Continuing Education's role In Building Product Evolution

USG recently launched an online portal for their continuing education programs,
Looking at the site, I reflected on the role of education in the company's history. They built their drywall business, in large part, through education. Gypsum board was a paradigm shifting concept and it took lots of education to convince contractors, code officials, insurance companies, designers, and engineers to embrace each step of the product's evolution.
I was a consultant to USG in the early 1980s and worked for Vince Waropay, director of architect services, and other individuals that were approaching the end of their long careers. They shared stories about the many challenges they faced, such as inventing metal framing, drywall screws, and tools for installing the screws. Then the challenge was to convince plasterers to use screw guns, since there-to-for the hallmark of their craft was the skillful trowel use. Hence, the need for education in their promotional efforts.
The site offers a course called, Evolution of Lightweight Building Materials. It makes the case for the company's new, lighter weight gypsum board products. To do so, they inserted their pitch into the larger context of the evolution of architecture, tracing construction techniques from the earliest stone-on-stone methods through the development of modern ultra-highrise buildings. They then extrapolate into the future by speculating on the impact of bio-mimicry, pointing out that nature has produced elegant and lightweight structures through 4 billion years of evolution. 
This approach, making a new product seem like an inevitable step in the evolution of the industry, works well with many architects, especially "designers" as their work draws upon the "idea" of architecture as well as the "tectonics".

Innovations at International Builders Show - Day 1

The International Building Show, co-located with the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas, is a three-day long mega-tradeshow. Most of the innovations at the show are not grand new inventions, but small improvements to existing products. Here are a few interesting examples I saw on the first day:

Bumpers for Movable Scaffolds: makes it easy to protect walls and other finished work from damage by movable scaffolds and work platforms, defining a new best industry practice. 

LED Lamp to CoverRecessed Can Lights: There are many new, innovative LED lamps. This one, from, is designed to cover a recessed can fixture, a neat application that solves a common relamping problem.

The Attack of the Drones:  While proposed as a tool to survey or photo a construction jobsite, it is too tempting to carry in lunch take-out.  Only $300 at the show for the entry-level device from

Screws with Serrated Threads: Recently introduced in North America, offers screws with serrated leading threads that tap into wood and other materials to eliminate or need for pilot holes.

Bathtub to Shower Conversion Kits: Bathtubs can be difficult for aging baby boomers. and others are showing showers compartments -- complete with grab bars and seats -- designed to slip into the space formerly occupied by a 5 ft. bathtub,

Step by step, innovations like these contribute to the overall advancement of construction and satisfaction of market needs.

Continuing Education Units at Trade Shows: Why Not?

The three days I spent visiting exhibits at World of Concrete trade show felt like a trip to a major museum or browsing the stacks in a university library; everywhere I turned there was something new and exciting to learn.
At the Loos & Co. booth I was introduced to the different types of wire rope and how they are made. My "teacher" went on to regale me about the history of the product from John Roebling's 19th Century Allegheny Portage Railroad to the latest aviation applications.
Yet I may not be able to count any of my 36+ hours at the show towards continuing education units (CEU) I need to maintain my architectural license or my certified construction specifier status.  The continuing education criteria, established by state licensing boards and administered by AIA and other groups, are complex and impose burdensome paperwork requirements to get courses approved. While CEU can be earned through self-study, the design professional has to substantiate the educational value and an individual's initiative can be denied by regulators.
Cemex and several other organizations conducted a demonstration of roller compacted concrete and discussed quality control measures. While I had read about the technique, seeing it being installed was highly educational.
The educational value went beyond ordinary commercial transactions and networking to become brief master classes taught by the recognized authorities in their particular fields. When traffic in the booth was light, they would gladly spend a few minutes holding forth. The examples on this page are but a few of the many lessons received. Note that many of them would have earned me the more stringent health, safety, and welfare (HSW) credits if they had been presented in an approved course.
A gentleman form Oklahoma Wire and Steel took time to explain that concrete reinforcing is produced in coils. Fabricators either straighten the material and cut it to length, or they fabricate it into stirrups, rings, or the other shapes required on a construction site. Huge machines have largely replaced manual methods of cutting and bending rebar.
Many trade shows have concurrent classes that offer CEU credits. My argument is that this should be expanded to give credits for time spent on the trade show floor. Exhibitors are the financial underpinning of trade shows and want to maximize attendance.So it is in the interest of the building products industry to establish procedure for attendees to earn CEUs while visiting the show floor. Alternatively, show producers or trade association sponsors could take the lead in negotiating this change in CEU criteria.
Even though they knew I was not a potential customer for their equipment, the pair working the Sensocrete booth explained, with great passion, how to improve quality control of concrete.

