A new mould
Innovation and bespoke delivery define Concrete Valley to its core, and with its sights set on market expansion, its vision of becoming a centre of concrete excellence is on course to be realised
Located on the west coast of Holland at Bergen op Zoom and based in an 80,000 square metre concrete production plant, Concrete Valley is a collective of innovative and highly specialist companies serving niche concrete demands within the construction and civil engineering industry. The story of Concrete Valley begins in 2009 with lightweight ferrocement element manufacturer microbeton’s first major project. “This was a very large contract for the Ministry of Defence in Holland, to produce seven kilometres of lightweight concrete awnings for their barracks at Kromhout Kazerne,” explains CEO at Concrete Valley, Pieter Nap. “After the growth that followed microbeton had to look for a new location in order to be able to meet the new market demand. In this search we found the perfect location and after moving in during 2012, we named it Concrete Valley.”
The sheer scale of the site isn’t understated and with the property came a whole host of production equipment and infrastructure, including cranes and rail access. Reminiscent of California’s Silicon Valley, the Concrete Valley site’s aim is to attract other companies and specialists to set up shop within the facility. What results is a symbiotic hub of innovative companies providing highly creative and bespoke solutions to a range of projects. “It is essentially an old factory that was originally designed for high capacity concrete production with huge storage areas,” continues Pieter. “However, we are more interested in making more bespoke solutions, so everything is made to individual specification and therefore we have a lot of unused facilities creating a space that lends itself to this kind of hub.”
The site now houses two additional subsidiaries alongside microbeton, Waco and mbX, both of which also occupy specialised niches within the concrete market. “What really forms the core strength of Concrete Valley is our ability to find these niches,” says Pieter. “We’re not interested in doing high volume, high turnover, grey concrete projects, and this makes us incredibly flexible. This site used to do around 30 million euros in turnover, and we are happy at present with five million euros per company but this could easily be doubled if necessary and this flexibility makes us competitive.”
Perfectly demonstrating the unique offering Concrete Valley delivers to the market is its subsidiary, mbX. Focusing on the most extreme possibilities of state-of-the-art concrete technology, mbX is able to produce completely original and complex façade and roofing panels from ultra high performance, fibre reinforced concrete materials. The production of this concrete requires far less raw material and energy consumption than traditional concrete products, yet due to its fibre construction is able to demonstrate far superior bending and tensile strength with increased resistance to challenging environmental conditions.
“Our most significant contract for mbX has been the innovatively designed and award wining train station in Arnhem, which is destined to be a key European transport hub now it has been re-opened,” highlights Pieter. “This was designed by UN Studio and the order was for 1500 panels, none of which were the same. We designed an innovative flexible modular mould that meant we could make a new mould every ten minutes and produce the panels in an efficient and cost-effective way. I think the reason we won the project was because of how we looked carefully at the processes and simplified the way they could be manufactured. Traditional methods of producing individual moulds for each panel would have been far too costly and time consuming.” Continued success for mbX has been realised by a new project at Farringdon Station in London to produce wall and ceiling panels for 6500 square metres of surfaces.
The two other subsidiaries, microbeton and Waco, are also keenly focused on delivering to highly specialised projects in niche markets. microbeton specialises in lightweight, hollow concrete elements perfect for retrofit balconies and awnings, which are 70 per cent lighter than normal concrete and have a very high surface finish. These are in high demand in Holland’s present construction trend of refurbishing old office blocks into living spaces. The company uses a patented installation system, which allows invisible mounting of the elements by sliding them onto steel profiles mounted on the façade during construction or onto consoles mounted against the out cavity wall skin. Its project to fit canopies to Kromhout Kazerne was completed whilst keeping the building’s structure watertight via this method and it has also been applied to various other projects including hospital developments.
Other popular products developed by microbeton include raising systems, which are targeted to improve access for care homes, stairways, façade elements and tailor-made outdoor concept furniture. Recently microbeton has completed a stairway project for the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, a window frame and rooftop terrace project of VU Medisch Centrum in Amsterdam and the modernisation of three buildings in Veenendaal with balconies for the 240 apartments.
Waco, on the other hand, is focused on producing heavyweight, precast fabricated elements in excess of 50 tonnes. “We are currently seeing a lot of activity in the offshore petrochemical industry with Waco,” elaborates Pieter. “One particular project is in the wind power generation area where we created some turbine transition pieces for Siemens. Winning this contract was a big positive for us because this kind of solution is usually manufactured from steel. However, because of various specification and access issues, the client wanted to investigate the tolerance and maintenance characteristics of a concrete option. As a result, we produced these three large elements here on site. They were too big to be transported via road, so we had them placed onto two pontoons at our waterside facility and taken out to be installed at sea.” Other key specialist products for Waco include bridges, tunnels, culverts, garages and innovative buildings.
The future for Concrete Valley and its subsidiary companies can be split into two separate streams. “The first is to continue what we have been doing successfully, whilst making the most of potential opportunities in the UK and Belgium. We have a good looking pipeline full of nice projects at present, and establishing ourselves further in London with more exposure and references will be key to us finding growth in a market, which isn’t actually that far away from us,” says Pieter. In order to achieve this continued growth trajectory within such niche markets, the company has in place a flexible strategy, whereby focused investments are made in line with project needs. With existing infrastructure already in place, such as rail access, cranes and other lifting equipment, this individual project-specific programme is proving effective in winning such specialist contracts. For instance, mbX invested heavily into the new moulding equipment and a new mixing plant for the unique concrete materials, in order to successfully complete the Arnhem Station contract.
“We also want to attract more people to Concrete Valley,” he continues. “The idea of the site is to grow by adding more innovative and flexible companies to the group. There are lots of office spaces in cities where creative companies gather to network and share ideas and we think it is important to offer the same platform to the technical industry, especially to innovative start-ups that can make use of the extensive facilities and infrastructure already here.”
Services: A group of highly specialist concrete manufacturers