Concrete domination

Posted on 6 Jul 2011

Much of the UK is still relying on a beleaguered Victorian water drainage system which is no longer fit for purpose. Stepping into the breach CPM Group is tackling this mammoth infrastructure replacement challenge head on, and that is just a fraction of their activity. George Archer reports on an impressive operation.

CPM Group has sites in Kent, Staffordshire, Yorkshire, Scotland and Somerset (Frome) where its head offices are based. Out of these sites the company transports vast volumes of products for a range of applications in the UK. Replacing the UKs outdated water drainage system is just one project; others involve work in the rail, security sectors as well as other infrastructure projects. Furthermore, CPM strategy in choosing its suppliers and investing in key equipment mean its products are unique within the UK.

Paying to stay ahead of the game
Mark Dix, operations director at CPM makes sure TM knows about the new MasterFlex pipe machine straight away. Before showing the new machine, he points out the older, less efficient machine. It’s a rusty skeleton, but is still in perfect working condition. Moving over to another section of the building on site in Mells, Mark points out the new pipe machine. Over the harsh cacophony of various machinery inside the complex Mark says: “The new MasterFlex pipe machine can manufacture pipes in diameters from 375mm – 1200mm. It was bought from a Danish company called Pedershaab in 2008.”

The MasterFlex pipe machine is impressive; the Zublin reinforced, it is a a sight to see. Sparks fly from it like fireworks and with just one person visible using it, it’s quite clear that within this department and in comparison to the old machine, the sizeable investment has been worth it.

“Our old machine needed a lot of labour to operate it at any given time, and it didn’t produce many units. It also was very expensive to run, and due to it’s age, not very environmentally friendly. Because the machine is so new compared to our old one, our production has doubled and our changeover times have halved, this means we run the machine less often” says Mark Dix. “Whereas before we had two crews, we now have one crew running the new machine.

We were able to naturally lose around five of our workers through retirement. Whereas before we had to work double shifts, we save time by running single shifts,” he adds.

This new machine has cut costs across the board. The CPM site in Mells now uses less water, less electricity and employs less staff as a result of the MasterFlex. Consequently, it has also made the site more environmentally friendly.

Redi-Rock(TM) retaining wall solution in Birmingham
Redi-Rock(TM) retaining wall solution in Birmingham

As the widely recognised leader in its field, CPM has to have some niche products on offer to customers in the UK. When asked about this, Paul Cartwright, commercial director UK at CPM says: “Our site in Pollington, Yorkshire is the leading producer of Redi-Rock™; this is a ‘Lego™’ style block with a decorative face that can be used as a retaining wall or force protection for anti-terrorism, or any other security installation.”

CPM has an exclusive territory agreement from Redi-Rock™ international, and this is the pinnacle of their advantage over all other competitors. As Paul says: “Redi- Rock™ has now been proven in every sector of the construction industry: including road, rail, water, housing and industrial applications.”

“Most recently, Redi-Rock™ has been successfully tested by the Transport Research Laboratory to test standard PAS 68 – a test that provides assurance that vehicle security barriers will provide the level of impact resistance they are aiming for. As a result, Redi-Rock™ is now being used as hostile vehicle protection, guarding the perimeters of buildings and infrastructure of national importance,” he adds. The other Competitor products lack the Architectural finish and robust connection designs.

As well as Redi-Rock™, CPM is one of only two companies in the UK currently purchasing and installing 1200mm – 1500mm diameter sealed manhole chambers from an Austrian company called Schlüsselbauer. Mark says of these “perfect” sealed manhole chambers: “These manholes stop the ingress of water. One of the problems in the UK when flooding occurs is that our old Victorian drainage system cannot cope. In Europe the manholes are sealed so no water can escape when flooding does occur. What goes in doesn’t come out. When the water does come out from the drainage systems and this type of manhole is not installed, raw sewage can potentially leave the drains.” Obviously, the contamination of wastewater with raw sewage in the event of a flood is something to be averted, and in the UK it gives CPM a unique selling point.

Also, the time taken and labour required to construct a sealed manhole is greatly reduced over the more traditional methods. This is due to the pre-formed base that can be made to any specification as detailed by the customer.