One can argue that some trade show visitors are more interested in swag or social interactions than in educational benefits. But these same individuals can sit through a lunch time course and get nothing out of it but calories and an unjustified CEU.
Continuing education requirements are based on hour-long classes. Trade show lessons are necessarily brief, but no less powerful It took the rep at BASF only a few minutes to explain how their new "crack-reducing admixture" challenges fundamental assumptions about concrete performance and give me a sizable nugget of knowledge to digest.
The CEU divines differentiate CEU programs that involve face-to-face exposure with a qualified instructor from "distance learning activities" like reading an article or watching an online video. Distance learning activities require students to pass a ten-question quiz to demonstrate that they understand the material presented. Perhaps this model can be used for awarding credit for trade show time; attendees would have to submit a declaration of what they learned at the show. Another approach would be to discount show attendance so that an hour on a trade show floor would be worth only a quarter of a CEU.
A one-on-one master class with an Ward Malisch from the American Society of Concrete Contractors provided an authoritative answer to my question about cement hydration.  Figure above, from NIST, shows "concrete at four different length scales: upper left is concrete, upper right is mortar, lower left is cement paste, lower right is C-S-H." (See earlier post)

Are you ready to mount a campaign to accomplish this? Give me a call so we can plot strategy.

Concrete Bolt Challenges Conventional Thinking

"You can't do that!"

These words are challenge every building product manufacturer to rethink their attitudes about the limitations of their products. A threaded bolt and nut made from concrete is a good illustration of this principle.
Concrete Plant International 2012-01 page 40
 "Everybody knows you need metal to make a high strength bolt!"

Everybody, apparently, is wrong.

In a recent "Concrete Canoe" competition in which engineering students design and construct boats from concrete, one team even build impellers, gears, drive shafts, and ball bearings from concrete. The components were joined with bolts and nuts made of concrete.

Imagination, is a fundamental principle of technology.  I think.

Cardborgami - Innovation in Temporary Shelter

OK, I don't know if this actually relates to building product marketing, but it's too cool not to share.

Seen at Alt Build 2012:

Cardborgami ( is a fold-up temporary shelter made of plain ordinary corrugated cardboard.  It was invented by Tina Hovsepian, a native of Los Angeles (where there are more than 30,000 homeless people who do not have access to shelter) while she was an architecture student at the University of Southern California.  

Cardborgami is portable (it can be folded open or closed in less than a minute), it's treated to be waterproof and flame retardant, and it's fully recyclable.

Hovsepian, in addition to designing sustainable homes at Duvivier Architects in Santa Monica, CA, has also founded a non-profit to distribute Cardborgami shelters.  Her program includes volunteers who teach their homeless clients how to build the shelters (once built, it folds and unfolds without additional assembly).  She also wants recipients of the shelters to bring in recyclable cardboard to the same centers where they receive their shelters.

This kind of thinking should be encouraged and applauded.   Loudly.  This kind of action should be supported, too, so let me repeat:

Why Building Products Fail: The case of Autoclaved Aerated Concrete

A recent article in Environmental Building News discusses the environmental credentials of Autoclaved Aerated Concrete and then asks, "Is there space for AAC in the U.S. market?"

Twenty-five years ago, I wrote an article for Progressive Architecture magazine in which I called AAC, "the best building product you can't buy." That is still true in most of the US. Despite numerous attempts and millions of dollars spent to build plants in several parts of US, there are only two producers in North America.

AAC is an ultra lightweight precast concrete product that is 80% air by volume. It has good structural, environmental, fire, and other performance characteristics. It has been used for 80 years in Europe, and is one of the most widely used building materials worldwide.

