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Today’s Tilt-Up

By: Robert P. Foley, P.E.
President, CON/STEEL Tilt-Up Systems

Tilt-Up construction may still be the relative newcomer in the building industry, but the Tilt-Up Concrete Association (TCA) is already celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2006. Those of us who were involved in the industry back in 1986 can attest to how far Tilt-Up has come and impart optimism for the future of the industry.

It’s no secret that Tilt-Up construction is a growing market and is quickly becoming a preferred building method in both the private and public business sectors. Of course, nobody understands this trend better than TCA. The Association illustrated its understanding of the benefits that spurred Tilt-Up’s growth with its 2005 convention theme:

“Tilt-Up 4 Today: Energy, Environment, Economy, Efficiency.” When we sell Tilt-Up construction, these are four very important words. They have propelled the method to its position of growth, and they will undoubtedly continue to make Tilt-Up a beneficial selection for building owners and the communities they serve.

The same advantages that helped start Tilt-Up still ring true, but the sophistication level and application to new markets continues to expand. Today, we are creating smaller structures than we ever thought practical with Tilt-Up panels. Plus, as innovation continues, we are also taking Tilt-Up to new heights, continually breaking records – with panels reaching nearly 100 feet in height and topping 300,000 pounds.

Testing the structural limits of Tilt-Up keeps Tilt-Up engineers challenged, and the expanding architectural options keep architects creating buildings we never thought Tilt-Up could achieve. It’s easy to see — just compare today’s Tilt-Up with the more utilitarian applications and finishes of Tilt-Up buildings just a decade ago.

Instead of looking back at TCA’s past 20 years, we can follow Tilt-Up as it shapes a positive future. Many of the trends have already started and will continue to gain strength.

Sustainability and green building will continue to be a hot topic. With the inherent properties of concrete and the natural energy efficiency of the method, more and more projects will benefit from sustainable design principles. Even if they are not officially certified as LEED buildings, Tilt-Up structures have a head start toward sustainable design.

Smaller structures—personal residences, band pavilions and air control towers—are becoming more routine. At the beginning of this decade, the big box market evaporated, but many Tilt-Up contractors successfully adapted the fundamental efficiencies of Tilt-Up on significantly smaller footprints. Today, as we see the traditional Tilt-Up markets re-emerge, we are left with a dramatic demonstration of Tilt-Up’s adaptability for buildings of all sizes.

As Tilt-Up construction continues to garner larger and larger shares of the building market, product manufacturers are following and, in some cases, leading the business. Makers of products devoted to architectural finishes are clamoring to get involved in the Tilt-Up industry by making their products easier to incorporate into the construction process. This trend benefits contractors by making their jobs easier, but it also benefits building owners by increasing the architectural options they can choose.

Retailers across the country — both large and small — are capitalizing on the enhanced architectural options. They are beginning to recognize that the Tilt-Up method provides retailers with architectural options that accent their corporate or brand identity. Plus, Tilt-Up allows them to meet aggressive construction schedules in a cost-effective manner. Whether it is a large lifestyle mall or a single retailer, time and image equal success, so helping retailers get to market sooner and more professionally will keep them coming back to Tilt-Up.

And finally, schools will continue to be a booming market for Tilt-Up contractors. The benefits for school boards and their communities are endless — speed, economy, durability, energy efficiency, sound absorption, clear-span interiors, and the list goes on. It’s no wonder so many schools are looking to Tilt-Up for quick, cost-conscious construction.

Two overriding concepts that will also propel Tilt-Up construction to future growth are sustained quality and increased technology. The success of the ACI/TCA joint certification program indicates positive steps toward quality construction. To date, more than 700 people have passed the certification exam. More than 500 certified technicians and nearly 200 Tilt-Up supervisors are now working on Tilt-Up job sites around the United States and in Canada.

Still, increasing technology is of little value if it doesn’t improve the design or construction processes. As projects continue to become more and more complicated, it will be important to use technology to communicate between team members and explain the building process to owners. Enhanced technology should facilitate coordination and add efficiency to the entire process, not bog the entire team down in details. Three-D modeling technology is one example of leveraging technological advancements to simplify coordination and better explain project details.

Technology is also impacting Tilt-Up in the field. In addition to the expanding array of products for architectural treatments, the construction process is being enhanced with the introduction of adhesives for securing panel edge forms and rustication. New braces to support taller panels, larger cranes, temporary helical anchors, and a wide array of communication and data transfer technologies – just to name a few – are now available.

A number of other factors will also keep the Tilt-Up industry growing into the foreseeable future. After an over-saturation of the market, big box warehouses will cycle back as retailers face increasing demands for distribution space. New Tilt-Up markets, such as religious and education, will become established, reducing the resistance of building owners.

With the forces of terrorism and Mother Nature a prime concern throughout the nation, security and durability of structures is paramount. No other method can attest to the durability that Tilt-Up has proved – just ask people in Florida who flocked into Tilt-Up buildings during the 2004 hurricane season.

Maintaining the future as bright as Tilt-Up’s will take work, as other building methods will strive to steal our market share. But the opportunities for growth into new markets and the possibilities for increased architectural sophistication will help Tilt-Up maintain its position as a leading construction method. I can’t wait to see what the Tilt-Up industry does in the next 20 years.

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TILT-UP TODAY, a publication of the Tilt-Up Concrete Association, is THE source for Tilt-Up industry news, market intelligence, business strategies, technical solutions, product information, and other resources for professionals in the Tilt-Up industry. A subscription to TILT-UP TODAY is included in a TCA membership. Subscriptions for potential TCA members are also available. If you would like to receive a complimentary subscription to the publication, please contact the TCA.