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Concrete Artisan Explains How to Mass-produce Concrete Countertop Slabs

Since it incorporated in 1988, Ferazzoli Imports of New England Inc. has operated a design center, showroom, warehouse and manufacturing facility in Connecticut. Today, after the addition of the ModaCrete concrete production facilities, its campus encompasses about 190,000 square feet. Photos courtesy of ModaCrete
Since it incorporated in 1988, Ferazzoli Imports of New England Inc. has operated a design center, showroom, warehouse and manufacturing facility in Connecticut. Today, after the addition of the ModaCrete concrete production facilities, its campus encompasses about 190,000 square feet. Photos courtesy of ModaCrete

Move over marble, granite and engineered composites. With the popularity of concrete countertops on the rise, the time has come for mass-produced precast concrete slabs to enter into the fray.

After four years of research and development, a fledgling company named ModaCrete, a U.S.-based manufacturer of precision high-performance concrete products, stands ready to offer consumers a new kind of premium concrete option for their kitchen and bath countertops.

ModaCrete’s primary products are 5-by-10-foot concrete slabs that local stone professionals can fabricate into countertops, fireplaces and other architectural elements for both residential and commercial applications. ModaCrete slabs are offered in four variations. Pearl and Cosmopolitan come with a variety of exposed aggregate such as mother of pearl and colored recycled glass. Java features flowing earthy tones, and the solid colors of the Elements collection complement designs from modern to rustic.

Back in fall 2008, Michael R. Cook, an artisan dealing in concrete design, fabrication and manufacturing, began consulting with Ferazzoli Imports of New England Inc., a well-established regional importer, distributor, fabricator and retailer in Middletown, Conn., that dealt with stone, porcelain and glass. The company wanted to expand its inventory to include precast concrete.

Although a lot of the equipment needed to bring the concept to fruition was already in place because of Ferazzoli’s stone fabrication business, the partners still had to basically build a semiautomated production plant for something that had never been done before, says Cook, now chief operating officer of ModaCrete, an affiliate of Ferazzoli that’s producing the concrete slabs.Together, Cook and the Ferazzoli team worked to develop a fashionable concrete slab with the proper strength so it would be in direct competition with other premium materials and could be sold through traditional means.

Although a lot of the equipment needed to bring the concept to fruition was already in place because of Ferazzoli’s stone fabrication business, the partners still had to basically build a semiautomated production plant for something that had never been done before, says Cook, now chief operating officer of ModaCrete, an affiliate of Ferazzoli that’s producing the concrete slabs.

“We were in a gray area,” he says. “We had to design and make a lot of the machines needed to produce the concrete slabs. We couldn’t buy them because they didn’t exist.”

They also had to develop their own concrete mix. “We had to build a 15,000-psi compressive, 1,200-psi flexural concrete mix with no reinforcement that delivered cosmetically desirable appearances,” says Cook. “Then we had to find a feasible way to scale it up from the lab into a mass-production process.”

While developing their concrete mixes, they made some unique discoveries — the most intriguing was a mix and process that Cook says produced samples exceeding 40,000-psi compressive and 5,000-psi flexural strength with no reinforcement (well beyond what they needed for ModaCrete).

By 2012, ModaCrete’s slabs were ready to be introduced to market.

While developing their concrete mixes, they made some unique discoveries — the most intriguing was a mix and process that Cook says produced samples exceeding 40,000-psi compressive and 5,000-psi flexural strength with no reinforcement (well beyond what they needed for ModaCrete).

Who buys ModaCrete products?
The bulk of our sales are to distributors and fabricators of natural and engineered stone, who in turn market to consumers ranging from homeowners to commercial retailers.

What is your distribution area?
Currently, ModaCrete products are being distributed in northeastern United States by Ferazzoli Imports of New England. We also are negotiating with additional companies to distribute our products throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Eventually, we hope to distribute globally.

What did it take to launch your new business in the way of capital, facilities and time?
It took about four years, a fluctuating staff of two to 15-plus people, a 50,000-square-foot facility and more than $1 million dollars in capital to research and develop a highly stain- and scratch-resistant precast concrete slab that could be fabricated and sold through traditional means by regional businesses around the country.

What were some of the challenges in developing ModaCrete slabs?
The first obstacle was strength. We wanted to develop our concrete slabs with enough compressive and flexural strength so they could withstand the fabrication process without the need for any reinforcing materials. Currently we are accomplishing 14,900 psi compressive and 1,224 psi flexural.

The first obstacle was strength. We wanted to develop our concrete slabs with enough compressive and flexural strength so they could withstand the fabrication process without the need for any reinforcing materials.The second and more challenging obstacle was to create a working surface that would be comparable to or outperform competitive surfaces in regard to staining, etching and scratching. We are not chemists — and still aren’t — but we were able to identify and formulate our own proprietary sealer and system that may prove to be the new benchmark for concrete sealers.

Consumers can pay a fee to decide where a template should be placed on a ModaCrete slab to customize an interesting design.

Describe the materials and methods used to produce your slabs.
Our precast concrete slabs are produced in a semiautomated plant of our own design with our proprietary high-performance concrete mixes. Once the castings are cured, a CNC (computer numerical control) machine gauges the slabs to a specific thickness and creates the desired finish, such as polished or honed. The slabs then go through a multistep sealing process and cure for 24 hours. After they cure, the slabs are stacked on A-frames and prepped for shipment.

ModaCrete is in the final stages of developing a line of sinks and shower systems that will be ready for mass production this spring. We also are working on vanities, cladding, tile and furniture that we will market in the future.Besides concrete slabs, what other products do you offer?
ModaCrete is in the final stages of developing a line of sinks and shower systems that will be ready for mass production this spring. We also are working on vanities, cladding, tile and furniture that we will market in the future.

Why did you decide to move to mass production?
It’s the only way to take concrete countertops mainstream. In order to accomplish this we had to put a system in place where consumers could readily see our product as a viable premium-surface option. We chose to do this through the kitchen and bath retailers and their local countertop fabricators. In order to supply this industry, we had to be able to produce a suitable product in large volumes.

Do you see mass production as being a trend for the precast market in general?
I don’t believe mass production is a trend. I believe it was an unforeseen component of concrete’s product cycle.

Decorative concrete has grown significantly in popularity over the last decade and has shown its capability to accept and overcome extreme design challenges. As more technical advances are achieved with concrete, I think we’ll see additional innovations in the area of mass-produced concrete products.

Based on our diverse designs, aesthetics, price point and performance, ModaCrete products can fiercely compete against the premium surfacing options of engineered stone, natural stone and, of course, concrete.

How do you think your products stack up to the competition?
Based on our diverse designs, aesthetics, price point and performance, ModaCrete products can fiercely compete against the premium surfacing options of engineered stone, natural stone and, of course, concrete. Our level of stain, etch and scratch resistance will outperform at least 75 percent of natural stones on the market today.

When compared to the few mass-produced concrete slabs in today’s market, ModaCrete products are in a category all their own. While our competition only makes slabs containing recycled glass, ModaCrete’s offerings include recycled glass, natural aggregates, solid colors and marbleized designs. Plus we’ve optimized the size of our slabs at 5 by 10 feet for the fabrication industry and raised the bar on the level of stain and etch protection.

Do you do custom orders?
Yes, we can fulfill custom orders of any volume or configuration, as well as make one-of-a-kind individual custom pieces.

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