Chusid Associates has been a consultant to many companies that looked at AAC as an investment opportunity. Most of my clients decided not to invest. Those that did invest either bailed soon after, or went broke. From that experience, I offer the following reasons why AAC has had only limited success in North America:

1. While Europe was developing AAC, the US construction industry was developing metal buildings, light gage steel framing, concrete masonry units, and prestressed concrete. Those industries are now mature and a formidable competitive barrier to an innovative product with high start-up costs.

2. More recently, new technologies offer many of the benefits of AAC without the high capital costs of building and operating an AAC factory. Consider, for example, stay-in-place concrete forms, prefabricated light gage steel panels, and ultralight aggregates that can be used to make a cellular concrete that does not need autoclaving.

3. The high cost of an AAC factory creates a huge debt burden. While lighter than conventional concrete, AAC is still bulky and heavy, limiting the practical size of a distribution territory. These factors drove businesses into bankruptcy when demand didn't grow as quickly as expected or when the regional economy slumped.

4. Many of the European firms that invested in US factories did not understand the US market and made major strategic blunders. These blunders tainted the industry in the eyes of many investors and builders.

5. Even with increased appreciation for environmentally sound buildings, most construction in the US is still not very interested in green. Most home builders will continue to build with wood, for example, even though it burns and rots, because it is less costly.

In theory, AAC is such an attractive product that people get dazzled and become true believers. I call this, "Tobermorite Fever," named for the mineral that makes up AAC.

But let's look at it from another perspective. The construction industry in North America is fragmented into many regional markets. The failure rate for all innovative construction products is high. So the fact that there are viable producers in Florida and just across the Texas-Mexico border, plus designers, engineers, and installers that are well versed in the product, should be seen as a success for the AAC industry.

An online search on "Chusid" and the words Autoclaved Concrete will return links to several articles I have written on the topic.

Smarter Buildings

According to IBM, smarter buildings will be able to use resources more intelligently, which will lead to reduced costs and greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately to smarter, more efficient cities. Their Smarter Buildings team helps customers "listen to the enormous amounts of data" their buildings are generating. By listening to this data through embedding smarter technologies into the physical assets of an organization, building owners, facility managers and other stakeholders can analyze energy use to squeeze out inefficiencies.
The five trends they predict may be useful in planning new products and services for building product manufactures:

Smart Neighborhoods

Groups of buildings will mimic living systems. Neighborhoods are the building blocks of smarter cities, which are just systems of systems—water, power, transportation, etc. Like a living system in nature, they can be highly complex, especially when considering the conglomeration of infrastructure over a city's 100- to 200-year history. In Washington, D.C., water pipes date back to the Civil War, for example. A neighborhood is a microcosm of the city; to make a city smarter, starting at the neighborhood level is more manageable. IBM is working to help the community become early adopters of smart grid technology that will electronically monitor, analyze and minimize power consumption in residential and commercial buildings—as well as of on-site solar and other clean-generation systems.

X-Ray Vision
Occupants of smarter buildings will get better visibility into building’s functions, such as how much water and energy they are using. Most businesses and residents now find this out by looking in their rear-view mirror—the previous month's utility bills. With smart meters, residents and businesses are getting closer to real-time views into their actual usage. With smarter buildings technology, building managers have a cross-building view into actual performance of all systems so they can make adjustments and repairs when needed, a key step when looking at large facilities, campuses and cities. Using analytics provides deeper, X-ray vision into what's happening in real time.

As buildings and cities are instrumented, managers will rely more on analytics to flag outlying behavior and to recommend optimal settings for heat, water and other facility maintenance. Predictive maintenance will become condition-based. At its 3.2-million-square-foot Rochester, Minn., campus, IBM integrates data from more than 300,000 data points, consolidating it into a common repository for effective analytics. Through this solution, the Rochester facility cut energy use by 8 percent, on top of the 6 percent reduction already being driven through aggressive energy-improvement programs.

Beyond Parking
Applications that pull data from a building and a city's "Internet of things" will proliferate. Parking applications can help drivers find available parking spots, for example. But it goes beyond that. The Internet of things gives people information, the first step toward making change. Through the increasing connectivity, people can act as living sensors to provide data and feedback to make changes and create smarter cities and buildings. For instance, some cities are extending that Internet of things to city services such as enabling citizens' to alert cities to potholes, graffiti and water issues by taking photos and sending them to city management, where they can be prioritized and dealt with. Cities are using geospatial intelligence to send crews with the information they need and the overview of where the projects are to map out the best driving routes.