Mark also points out that CPM are involved in bespoke concrete, producing to customers specific designs. “In this regard, we do a lot of work for the railways; there’s a product we make called Stepsafe, which consists of modular components which can be installed to lengthen existing platforms, or construct new ones, with minimal disruption to train services. We’re quite big on this,” he explains.

CPMs new MasterFlex pipe machine which makesreinforced cages to 1800mm diameter
CPMs new MasterFlex pipe machine which makesreinforced cages to 1800mm diameter

A stable workforce
One of the well-known ailments of the manufacturing industry is the lack of young people choosing it as a career choice. Although CPM runs a maintenance apprenticeship scheme at its site in Leek, Staffordshire, management are looking in to running similar schemes at their other main sites in Somerset and Yorkshire.

Mark comments: “Manufacturing isn’t attractive to younger people. It’s because the country as a whole hardly makes anything anymore – we buy it in – we’re a national importer of goods. To try and get young people into a relatively hardworking, noisy and seemingly dirty industry – which many agree it isn’t so much now – they don’t want to know, unless its computers or banking.” Although this is a problem, one of the upsides is that the workers at the CPM site in Somerset are a stable workforce with a vast knowledge of the industry.

This adds to CPM’s competitive edge in their field. With a relatively old workforce, experience and knowledge is high; even the younger employees have been working at the site for five years or more.

Mark comments on the average age of his workforce at the site in Somerset: “I think the youngest person at this site is 25, and the oldest is 65. We’ve got one guy here who’s done 45 years of service. I’d say that over half the workforce here has done over 25 years of service.”

Looking after the crew
Mark comments on his staff retention measures: “We are proud of paying our staff above average wages, and having a better health and safety environment.

We now have less accidents and better housekeeping.” Deputy managing director Nick Gainsford has made a huge effort to make sure that NMHA (Near-Miss Hazard Alert) cards are placed around all of the buildings on the site, so that the employees identify risks and potential accident areas before they happen. CPM wants its employees to buy into health and safety and treat it as a priority. CPM treats behavioural safety as a high priority, and in effect they share responsibility for safe working to the shop floor. It amounts to investment in the factory environment, which subsequently benefits the workers at the company.

Adding to this, Nick Gainsford says: “Each factory has three monthly health and safety meetings, at which a director usually attends. The factory also has a ‘works committee’ that meet at regular intervals not exceeding six months, so that issues in the workplace and employee welfare are addressed and discussed. We have several Key Performance Indicators in place to monitor the efficiency of the machines; these are reported to the executive board on a monthly basis.”

Redi-Rock(TM) retaining wall at New Mills, Derbyshire
Redi-Rock(TM) retaining wall at New Mills, Derbyshire

The green agenda
CPM is arguably well placed to claim it is extremely environmentally friendly. It does not emit carbon on its sites, as it only uses concrete to manufacture all the products. It uses electricity from the national grid to power all the machinery on site. This is the case at Mells, Leek and Pollington.

Mark comments: “The only rubbish that leaves the site is the rubbish inside the wheelie bins. One other environmental asset we have is the employees’ on-site garden. They grow shrubs, flowers and various other vines, even vegetables.

The whole team likes to do their little bit!” Nick Gainsford says: “CPM offers a large range of environmental products such as hydro-brakes, downstream defenders, weir walls and storm attenuation tanks. We have a strong approach to not just CPM’s effect on the environment, but to what our customers can do about their effect too.” All waste concrete aggregate is stored on site and crushed, so that this material can be used in the products.

This replaces virgin aggregate; subsequently it helps to reduce CPM’s Carbon footprint. Also, all the sites are within a few miles of the aggregate source – this again helps our carbon footprint. CPM uses pulverised fuel ash where possible. This waste product from coal-fired power stations reduces the amount of cement that’s required in the concrete produced by CPM, and also helps it to meet the British Standard requirement for sulphate resistant concrete.

“Our sites all recycle rainwater, which is used in our concrete mixes and also in dust compression sprays so that we don’t upset our neighbours. On-site buildings are insulated where possible so that we can contain heat to the greatest extent possible while reducing the impact of noise on our neighbours. Corporate social responsibility is something we take very seriously,” says Mark.