As executive director of the Charles Pankow Foundation, Mark Perniconi is dedicated to funding research to “enact real change” in the concrete industry.
Shelby O. Mitchell As executive director of the Charles Pankow Foundation, Mark Perniconi is dedicated to funding research to “enact real change” in the concrete industry.

Mark Perniconi, executive director of the Charles Pankow Foundation, embodies the passion of its founder to inspire new and better ways to build. Perniconi accepted the position in 2012 after previously working closely with Charles J. Pankow for 13 years as vice president of the Pankow Companies, managing real estate development activities.

Pankow was a champion of design-build construction from the late 1950s until his death in 2004, building more than 1,000 structures across the U.S. He was known as a pioneer of concrete forming technology, inventor of slip-forming and onsite precasting techniques, and leader in earthquake-resistant design. His foundation continues to support research, development, and dissemination of new products and solutions for the AEC industry.

Perniconi carries out Pankow’s mission to advance market-driven innovation with a strategic approach befitting a civil engineer with an MBA from Purdue University. “We identify a problem, create a roadmap to fix it, and use research to get to the end goal.” He meets with the foundation’s board of directors for regular strategy sessions to determine how they can be most effective. “We want to know we’re reaching the right audience, not just generating research papers,” he says.

Perniconi’s vision of the construction industry’s challenge is clear: “We are a gigantic industry that does little research and we have no mechanism in place to address the industry’s challenges. Any changes are made incrementally and very slowly.”

While he applauds the work of individual groups, Perniconi sees a need for efforts that cross over different segments of the industry. “Industry associations are doing good work, and there is a lot of important research going on in individual labs,” he says, “but it’s not necessarily influencing the industry on a macro level.”

He compares different factions of the construction industry to street gangs, each protecting its own turf. “The problem is that if no one works to improve the industry, they’re going to be protecting a declining neighborhood.” As a neutral third party, the Pankow Foundation is laying the groundwork for a more unified approach.

Research leads to action

The foundation has identified building information modeling (BIM) research as a major way to effect change in the concrete industry. BIM represents Pankow’s largest single area of funding, with roughly $2 million in grants awarded. The research focuses largely on interoperability of BIM software in cast-in-place, precast, and concrete masonry construction — a major roadblock to the technology’s implementation. (See “A Model of Precision,” TCP July/August 2014.)

A Pankow-funded project at the Georgia Institute of Technology is validating BIM data exchanges for precast concrete, to be completed by the end of 2014. Now it’s up to the precast industry and software vendors to take the next steps.

Many of the foundation’s newest grants support updates to ACI 318, Building Code Requirements for Structural Concrete. A year-long collaboration of ACI committee members, researchers, and other industry experts — conducted through the Applied Technology Council — has produced a plan to bring the ACI 318 code into the 21st century. For example, Perniconi says, the current code limits steel rebar strength to 60,000 psi (60 ksi), although manufacturers can produce it up to 100,000 psi (100 ksi).

The Charles Pankow Foundation is also funding research of key performance attributes of higher strength rebar such as yield stress and ductal performance under load — “testing that is required to define material properties that will guide the necessary research required to update ACI 318,” says Perniconi.

In the meantime the study, “Development of a Roadmap on the Use of High-Strength Reinforcement in Reinforced Concrete Design” (ATC-115), will be available for free this fall at the foundation’s website — as are all of the Pankow Foundation’s research reports. ACI will also be releasing ACI 318-14 in December — the first major reorganization of the code since the early 1970’s.

“So many people dedicate so much time to these causes, but as an industry we provide very few resources to support the research necessary to enact real change,” says Perniconi. As a private entity, the Charles Pankow Foundation is able to bridge the gap. “The industry’s relevance is at stake,” he says. “It determines the value our customers place on the services we provide and it effects our ability to attract younger people into our industry. These are the challenges that get me out of bed every morning.”