Now Serving at the Energy Cafe

Building managers will order from a menu of energy, allowing them to choose energy by source and/or cost. Just as shoppers can chose which type of produce they want based on cost and source, city and building managers will be able to do the same with energy sources. With smart meters, building occupants know how much energy they are using. However, organizations in the future will also be able to choose the source of their energy. If they have carbon footprint targets to meet, they can decide to get 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources like solar and wind. If that gets too costly, they can shift more to natural gas.

Real Estate Management Becomes a Science

A company's finance/real estate team is evolving into a smarter buildings team. In the next few years, accounting changes will require all publicly traded companies to add billions in new assets to their balance sheets. As organizations begin to itemize all their property assets, they'll also look into ways to reduce costs. What they're discovering is that by learning how their buildings are wasting energy, they are finding new ways to cut costs and reduce their carbon footprint. The cost of energy use in New York City municipal buildings totals more than $800 million each year and accounts for about 64 percent of the greenhouse gas emission produced by government operations. With carbon intelligence software, the city is aiming to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2017.

Edited from material posted at 

The Ultimate Roll-Up?

I was recently asked about the attractiveness of having a single company provide all elements of the building envelope, including roofing, foundation, exterior walls, cladding, windows, curtainwalls, entrances, storefronts, insulation, vapor barriers, and the rest. The question came from a business strategy firm, suggesting that some group of investors is seriously contemplating such a move.

At least one company is already well on its way to being able to offer complete building envelopes. Oldcastle is one of the company's that is well on its way toward offering a complete package, with strong positions in masonry, concrete, glass and glazing systems, curtainwalls, doors and skylights. Add a roofing manufacturing line, and they have it.*

The past few decades has seen strong trends towards "roll-ups" -- bringing many small producers under one corporate ownership -- in attempts to gain economy of scale and improve competitiveness by dominating an industry and combining related products into package.

Roll-ups are well established in some sectors. In lighting fixtures, for example, Hubbell has acquired over 20 previously independent brands, and electronic giant Philips recently acquired the sixteen brands that had been rolled-up by Genlyte. Assa Abbloy and just a few other firms now dominate door hardware.

While roll-ups do have important competitive advantages, many suffer from the following syndromes:
  • They lose the edge in innovation to smaller, more flexible and entreprenurial business.
  • Promotion of individual brands suffer from having to follow a corporate model. For example, some of my clients have to use corporate websites that focus on selling to investors instead of to designers and builders.
  • Managers, striving to improve the profits of their division, become jealous of and competitive with each business units, to the detriment of the overall company.
  • Product offerings become so diverse, that individuals within the firm are unable to cross refer prospects or identify opportunities for other brands.
  • Size dilutes the expertise.  What salesman can be an authority on glass AND roofing AND insulation? In smaller companies, a prospect can deal directly with a principal or other senior personnel with true expertise in a field.
Indeed, I have been a consultant to many large firms and roll-ups that crumbled due to their mass, and were more competive when unrolled.

Further, roll-ups have to compete with companies that do not manufacture all parts of a system, but assemble or "package" products from multiple vendors into bid packages that also create economies of scale. Packagers also have the advantage of using the "best" product or a job without the limitations of having to use those from sister companies. They also have the flexibility to take advantage of attractive spot pricing.

In the final analysis, every general contractor is a packager, and already offers all elements of the building envelope.

* Pre-engineered metal building manufacturers do already offer a complete envelope, including walls, roofs, structure, and accessories. But that is a subject for another blog post.

Carbon Neutral Shipping

Did you know that UPS can calculate the carbon footprint of of your shipment, so you can buy carbon offsets to neutralize the environmental impact of your shipping?

TRI-KES, recently implemented a program to do just that with 31,000 sample shipments.  (see their website)  They are a distributor of interior finishes, so samples are a big deal.  They claim to be the first company in the architecture and interior design industry to do this.

We hope there will be more.

