This issue of The Concrete Producer focuses on manufacturers of precast concrete with a profile of Smith-Midland, an ambitious precaster in the DC area that licenses other precasters to also make some of its innovative products. In talking with Ashley Smith, the third generation leader of the company, I was struck by the similarities among the various segments of the concrete industry. Whether you are involved with cast-in-place concrete, concrete production, or precast, we all work with the same materials and face many of the same challenges: finding and retaining good people, integrating new technology into our operations, trying to make a profit, and, of course, working with concrete.

As I thought about concrete and its challenges the word vagaries came to mind but then I wanted to make sure that was the right word, so I looked it up in my old-fashioned paper dictionary. The definition certainly seemed to fit the way concrete can behave: an odd, eccentric, or unexpected action or bit of conduct. Anyone who’s been around concrete for a time has seen it exhibit those characteristics. My friend Tommy Ruttura, a concrete contractor in New York, calls it “fickle.”

The other thing I think you will find among those in any segment of the industry is that we speak the same language. Normal people don’t think of concrete when they hear the words slump or cylinders or retarder or bleeding or joints. When you talk to someone about concrete, you know pretty quickly if they are “one of us,” especially if they say cement when they should say concrete.

With all concrete’s complexity, the need to keep learning is great. And also today’s concrete world keeps changing. There are new materials, new technology, new techniques. That’s why we continue to develop and publish information about concrete, because no matter how much you know, you can always know a little more in your attempt to master its vagaries.