if you keep the basic structure and understandings in place, with dedication you can identify mixes that are tried, true and reliable.

In addition, I advise other QA teams to continue to talk to all other internal departments about the new technologies that you’re working on. At Central Concrete, our Concrete Technology Team (Research, Sustainability and QA) is always updating our internal departments on how these new technologies will meet innovative specifications so that our sales team is ready to bid the mixes, our project managers are ready to submit them, operations can confidently and consistently batch them, and logistics knows what materials are required. 

Last, I suggest that fellow QA teams take advantage of the robust resource libraries of the National Ready Mix Association, the Portland Cement Association, and the American Concrete Institute

What technologies are you most excited about?

Patrick: I am most excited about technologies that give us a better understanding of our concrete. That includes technologies that provide insights on how our mixes are produced, delivered, and gain strength in place. By tracking each phase, we secure data points that inform us as to where we are performing well, where we are slipping and what adjustments we can make. So ultimately, these technologies are helping us to understand and manage our operations, optimize our mixes, and better measure and manage our business. 

I have to admit that I can at first be hesitant to integrate new technologies, but it’s always worthwhile because you learn so much about what you are doing right and doing wrong. I strongly recommend fellow ready mix suppliers to take advantage of the technologies out in the market.

central concrete san francisco

What advice would you give to other Quality Control managers initiating the use of CarbonCure?

Patrick: First, I would say this: embrace the help. I have to admit that it took me a little longer to see the full value, partly because I felt I knew my mixes better than anyone. But then I realized that CarbonCure’s Technical Services and Support (TSS) team could help my team in multiple ways. For example, as fellow ready mix suppliers can identify, you have very little time to do extra projects, including reshaping your entire mix design catalog -- a huge undertaking. Suddenly I realized that with CarbonCure’s deep understanding of concrete they could help us to gather and organize all the test results, provide insights, collaborate with us, and help my team get a handle on all the value that CarbonCure was bringing. 

I would also point out that success requires understanding and buy-in from all departments. To accomplish that we do everything we can to communicate the goals of the program, the benefits to the company, and engage each department. If we don’t communicate and collaborate properly, we can’t take advantage of each department’s critical expertise and their understanding of how this new technology is best integrated into their systems.

I strongly recommend leveraging CarbonCure’s TSS team to secure a strong foundation of understanding and education. The TSS team helps with commissioning trials, mix optimization, data testing and analysis and optimal CO2 dosing - helping you to speak confidently to the solutions you offer in your marketplace.

Thank you so much to Patrick for taking the time to speak with us and provide us with these candid, insightful answers. For more information about Central Concrete’s experience with CarbonCure, please download their success story.

Stay tuned for the next blog where we have another Q&A with Charles Stone, Quality Control Supervisor at Coreslab Structures (TEXAS)

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