Pace of Innovation

First Polished Precast Concrete Building.
Click here for "Greenwashing does not pay,"

Ten years ago, polished concrete became a practical finish for concrete with the development of chemical densifiers and affordable polishing machines. It is now an is increasingly common for floors.

But what about polished concrete walls?

Five years ago, I predicted the polishing of precast and tilt-up concrete. Yet it has taken until now to see it in practice. A project at Ohio State University, designed by Ross Barney Architects, is being constructed of polished precast panels that reflect light from dichromic glass fins.

New technologies rise and fall on an annual cycle in some industries. But construction product innovations gain market acceptance at a slower pace. Now that one early adopter has taken the step, others will follow; architects watch what their peers do, and are trained to copy (i.e., take inspiration from) the work of others. But will any precasters or manufacturer of concrete densifiers take the lead in promoting the concept?

And for the next five years? Here are some predictions:
  • Polished concrete floors are often stained for color and given ornamental treatment. The Ohio state university columbus ohiosame can be done with polished precast and tilt-up walls.
  • Machinery to polish precast panels in-line during production, rather than as an after process.
  • Precast and tilt-up concrete are polished while panels are horizontal; is it practical to create a polishing machine that creeps up and down the side of cast-in-place walls? (I have a sketch of such a machine if any equipment manufacturer is interested.)
  • There are a few concrete masonry unit manufacturers that already make burnished CMU. I would love to see units with a high polish. They could be set in a wall so that each was at a slightly different angle, creating a wall that would sparkle in sunlight.
For more information about concrete densifiers, see: and

Keep Thinking, Keep Greening

There are many real, substantial ways that you can green your products and operations.  Everyone thinks about recycled content and carbon footprints, but sustainability is a broad concept with many facets.

If you want to be greener - and evidence is mounting that it's good for your business as well as the planet – look at all aspects of your operations, your products, and what happens to your products after they leave your hands.

Some manufacturers in the brick industry, for example, are using an innovative method of packaging their products for shipment.  They've eliminated the palettes and the shrink wrap, and thereby significantly reduced jobsite waste.  That may contribute to a LEED point for their customers.
Photo courtesy of Boral Brick.
This palette-less cube of brick is held together by thin bands that create minimal waste.  Instead of wooden palettes to provide lift-points for the forklift tines, the cube has integral slots that a forklift can engage with.

(And just to make it cooler, these cubes were packed by robots.)

The first step to being green is thinking green.

Changed formulations in building products

An article in January 2011 issue of Consumers Report pointed out the unintended consequences of reformulating a product. According to tests conducted by the magazine, glass baking dishes made in the US have been reformulated. While the new products look the same as the old and generally perform as well under normal use, the reformulated products can shatter and cause injury. This got me thinking about how reformulations effect building product marketing.
Is this old or new Pyrex? New product packaging has safety warnings and handling instructions, but there is no warning on the product itself.

I have always had Pyrex brand glass baking in my kitchen, as did my parents before me. Over the decades, the brand earned a place of trust in my kitchen due to the product's ability to withstood the ordinary wear and tear of household use.

Recently, and without public fanfare, Pyrex brand products were reformulated. Instead of being made with borosilicate glass, they are now made with a less costly soda ash glass. The new products look the same as, and usually perform like. the older models. But I have had newer pieces of Pyrex break during ordinary handling while my older Pyrex products keep on working unless I drop them on the floor.

This reminds me about a story my father-in-law, a dentist, told me about a batch of anesthesia that produced unusual side effects. While the manufacturer insisted the drug was made according to all quality assurance standards, my father-in-law discarded the rest of the batch.  Years later, he learned the manufacturer had finally identified the culprit; the company that made the gasket that sealed each vial had changed its supplier for a lubricant used in the gasket manufacturing process. While the new lubricant met the written performance standards of the previous product, it left a trace contamination that interacted with the chemicals used in the drug.

Continuous process improvement is often touted as a virtue. However, it can become a liability if your customers are not informed about changes. Failure to notify customers can lead to increased product failures when someone assumes the new formulation will work just the same as the old one. Equally insidious is damage to your brand's reputation. My father-in-law found a new vendor and stayed with it for the rest of his career. And even if Pyrex resumes manufacturing of borosilicate products, I will probably remain skeptical, preferring to buy the old stuff in second hand stores than take a risk with an unknown product.

