PCI R&D Activity and Paths for Engagement with Precast Studios

Updated: Jun 27

During a zoom call today, PCI Chairman Greg Force shared his information with about 20 professors about how the research and development work of the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (PCI) might align with work of the Precast Studios sponsored by the PCI Foundation. "I was looking forward to spending some time with the professors because there may be a lot that you may or may not know about what goes on with PCI Research and development and it would be great to have a closer alignment between the work that you folks are doing and what informs what informs what we might be doing with the studios," says Force.

Force is the President and CEO of Tindall Corp. headquartered in Spartanburg South Carolina and he is a recent chairman of the PCI Research and Development Council as well as a former chairman of PCI.

The PCI Committee on Industry Research was established in 1973 for the development and implementation of PCI research activities required to meet long-term industry needs. In 1987, the Board established a staff position of Research Director can changed the status to a Board Committee, which is essentially now referred to as a Council. A plan was put in place to allocate a certain percentage of member dues annually to meet the ongoing needs of R&D. This level currently stands at 7%. Over the years, through the initiatives undertaken and funded by PCI, many having further financial and in-kind support of those members with a special interest in the topic, millions of dollars have been channeled into research programs that have informed and influenced our industry’s Body of Technical Knowledge. These include numerous Design Recommendations, Guide Specifications, and other vehicles to give guidance to the design community and to help shape and guide the Building Codes, (i.e., ACI-318, ASCE-7, IBC).

We have also partnered with other associations/organizations such as NIST, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, the Charles Pankow Foundation, the Canadian Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute, just to mention a few of the more notable ones, on some projects of very significant scale. Such topics as progressive building collapse, seismic resistant structural systems, design for fire, and impact of precast construction for long-term sustainability have been covered.

Currently we are close to concluding a project with ORNL on developing light weight insulated precast panels for building facades to reduce cladding weight by nearly half. We have just concluded a major study on Ultra High Performance Concrete to prove the capability of achieving significant strength benefits using locally available materials, as opposed to proprietary offerings, along with recommendations for design to influence use of this material within the Transportation and Building sectors. Other current paid research involves various component and material behavior and application issues that we deem relevant to the industry and our membership. Requests for proposals for much of this work typically goes out through a solicitation to universities and/or organizations known to have some familiarity with and interest in the topic. Occasionally PCI takes under consideration unsolicited proposals if an entity submits one of sufficiently high interest.

What might be of more interest as it relates to opportunities with the Design Studios would be our Jenny Fellowships. In 1971, PCI initiated a fellowship program (later designated the Daniel P. Jenny Research Fellowship Program) with the creation of two fellowships at $3,000 each. This has now grown to the point we budget to allow for up to five fellowships funded at $40,000 each, and this amount may actually soon increase. A list of the most recent fellowships is attached, along with the most recent solicitation for applications. The next one will be going out close to the end of this year, so please be sure to let us know of your potential interest, or that of any of your colleagues. I think the information is pretty clearly presented so I won’t recap in this memo, but please let me know if you should have any questions.

Now I’m getting to the good part and this is what I’m excited about bringing to your attention. You’ll see as part of the solicitation a Research Needs List, which we update periodically by canvassing the various committees and groups within PCI. You’ll note a strong slant toward structural analysis and materials. For the past several years, we’ve been trying to broaden our research scope to include other areas of interest and impact beyond what might otherwise be covered by Civil/Structural Engineering, so there is now at least an Operations category within the list. We have under the R&D Council an Innovations Committee, with several professors as members, including Carlos from Clemson. The main task of that committee is to come up with some out of the box thinking to spur us on to delve into things we hadn’t previously considered. They have encouraged several successful fellowship applications, including safety training using virtual reality from Mississippi State and scanning methods to enable real-time quality control of fabricated product with greater accuracy from Virginia Tech.

With what I’ve seen in some of the studios, collaboration between university departments is alive and well and quite possibly just what we need to take our fellowships to another level.So, challenging our project approach with a proof of concept aspect supported across multiple disciplines carries intriguing anticipation as to what we might come up with.Perhaps topics having to do with building envelopes, modularization, robotic assembly-line producible product, are just a few ideas to get the conversation started and I look forward to starting that discussion.

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