Northern Concrete rented a set of EFCO forms to complete the work. The buildings are heavily reinforced with a 7,500 psi mix that follows Department of Natural Resources specs. All said and done, the project will use 5,000 yards of concrete.
Part of the reason Northern Concrete has been successful with its diversification throughout the concrete market is the company's commitment to systems and data. The process to get the company well organized began about six years ago, at the tail end of the industry's latest boom. Larsen and Kane looked at lean manufacturing processes and adopted technologies that would help the company get organized, increase efficiencies and track every dollar. "We are a heavily data-based company. If something goes wrong on a job, we'll know why," Larsen says.
The company tracks everything, including truck inventory, fuel, concrete overages, broken and lost tools, and anything else that could cause a job to not hit its target. These numbers give the company historical data on material costs, labor and equipment so they can better estimate exactly how much a job costs and what their overhead is. "Years ago we didn't know how we were doing financially until the end of the year," Kane says. "Today we know how we are doing on a daily basis."
Having a handle on equipment numbers, job processes and estimating has paid off for the company. Kane admits that in the early days they might have bought a piece of equipment because everyone else had it. "Now we think through our equipment purchases and there's a reason behind each one," he says. One example of the company saving some money by knowing the numbers behind its equipment is with its concrete placing system. "We had two concrete conveyors, but we learned how to schedule the equipment better and now we only have one," Kane says. "We use our own conveyor on 95 percent of our walls and footings jobs and about 90 percent of our commercial flatwork projects."
When it comes to keeping employees organized and productive, Northern Concrete starts simply with an online scheduling program that is easily accessible in the employee breakroom and available through any Internet connection any time of day.
More detailed are the company's job manuals, which break down a job step-by-step. Flow charts and equipment lists make up the manuals and guide employees through every detail of a project. Foremen are expected to enforce the procedures in the manuals so every employee performs each job the same way. New employees who come into the company, no matter how much experience they might have had at another concrete company, are expected to adopt Northern Concrete's processes and follow the manuals. "We cross train our workers, so someone can switch over from flatwork one day to walls the next and not miss a beat. They all have their specialties, but they perform work in every area," Larsen says. "When you run as many crews and switch employees from job to job like we do, if you're not running each step of the project from A to B each time, people will get lost."
Northern Concrete has adopted several technologies to help them increase productivity, including total stations for job layout, a 3D system for their Somero Laser Screed and their own customization on an out-of-the-box CAD program for estimating. Larsen says there's no room for "guesstimation," and the CAD estimating system helps them stay on top of their numbers. "We build every estimate as a job, so if we estimate right, half the job is done and we're ready to build off the estimate," he explains.
At the completion of each job, Larsen and Kane perform their own QA by grading each project on a scale of 1 to 5 - and Larsen says each job needs to have a grade of 4 or 5 before he closes the books on a project. The key to offering this kind of service, he says, is striving to offer each customer the triangle of business - price, quality and service - while also communicating to the customer what they're paying for to avoid false expectations.
All the energy Larsen and Kane put into increasing efficiencies and putting systems and procedures into place paid off in helping the company expand and grow in a challenging time for businesses, all while offering customers "Solid Process. Solid Results."