In construction
Product reformulations occur frequently in the construction industry, and usually without the knowledge of the specifiers or builders using the product. Indeed, reformulations often result in superior and more affordable products. But not always.

New products will always lack something that older products offer: the test of time. An old-fashioned built-up asphalt roof might fail in 10 to 20 years, but we reliably knew they would fail in that time period. When a new roofing system comes along, we can look at lots of material tests and even accelerated aging tests. But nothing tests a roof like 20 years of actual exposure. Lab tests usually measure one variable at a time; everything happens at once in nature.

It is generally best to tell customers when changes have been made to trusted brands. Then, work closely with them while they get used to the feel of the new product and learn to use it correctly.

Underestimating our Future

Michael Chusid will be a keynote speaker at the CSI West Region Conference to be held in Spring 2012. His presentation will be during a Vendor Appreciation Luncheon. With both design professionals and sales reps in attendance, any guess who picks up the bar bill?

Here is the write-up on announcing the event:

Underestimating our Future

It's been said, "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten." (Bill Gates) With that in mind, Michael Chusid, RA, FCSI, CCS, ACI, CWA, SCIP, EIEIO*, fearlessly prognosticates a decade into the future to help us reimagine the next few years. He interprets auguries about building design and construction, material science and product trends, and whether sales reps and specifiers will, at last, find true love and commitment with each other.

Michael is author or ghost writer of over two hundred published articles about architecture, building products and marketing, and publisher of As president of Chusid Associates (, the leading marketing and technical consultant to the building product industry, he has seen untold numbers of innovations crash and burn, yet is adamant that his predictions will be just as wrong as those of anyone else. 
While the tone is lighthearted, the topic is crucial for construction industry professionals in a changing market.

* For those uninitiated, the author is parodying the CSI practice of making liberal use of professional credentials following names. EIEIO is a group for individuals with more than five sets of initials after their name.

An Earthshaking Opportunity

I felt the earth move last week, even though I was hundreds of miles from the epicenter of the earthquake. It was a reminder of the near certainty that there will be a major, devastating earthquake in the US in the near future.

We all know that individuals, businesses, and institutions must plan for earthquakes and other disasters, building product manufacturers can also plan ahead.
As the map shows, earthquake (and tsunami) opportunities are not just for the West Coast market. Indeed, faults in the Midwest and near large population centers of the East Coast are more vulnerable to loss of property and life.

Advances in building standards usually occur in response to natural disasters. As scientists, underwriters, and policymakers study the lessons learned from quakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, and Japan, more stringent building codes are likely to emerge.

But there is no need for you to wait until then. Now is the time to take a fresh look at your product offering to determine if your products can help create safer buildings. Give me a call if you want to discuss your opportunities; your initial call is always free. I look forward to hearing from you.

Marketing with Standards

Standards: Dense Prose
Industry standards are essential to the construction industry. Yet they are often confusing, out of date, and contradictory. Produced by consensus organizations, they are subject to political pressures that can favor or exclude proprietary products and innovative solutions. Moreover, designers, builders, and building material suppliers are challenged to stay current with revisions to standards.

This complexity can work to your marketing advantage.

First, building product manufacturers should be active in standards writing organizations affecting their work. These consensus-driven committees need your insight into best industry practices, the needs of your clients, and the pragmatic limitations of current technology.

Further, you can keep your clients up-to-date and informed of changes to standards. This will make your firm the "go-to" resource for current and reliable information. For example, changed standards provide a great opportunity for publicity; contact the editors of trade journals and offer to provide an article about the revisions.

Your marketing and technical literature should be up-to-date, and that your sales representatives and customer service personnel are trained. Then use your product literature, e-mail blasts, guide specifications, and continuing education programs to inform your customers.

Your point-of-purchase and packaging provide other opportunities. Imagine a customer that has a choice between two products; one has a sticker proclaiming: "Complies with the New 2011 Industry Standards," and the other is silent on the matter. Which has the greatest appeal?

