Cementing an International Reputation
CTLGroup of Skokie, Illinois is a leading consulting engineering and materials consulting and testing firm with a heritage spanning more than one hundred years. The company has worked on several noteworthy projects – including the tallest building in the world – and takes pride in its well-educated staff, comprehensive services and wide reach. CTLGroup enters its next century with a confident outlook and a plan to expand its services and personnel while enhancing existing facilities.
CTLGroup serves an array of markets including buildings and facilities, transportation and rail, energy and resources, water and waste water, green solutions, litigation and insurance and materials and products. It also offers such services as building performance assessment, repair and rehabilitation, building and infrastructure sustainability, failure investigation, materials consulting, nondestructive testing, structural engineering and evaluation and mass concrete consulting.
Structural health monitoring (SHM) is “a growing business for us. We do work on projects that involve what I would call remote sensing – using advanced digital technology to assess the behavior of a structure or the materials in a structure. That can involve using sensors and digital technology to measure movement, deflection, vibration of structures. We’re also involved with evaluating moisture content and moisture movement in concrete – how that affects durability and service life,” adds CTLGroup Chief Operating Officer Tim Tonyan.
CTLGroup’s services are all-inclusive. “We provide expertise and consulting services through the full life cycle of the building or infrastructure facility, meaning that we help with conceptual planning, we help with the detailed design, we help during the construction process, and then we help or we assist clients through the life cycle of the facility itself,” says Tonyan.
CTLGroup workers do not actually perform construction services themselves, but the company will do construction administration – providing oversight of the contractor and helping the owner evaluate a bid.
The firm has worked on projects in all fifty U.S. states and in roughly seventy foreign countries in Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Middle East. Tonyan estimates that international work makes up about twenty percent of the company’s business.
CTLGroup performs materials testing at a series of labs located in Skokie. These labs are devoted to concrete and concrete materials, analytical chemistry, petrography (the science of classifying rocks) and structural analysis. The company also runs a lab in conjunction with another company in the Middle East nation of Qatar.
It has a regional office in Austin, Texas. CTLGroup also has individuals who work for it in the Philadelphia region and New Hampshire.
In 2015, it acquired a consulting firm called Williams Building Diagnostics in Bradenton, Florida. Williams specializes in building investigations and consultation, repair solutions, expert witness testimony and building materials and systems analysis.
The company will do research projects when requested and has been involved with efforts to create standard reference materials for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
CTLGroup began in 1916 as the Research and Development Laboratories of the Portland Cement Association (PCA) and was focused on concrete and cement technology. Over the decades, a range of engineering consultation and testing services were introduced. In 1987, the firm was incorporated as Construction Technology Laboratories, Inc., a wholly-owned PCA subsidiary. It began operating as CTLGroup in 2005.
The company owes its longevity to the quality of its work and workers and the fact it is focused on a key building block of the modern world.
“Concrete is the lifeblood of infrastructure and economic development for industrialized society worldwide,” says Tonyan. “Concrete has been at the forefront of improving quality of life and prosperity for people around the globe. We have engineers and scientists that focus on the science and technology associated with concrete. We are fortunate to always have a very strong demand for our services. That was the case one hundred years ago, and that continues to be the case today.”
That demand stems from CTLGroup’s reputation for hiring top-notch employees.
“I think it’s important to note the talent and the people that we recruit. Back in the 1930s and ‘40s, some of the most famous people in our industry – concrete engineers and scientists – were here at the Portland Cement Association. Over the years, we’ve continued to recruit those types of highly skilled people, with PhDs from top universities from across the country, and we continue to promote through leadership and outreach within the company,” states Anthony Bentivegna, materials consultant and laboratory manager at CTLGroup. “I think that’s how we continue to stay at the forefront of our industry.”
Roughly ten to fifteen percent of the company’s staff have a Ph.D. – primarily in engineering or materials science – while a further forty to fifty percent have at least a master’s degree, estimates Bentivegna. CTLGroup has approximately 110 employees at present, up from roughly one hundred a year ago at this time.
Besides brainpower, CTLGroup wants new hires who show “a balance of practical and scientific interest. We like to see people that have enthusiasm and passion for the industry, who get excited when they show up on the job site and are also be excited when they’re in the office writing reports,” says Bentivegna.
“We want people that are passionate about the great engineering and scientific challenges of our day – infrastructure renewal, climate change, sustainability. We want people that can work together on a team. We do care about work life balance,” adds Tonyan. “We respect people’s needs for having a life outside the walls here, but when they show up [for work], they’d better be locked and loaded.”
All employees are expected to embrace a quality-oriented ethos. “Quality permeates our culture and everything that we do. We’re understood in the industry to have a very high standard of quality, and we take that very seriously,” states Tonyan. “We maintain a very rigorous portfolio of accreditations related to quality.”
These accreditations include ISO 9001 certification for overall business and organizational practices and ISO 17025 for laboratory practices. “Consistent with that ISO 17025 accreditation is our AASHTO accreditation. That’s the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. We also have the distinction of being a laboratory that is validated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We can do very sophisticated Corps of Engineers materials testing,” says Tonyan.
CTLGroup also has Nuclear Quality Assurance (NQA-1) certification from the Nuclear Industry Assessment Committee (NIAC), which means the company can work on commercial nuclear projects. “We’re active in a variety of nuclear energy projects across the country. That’s an important business for us, and it speaks to our level of quality that we’re able to do that work.”
On top of this, CTLGroup runs a vigorous quality department. The company’s quality manager reports directly to Tonyan.
CTLGroup has been involved in a series of significant projects. On one of these, the company provided consulting services for the restoration of Unity Temple, a famous church designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park, Illinois.
“We were very excited to have been able to have an important role in that project. The restoration there was very successful. Obviously, it is an iconic building of great architectural significance,” says Bentivegna.
CTLGroup was also hired to do nondestructive testing at the Wrigley Building, a nearly century-old landmark in downtown Chicago. The testing was done to evaluate the condition of the exterior cladding of the famous building.
This is not the only big building on which the company has worked. It did concrete pretesting and materials consulting for the construction of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The skyscraper is currently the tallest building in the world, at over 2,700 feet.
CTLGroup has earned a slew of awards and honors. It was listed among ENR magazine’s top five hundred design firms for 2016. In 2015, CTLGroup won a ‘Best in Class Award’ for a ‘Use of Space’ design contest run by NASA. The aim of the contest was to come up with a deep space exploration habitat via three dimensional (3D) printing technology. In the previous year, CTLGroup picked up two International Concrete Repair Institute awards of excellence. One was in the longevity category for 1993 repairs to a parking garage that lasted over two decades. The other was in the special projects category for the rehabilitation of a roof sundeck at a Chicago condominium.
CTLGroup takes part in trade shows such as the World of Concrete and the Railway Interchange. The company is also active on social media and professional societies, such as the American Concrete Institute. Company staff frequently write technical papers and articles, which also helps highlight the firm’s expertise. That said, CTLGroup mostly relies on word-of-mouth good reviews of its work on previous projects for promotion, says Tonyan.
In future, the company plans to add new services and locations. On the laboratory side, “we are adding capabilities with organic chemistry. We’ve hired new talent and are providing them with the tools and equipment they need to do more advanced analysis. We are a fully equipped organic lab now,” says Bentivegna. “Health monitoring of structures is something we’re continuing to invest in because that technology is rapidly changing.”
Over the next five years, Tonyan predicts CTLGroup will remain at the forefront of materials science and engineering consulting relating to concrete while “expanding our international market, [and adding] regional offices and fifteen to twenty percent growth in terms of revenue and staff.”