Nestled among cattle farms in Okeechobee County, Fla., Latin American precaster Baunovo has built a 35,000-sq.-ft., technologically advanced plant at the Okeechobee Airport Industrial Park—its first in the United States. The company, which was founded in Guatemala in 2004, brings customized dry cast utility and drainage structures and components to the South Florida market.
“The idea [behind] this company is to produce tailored state-of-the-art solutions for their customers. Right now, we are doing a project for an artificial reef. That is our goal: To be specialized in high-value, customized products,” says CEO Sergio Prahl, an industry veteran with nearly 40-plus years of experience. The new operation has the production capacity of 800 tons of concrete products per day and 230,000 tons per year.
Selecting the rural Florida community as the home for its United States expansion was a few years in the making. The company first looked at locations near New Orleans, Dallas and Houston, due to contract opportunities. When those did not pan out, Baunovo turned its sight to the booming South Florida market. “We looked at locations everywhere, in Miami, Ft. Pierce, and West Palm Beach … until we found this,” notes Prahl.
Vice President of U.S. Expansion Megan Smith explains the rationale behind choosing Okeechobee over the more popular coastal cities. “[Its] is in the middle of the state and it’s at a crossroads of highways. You are not going to ship this product more than a 200-mile radius. So being in the middle of the state makes it very easy to get to Orlando, the east or west coast, as well as Miami.” The land in Okeechobee offers several advantages, she adds, and the county received Baunovo with open arms.
In what Prahl describes as a “perfect situation,” the company was able to sign a 30-year lease agreement for the purchase of two existing buildings that met its needs on two lots that total nearly 7 acres. The extra land provides storage space for products once they are done in the curing room, and future expansion opportunities. Retrofitting the existing property was not only cost-effective, but allowed the company to start operations in a much shorter time frame.
A FACILITY OF FIRSTS
Baunovo’s new operation is uniquely international. Both the batching plant and casting machine are the first to be installed in the United States. “[Prahl] designed this fully automated plant by combining the best manufacturers of machinery from all over the world so he could produce high quality precast concrete. That is his brainchild,” notes Smith.
For his 36th plant, Prahl selected new, automated European technology that revolutionizes the production of prefabricated concrete products, using a clean process with no air or water contaminates, and little to no waste. The computerized equipment ensures superior quality from start to finish in the production process.
With the latest generation of a highly specialized vibro-compacting machine, Baunovo can produce concrete products in any shape, size, texture and color, as well as one-off customized pieces requiring additional reinforcement. Prahl selected the European manufacturer because of the company’s experience and selection of large, versatile machines. In fact, the Baunovo installation is the manufacturer’s largest. It can produce products up to 13 ft. long x 9 ft. wide x 4 ft. high with a max weight of 9,000 kg.
Although a dry mix is predominantly used, Prahl designed the Okeechobee plant to be able to produce wet cast elements when needed. The plant also features a system of steam-based curing chambers to reach the correct setting in the concrete forms for the required resistance and quality levers. An automated cart system takes the products from the casting machine to the curing chambers.
In its first year of operation, Baunovo estimates that it will produce between 50,000 and 60,000 tons of concrete product. Looking forward, the company’s next step is to obtain Florida Department of Transportation approval for specific products that it believes will be utilized the most in future FDOT projects.
Baunovo’s initial contract order is for a Broward County ocean mitigation project that includes concrete blocks topped with rip rap limestone to form an artificial reef. This will help reduce the beach erosion along the coast. The company is producing over 4,000 units, each weighing 16,000 lbs., with one mold. The product measures 12 ft. long, 6 ft. wide and 3 ft. high. Baunovo anticipates producing 40,000 tons of concrete this year for the project.