Forerunners of the Cellular Concrete Revolution

CEMATRIX

CEMATRIX supplies and installs cellular concrete in applications across North America. This foamed concrete material is lightweight when compared to traditional concrete, and air bubbles within it also give it insulating properties, greatly increasing its range of applications.
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CEMATRIX has stood out in the construction industry since its inception in the early 2000s. Company President and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Kendrick says that the company can serve the construction industry in ways other outfits simply cannot.

Cellular concrete has many uses. It can be employed as a lightweight backfill behind bridges, retaining walls, and mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) retaining wall panels in road construction projects; as a lightweight and floating fill over weak and unstable soils to support an entire infrastructure, such as for roads and runways built over glacial silts or bodies of water; or for insulation under roads and facilities and city infrastructure, to prevent permafrost heaving. It can also be used as pipeline backfill and for tunnel fill in a process known as grouting.

The company employs between thirty to forty people at different times of the year and heads up five locations throughout Canada and the United States, including the head office in Calgary, the main American office in Chicago, and supplemental equipment facilities in Ontario, Manitoba, and the northeast U.S.

CEMATRIX was founded as a private company in 1998 and, today, is a family-oriented business that employs people with an entrepreneurial spirit to accomplish any task. It has a focus on providing value to its shareholders through growth and acquisition. Its biggest initial challenge was starting with low capital, which forced Kendrick and his then business partner to raise private funds to get CEMATRIX off the ground. After around seven years as a private company, it went public in 2005 to 2006 and brought itself to a profitable place before the market crashed a few years later.

Both crashes – in 2008-2009 and 2014 – were a huge obstacle to overcome when projects disappeared, and wages were temporarily cut, but the company did not lose a single employee during these hard times and came rebounding out of them with strong future growth in infrastructure on the horizon.

CEMATRIX is a family-oriented business, because “we treat everybody as if we’re part of one family,” and as “partners in [the] business… if we didn’t have [this connection], we wouldn’t be able to function as a business.” He cites the philosophy of having fun as a big reason why the company has survived many difficult times in the last ten to fifteen years and outlived many other companies as a result.

Cellular concrete as a product is still relatively new within North America, but it is being picked up by a growing number of companies as time goes on. CEMATRIX is much more technologically-oriented than many smaller businesses. This is thanks to its large engineering staff and its goal of staying ahead by continuing to develop revolutionary products and foaming agents and the equipment to process it. Having access to this kind of technology and know-how allows the company to pour a lighter and stronger material than anyone else in the marketplace today, and places it above its competition. “We believe we are leaders in cellular concrete technology in the world,” Kendrick says.

As sixty-five percent of the CEMATRIX cellular concrete product is made up of cement and cement-based products, and another ten percent is made up of foaming agents, the company’s relationships with its suppliers is of the utmost importance. Every time CEMATRIX sells a cubic metre of its product, it is selling cement for use in an application to which its suppliers have not been introduced, such as when it is used for replacing insulation or replacing backfills behind bridge abutments. These applications are outside the norm for cement suppliers, which are extremely interested in the company’s product.

This unique type of coverage has seen CEMATRIX enter into a significant marketing agreement with Lafarge, the largest cement company in the world. The companies are working together toward expanding cellular concrete products across Canada and into the United States and are participating in a joint expansion into other areas where CEMATRIX is not presently located.

More engineers are learning about the product, and as more provinces and states approve it, the company’s product is included on approved lists and engineers can specify the use of cellular concrete in their projects. This education is still very much a work-in-progress, however, as some industry engineers still are not aware of its properties and advantages. CEMATRIX continues to take this task head-on through various educational processes, and as awareness and understanding grows, so does mainstream acceptance of the product within the construction industry.

The company continues to prove its worth through the myriad projects it has successfully undertaken through the years. One of the company’s most prestigious projects to date was a runway extension project for the Reagan International Airport in Washington, DC, where CEMATRIX provided a lightweight base over weak and unstable soil for concrete aprons that were extended.

Other work of note includes the North West Redwater Sturgeon Refinery project – the company’s largest project to date – north of Fort Saskatchewan in which over 40,000 cubic metres of cellular concrete was poured for a diesel refinery project. There was also a project for the Herb Gray Parkway in Windsor, Ontario that saw over 30,000 cubic metres provided as a lightweight backing behind panels for extension of the 401 highway.

CEMATRIX is no stranger to recognition for these efforts, as in 2017 the company was awarded the Minister’s Award of Excellence for Design Innovation by Alberta Transportation for its work on the Ivor Strong Bridge.

Having recently celebrated twenty years in business with CEMATRIX, Kendrick reflects on some of the biggest lessons learned by the company in that time. There is a great degree of patience learned from two decades of experience, and it takes a lot longer to develop a market and business than one might anticipate. The company’s original attention was on the oil and gas industry because of its Alberta location, but after suffering through the economic crash of 2008-2009, CEMATRIX found many of its projects cancelled as a result of a drop in its sales. The company had to change to concentrate on an infrastructure-based market and had to start over, which taught it an additional lesson of not putting all of one’s eggs in a single basket.

Kendrick says it is not easy for a small company to survive in today’s business landscape, and that “you and your staff have to have survival instincts to overcome challenges and make it through difficult times.” Communication on all fronts is a must for surviving, and the company has done just that from communicating with banks and suppliers to open and frank communication between staff and management.

The product is very exciting for the entire team and has tremendous applications from which the entire world can benefit. Educating the engineering world and the construction industry is a chief concern for the future, and the company’s employees will continue to demonstrate the many uses and benefits of cellular concrete.

The company’s goal is ultimately to save its customers time and money and provide them with a better product than they may be using right now. CEMATRIX’s product and services saved a contractor five thousand man hours of work and seven weeks of construction on a project. And results like these add value to the company’s reputation.

As 2019 unfolds, the company is focused on continued growth for the business within Canada and the U.S. and is looking to acquire additional companies that fit into its product and market. “We wouldn’t be around if we didn’t enjoy what we’re doing,” he says. Clearly, CEMATRIX still likes what it does as it enters its second decade.

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 12, 2019, 9:49 PM EST