I recently updated a guide specification for a client that produces pigments for integrally-colored concrete. In the decade since I wrote the original guide spec, most of the standards it references had been revised. The updated standards cost over $100, an expense few construction firms are willing to pay, especially when a firm has to stay abreast of revisions in dozens or even hundreds of product categories. An even greater cost is the time required for a professional to review the steady stream of updated documents. This provides an opportunity for my client to be of service to their customers.

For example, American Concrete Institute document ACI 303.1 - Specifications for Architectural Concrete has not been revised since 1997, but it references another document that has been revised, ACI 117. The 2006 version of ACI 117 changes how construction tolerances are specified. Had my client reissued a guide specification with the obsolete tolerances, it would have been a disservice to their customers, a potential source of embarrassment, and perhaps even a legal complication.

Another document, ACI 301 - Specifications for Structural Concrete, also contains requirements for "architectural concrete." ACI does not offer guidance for coordinating specifications where loadbearing (structural) concrete must also meet rigorous appearance requirements (architectural). Having identified this conflict, my client can now help their clients by offering guide specification language that reconciles the conflicting documents.

Requirements for concrete pigments are defined in ASTM C979. Yet ACI 303.1 adds requirements that are not in the ASTM standard. The added requirements are not representative of industry practices and can actually be a detriment to successful concrete work. One suspects the committee was influenced of the one manufacturer that benefits from the added requirements; my client did not have a representative at the table. My client's revised guide specification explains the rationale for sticking to the ASTM requirements, and tries to paint their competitor into a corner.

I now serve on an ACI committee that is updating some of the outdated standards. While I am there to represent my client's interests, I must always work towards the goal of advancing the entire industry.

Presenting Electrically Conductive Concrete to the World

An article by Chusid Associates about ground-breaking electro-conductive concrete technology appeared in the May issue of Concrete International magazine, a highly respected magazines published by the American Concrete Institute. (download PDF)

The article, An Electric Highway to the Future, details the development of concrete that can conduct electricity due to the inclusion of high carbon fly ash and/or spent carbon sorbent, along with carbon fibers.  High carbon fly ash is a coal combustion product that results from changes in coal-burning methods mandated under the Clean Air Act of 1990.  Although conventional fly ash has long been used as a concrete additive, the high carbon variety has encountered low acceptance in ordinary concrete uses.  

The invention of electrically conductive concrete promises many opportunities to utilize this material in potential applications such as roads that can charge electric cars as they drive, improved grounding for power plants, security shielding for sensitive data handling and storage facilities, and massive electrical storage batteries that be built into buildings, roads or parking lots.  In other words, it is a basic technology in search of specific applications.  By featuring it in a publication read by thought leaders in the field, Chusid Associates was able to help our client present it worldwide to the people who can truly make a difference in its adoption.

This is the first article to appear in a major publication about this new technology. Being first, it allowed Chusid Associates' staff to develop the initial language that will be used by our client, We Energies, to market this new material and attract useful applications for the concept. 

Measure your market in metrics

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote 20 years ago. At the time, many assumed the US would make a complete transition to metric. It hasn't happened. However Federal government projects are designed and built in metric, and US firms working overseas have had to become proficient in SI. 

Lead the way in the conversion effort and customers will follow you.

The current move toward metrics adds a new dimension to construction product marketing. Many manufacturers already have integrated metrics into their operations, while others see conversion as a stumbling block. Successful marketers will not only adjust, but will use the transition to create new competitive advantages.

Metrication will immediately benefit firms who are expanding into international markets. A uniform system of measurement will allow those firms to move toward more consistent products, packaging, and standards worldwide.

International trade, however, is just one area in which marketers can capitalize on metrics. Opportunities lie in areas ranging from customer relations to product positioning.

Pave the way
By being the first in your product category to embrace metric, your firm gains a "first- mover" advantage. If you strongly link your products with metric, customers will continue to bring you their metric requirements even after other players have entered the game.

Being the first mover does, however, entail added costs. Some manufacturers, particularly those that do not target public work, may prefer to wait until demand for metric-dimensioned products is more firmly established. But the public relations opportunities and the chance to define the standards for your product category may be worth the effort. In the short run, your customers face a period of uncertainty as they become familiar with the system and they learn how metric-dimensioned products work together. This is an opportunity to position your company as a resource. Your customers, still shaky in their own grasp of metric, will generally prefer suppliers who exude confidence over those who don't know a pascal (the unit of pressure) from a joule (the unit for energy or work). Reassure customers that you understand their situation and can provide the products and services they need.

