It is important for all of these details to be ironed out early in the process because of the sheer number of loads Dipcraft sends to the facilities. If something is wrong, that’s a huge setback. “If they’re trying to nestle an existing panel, they’ll have problems with leakage if the overlaps aren’t done properly,” Tobias notes. The shape is the toughest item to figure out, and Dipcraft often requires facility owners to send a piece of existing panel, a drawing or a photo.
Composite ‘Masonry’ Replaces Concrete
Piggybacking on the green movement, Minneapolis-based VAST Enterprises is carving out a niche in what they describe as composite masonry, or building structures solely from laying in individual units. Founded in 2006, the firm uses composite pavers to replace concrete in landscaping, parking lots, driveways and patios.
Though the company is new, the technology is several years old and involves precision plastics from the automotive industry. CEO Andy Vander Woude had been working with concrete pavers when composite lumber became popular. “I wondered why there couldn’t be an engineered approach to composite products. Trying to make a recyclable product seemed like a good idea, and led us to develop a new product category in composite masonry,” he says.
The company’s products are made from a combination of scrap tires and recycled plastics. UV stability was important so products would physically hold up after time and keep their color. The company also tested compressive strength and flexural strength so the products wouldn’t crack under intense weathering conditions such as rain and ice. Finally, chemical resistance was an important factor, particularly against salt used to remove snow as well as pool chemicals.
Vander Woude says a major advantage composites have over concrete relates to shipping. “A concrete plant can only ship its materials 100 to 150 miles before the economics overwhelm the cost structure. Composites can go nine times that distance,” he clarifies. Other problems he points out with concrete include difficulty in cutting, and slow, block by block, labor intensive installation.
Like other composites manufacturers in infrastructure, VAST is dogged by the liability-based, risk-averse nature of the industry. “Any new material, whether green or not, has to go through a lot of work to convince customers that its product is truly going to look as great as they say and will be a solid foundation,” says Vander Woude.
The company counteracts this resistance by beefing up its education efforts. They communicate results of lab testing and real-world installations in hopes of getting people over a fear of using new building materials. And Vander Woude thinks the escalation of “green” importance plays right into the company’s hands. “It’s creating a counter-force that compels people to look more at new technologies, causing them to reach out and embrace new things,” he says.