Where Innovation Comes Standard
Huesker is a worldwide company that prioritizes innovation as a means of growth. Huesker Inc. – the first of many Huesker subsidiaries – has been in operation since 1991. “We provide solutions and products for applications with geosynthetic materials, geogrids, geotextiles, membranes, and other materials that would fit into the geosynthetic category,” says Chief Executive Officer Sven Schroer.
There are a number of industries in which Huesker is deeply embedded; however, these products apply to many projects and markets. “We are probably most known as a supplier of reinforcer materials for soils, pavement, asphalt layers, but we also have a much wider variety of products available for many other applications. Some of these are fairly new to the market, and we are still developing those. We also started working in the agricultural sector which is still in its infancy, but we believe that it is a very attractive market.”
When planning the route it would take, the company was faced with a choice. A product-led model would have allowed Huesker to enter the market on its terms, with a suite of products that could meet the need for many of its clients. However, the company was not satisfied with that as it would have been limiting in terms of the service it could offer. It works on a more fluid basis to ensure the client receives the exact solution required.
“We have two routes to the market. One is through generic specifications. This accounts for most of our projects in the United States and Canada but also, what we are seeing and doing more and more is a move into designer build applications where we team up with a technical consultant who is working with a big contractor on developing a solution for a project. So, rather than starting off with detailed specifications we could get involved in design work, feasibility studies,” Sven explains.
This model means that Huesker engineers are working with the client every step of the way to design an application that meets a specific need. “We are application-led; we are not production-driven, so we are not coming up with a new product and then identifying where we want to sell it. We are heavily involved with application engineering, so we have geotechnical engineers that design structures when confronted with difficult soils and have been asked to come up with a solution to build a bridge or a road over some soil. So when we are asked to do this, we have to come up with a new product.”
One relationship that has grown and changed over time is the link the company has to the American Concrete Pavement Association. By building knowledge of the goals held by the association, Huesker can maximize the strengths of both partners. “We try to make it more economical to use concrete in pavements. We are very open to understanding the issues at hand. What challenges are these companies facing in trying to use concrete? We try to eliminate some of the limiting factors for them.”
This working relationship can often lead to new products being brought to the market due to specific challenges faced by the industry. Regional Manager Eric Little gives a prime example of how Huesker can use its wealth of expertise to assist the concrete pavement industry. “We provide a material in the application that will remove or replace the asphalt inner layer which is typically used to create a no-bond surface. You could have existing pavement and the new pavement acting independently of each other, which eliminates a lot of stresses. You could have a very poor road and build on top of this material which gives great drainage, and at the same time, gives you stress relief in the concrete. We are heavily involved in that with the ACPA.”
Trying to guide an industry towards a new way of thinking or operating is not a straightforward task, and the market can be slow to embrace change. While Huesker Inc. rightly sees itself at the forefront of many industries, promoting solutions that encourage a new way of thinking, Sven concedes that this can lead to challenges, in particular, when trying to change longstanding methods.
“At a very high level, I would say that the skepticism against what is new in terms of technology is a big hindrance, for geosynthetics and for Huesker also. Some of the things that can be done in other parts of the country or the world have to be proven over and over again. I suppose that engineers trust in what they know. They have a liability, so I fully understand that, but it becomes a hurdle for innovation.”
This desire to continually move industry forward with new ideas and solutions is at the heart of everything Huesker Inc. does. “Our company slogan is ‘Ideas, Engineers, Innovation.’ That is what we try to live by, but it is complicated and difficult sometimes because sometimes engineers can be uncomfortable by putting, for example, a geogrid into a critical structure.”
Sven acknowledges that these issues exist; however, they are a by-product of conservative and necessary safety measures. The challenge remains, however, for Huesker Inc. to use the wealth of data it has on the effectiveness of geosynthetics. The goal for the company is to prove to the industry that it has solutions readymade to revolutionize their projects.
“These have been proven, not only by us but by numerous other companies, that it is a very viable option, a very durable option and a very cost-effective option. If you build a retaining structure, it has been proven that these products and safe. They have safety reserves and behave, in some circumstances, way better than the original or traditional methods because they are more flexible. I think overall, that is one limiting factor. However, it is getting better.”
The company works with other leading firms to move the industry to new and exciting places. “We try, through other organizations to promote the use of geosynthetics. We attend meetings, along with our competitors, to promote the overall use of the materials. We believe, association-wise, that we have a utilization rate of maybe ten percent, and since we are now proving that it is more effective, it feels strange to meet such resistance.”
Huesker Inc. has its sights firmly set on sustained growth. At the heart of this is providing innovation and efficiency to a market that seems comfortable with the status quo. The problem is that comfortable is not where the company wants to be.
“It is a growing industry, and as I mentioned, there are two ways into the market. You could have a market that effectively grows on its own because other people do the design work, but that results in a heavily standardized market which doesn’t always help with innovation. If you standardize something, people will just produce to that standard. They won’t look left and right. It becomes repetitive, and that is a killer for innovation. Design and build is a bit more of an open playing field. You can come up with unique products, and because of our application background, that is where we’re very strong. We are not trying to push any particular product onto our customers. We don’t want to make their project work with our product. It is the other way round. We make our product work with their project.”