Make sure employees who deal with customers are fluent in metric. Your salespeople and customer service reps must show that your firm is experienced with the metric system, not only to assist customers but to respond appropriately to those who do. Hold training programs for those employees and provide them with electronic or slide-rule calculations. And don't overlook the value of the calculators as advertising specialties or premiums.

Your printed materials also should signal your move to metric. Whether or not you resize your products to round metric units, you can incorporate metric equivalents simply and inexpensively the next time you reprint your product literature and labels. To attract attention, mark new catalogs with a logo or a banner proclaiming that metric dimensions are included.

For existing products, list the English measurements first, followed by metric units in parentheses. For example: 30 Btu/hour (82.9 watts). For new products designed to metric standards, list metric units first, followed by English equivalents in parentheses: 1,000 kg/m (1,488 plf).

New government standards require that contract documents and shop drawings be drawn to a metric scale. Floor plans, for example, can be drawn at 1:50 instead of the customary 1/4"= 1'-0". Manufacturers who provide tracing details to architects may want to publish two sets of details during the transition period. However, most computer-aided drafting programs can plot details at any scale desired. Shop drawings should be prepared with the same dimensioning system used in the contract documents.

Hard conversion
Merely listing the metric equivalent of a product is called a "soft" conversion. That's the easy part. A decision about whether and when to undergo a "hard" conversion, on the other hand, will probably be the most significant marketing issue you face. Hard conversion involves redesigning a product or construction method to metric dimensions in whole numbers. For example, 4x8- foot plywood, which measures 1,219.2x2.438.4-mm panels.

New products should be designed in metric from the start. It may be necessary for you or your distributors to maintain inventories of both metric and non-metric sizes during the transition. Eventually, specialty businesses may emerge to provide old sizes for use in renovations.

Though previous attempts to convert the construction industry to metric have failed, other U.S. industries have successfully made the switch. That fact, plus burgeoning international construction trade, will likely stimulate a slow but persistent momentum toward metric building products in the united states. The only remaining question, then, is the pace and extent of change in your section of the industry. I can only offer the adage. "Don't overestimate how much will change in five years or underestimate how much can change in 10 years."

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By Michael Chusid, Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, © 1992

Triangle Fire Legacy

March 25, 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Factory Fire in New York City that killed 146 workers. This tragic event focused attention on fire safety in construction, and accelerated the acceptance of tighter building codes and life-safety regulations.

The Fire illustrates how disasters are frequently the progenitor of new construction technologies. Reforms sparked by the incident led to mandatory usage of many building products we now take for granted, including:
  • Panic bars on exit doors.
  • Automatic fire sprinklers.
  • Fire alarm systems.
  • Fire-resistant glass at egress paths.
This cause and effect relationship continues: Environmental disasters spawn sustainable construction. Hurricanes bring demands for airborne missile testing of wall systems. And floods inundate us with innovation.

The only way to redeem a tragedy is to learn from it.

Labeling Packaging and Products

A new hand-held inkjet printer has potential marketing benefits for building products. The Handjet Printer from EBS Ink-Jet Systems can apply any text to almost any surface. While it is primarily designed for applying labels to packaging or products, it can also be used to print notes, quickly and legibly onto a product to simplify field installation.

This could be especially useful for customized products fabricated with CAD/CAM equipment where each part can be potentially unique. In current practice, such a product would be shipped into the field labeled with a part number. One would then have to look at a set of drawings to identify its location in a project. The drawings may also have notes indicating erection sequence, attachment locations, warnings, and other information related installation of the part.

With the Handjet, these notes could be readily printed on the part itself, simplifying the installers time cross referencing between the parts and the drawings. The convenience, and potential labor savings, can become a marketable feature of your product.

Similarly, information typically found in an maintenance manual could be printed on a product, simplifying building operations.

I can visualize other uses for the technology: In-plant applications include quality control, inventory. and shipping. In the field, it could be used to create attention-getting notes to installers or other trades people. And as job site robots come into use (and they will), ink jet printers like this could be used to mark survey and layout points to speed installation.