Concrete Canvas in use
With innovation at its heart since the company was founded in 2004, Concrete Canvas Ltd's marketing manager, Garry Watkins talks to BQ about how incentivising staff, having a clear process and engaging stakeholders contributes to their innovation success.
What does your business do?
Concrete Canvas Ltd (CC Ltd) manufactures award-winning products, Concrete Canvas® (CC), CC Hydro™ (CCH) and Concrete Canvas Shelters™ (CCS). All products are manufactured at the company’s headquarters in Pontypridd, South Wales from where it exports to over 80 countries around the world.
Concrete Canvas has quickly gained market acceptance in the civil engineering sector as a cost-effective alternative to conventional concrete for a wide range of applications, such as channel lining, slope protection and bund lining. International customers include Shell, BP, Barrick Mining, BHP Billiton, Arup, Halcrow, Petronas and the British Armed Forces.
What innovative products, services, materials or processes do you have relevant to the construction sector?
Concrete Canvas (CC) is a flexible, concrete filled geosynthetic, that hardens on hydration to form a thin, durable, waterproof and fire-resistant concrete layer. Essentially, it’s concrete on a roll.
CC allows concrete construction without the need for plant or mixing equipment: just add water. CC consists of a three-dimensional fibre matrix containing a specially formulated dry concrete mix. A PVC backing on one surface ensures the material is completely waterproof.
CC can be hydrated either by spraying or by being fully immersed in water. Once set, the fibres reinforce the concrete, preventing crack propagation and providing a safe plastic failure mode.
Concrete Canvas is available in three thicknesses and can be laid up to 10 times faster than conventional concrete solutions. Available in man-portable rolls for applications with limited access, the concrete is pre-mixed so there is no need for mixing, measuring or compacting. The speed and ease of installation mean CC is a more cost-effective solution than using conventional concrete methods, with less logistical complexity for the contractor.
The environmental benefits of CC are further amplified as it is a low mass, low carbon technology which uses up to 95% less material than conventional concrete for many applications.
Concrete Canvas is used widely within sectors such as, but not limited to, rail, road, petrochemical, mining, agriculture and utilities.
What difference does innovating make to your business?
Innovation is embedded in the heart of Concrete Canvas Ltd, from the original invention by the two co-founders at university in 2004 to the ongoing investment in R&D which continues to drive growth.
Investment in innovation and a deep understanding of our customers' needs has enabled rapid growth. Since sales began in 2008, turnover doubled year-on-year for the first five years. In 2012, we licensed manufacture of our material technology to Milliken to produce and distribute CC to the North American market. Global sales are on track to exceed those of last year considerably.
Over 20% of the annual overhead is dedicated to R&D spend. CC Hydro is the latest innovation from Concrete Canvas Ltd which is increasingly being used within the petrochemical sector and provides the next platform for growth for the business.
How do you manage innovation; how do you encourage staff to innovate in their jobs?
Ideas are promoted from all areas within the group and suggestions from all levels are regularly implemented, for example, changes to operating procedures and equipment designs. The office is entirely open plan and all employees in any position are encouraged to and do talk openly and directly to all levels.
We have a formalised system for the introduction of new research projects that ensures work is only done on technology with real potential.
Staff performance is formally assessed every six or 12 months and on an ongoing basis by their line manager. This is used for identifying opportunities for improvement and to reward employees with bonus payments. The reviews are also used formally and most importantly as a review focused on gathering suggestions and feedback, both on how the employee's role could be improved and open feedback to improve the business.
How do you encourage innovation in your supply chain, or in those that you partner with?
In 2014, a project team was created incorporating members from across company departments including R&D, engineering, production, sales and marketing. This allowed a holistic approach throughout the development process ensuring the resulting product was market-ready as quickly as possible.
Development prototypes were field tested from an early stage ensuring feedback from contractor, designer and client was incorporated into the design. This required coordination of multiple stakeholders from the perspective of the end-user as well as the supply-chain side.
In January 2017, CC Hydro was officially launched internationally through our global distribution network and a global marketing campaign. This provided CC Hydro with exposure in over 40 countries through local publications as well as our well-established local sales partners – a very select group of technical sales organisations with exclusive geographic rights.
The UK trial projects were used to generate detailed case studies, presentations and videos, providing our sales partners with targeted sales tools for local promotion. This was supported by extensive technical literature, design details and installation guides to support the specification and implementation stages of projects as they progressed, therefore aiding credibility to the product and brand on a global scale.
What is the most interesting/innovative contract or development you have been involved in?
In 2011 we starting working with Shell as a new customer to trial CC as a solution to erosion problems they were experiencing with their bunds at a major terminal in the South East of England.
Throughout 2011, we worked closely with their engineers to fully understand their requirements as well as carrying out laboratory testing to assess CC’s resistance to hydrocarbon as well as other chemicals. In 2012, CC was specified to line the entire bund perimeter of the site (25,500m2), worth over £400,000.
This project was used to create case studies and sales material and in September 2013, CC won a second UK contract to Phillips66 (a major US Oil & Gas company) worth £1m. In 2013, the bund lining erosion control application was rolled out through our international distribution network and is now being used globally.
Whilst this experience provided access to a lucrative market in erosion control, it also highlighted a real opportunity to develop a new product to address increasing regulatory pressure on oil and gas operators to improve the integrity of the impermeability of their existing secondary containment infrastructure.
What has been your biggest challenge with embedding a culture of innovation?
Innovation requires cross-disciplinary collaboration across different business functions to produce the best results from the research and development process. This requires careful management, coordination and leadership. At the same time, individuals must be given the freedom to explore new ideas and follow new and interesting lines of research.
Therefore, a key challenge for Concrete Canvas has been creating a structure and processes that promote inter-disciplinary collaboration whilst allowing individuals the freedom to explore new research avenues. In order for that to work effectively, innovation and a collaborative approach must be embedded within the company culture.
As a technology development start-up from university, this innovative culture was naturally part of the company’s DNA from day one. We have worked hard to preserve and nurture that culture as the company has grown to ensure we remain at the cutting-edge or our field.
What advice would you give to other businesses looking to increase their innovation?
Cast a wide net, be brave and invest in the people and ideas for the long term. Assess ideas at an early stage for both technical and commercial viability. Work with partners from outside your organisation to ensure those ideas can be taken to market and deliver a financial return.
What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?
Concrete Canvas anticipates continuing the current rate of growth for the foreseeable future. This will be achieved through delivering the following three strands of growth:
1) Expanding the distribution network to supply CC for existing applications to more territories and sectors. The market for existing applications is over £7bn.
2) Application development – CC is being trialled by several lead customers for new applications. Once a new application is proven it enables CC Ltd to open completely new markets.
3) Development of new technology based on the core CC technology. For example, CC Ltd has prototyped a bulletproof variant and is developing an ultra-low CO2 variant.
We currently have four patents families in over 68 territories protecting the core technology and are filing new patents on a regular basis. Concrete Canvas will continue to invest in developing new products based on our core material technology to deliver sustainable growth for the long term.
Construction Wales Innovation Index is a major initiative to identify some of Wales' most innovative companies across the construction and built environment sector, looking particularly at the supply chain to highlight the depth of the sector and its relevance to the future economic prosperity of the sector in Wales.
The campaign will showcase nominated companies through inspiring content via a digital campaign and a series of events and debates shining the spotlight on Wales' most purpose driven construction companies and their businesses.
For more info visit https://www.innovation100cw.co.uk/.
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