After decades of researching, investing in technology, and in people, Robert D. Finfrock, president of FINFROCK, has achieved the Holy Grail of construction -- vertical integration, the ability to build the complete commercial building, from design to occupancy, foundation to finish.
"It took 25 years to get into it," Finfrock said. The family company was founded 70 years ago by his father, Robert J.D. Finfrock, as a precast concrete company. The younger Finfrock took over in the late 1950's-early 1960s as the elder Finfrock's health began to fail.
Recently Apopka-based FINFROCK added one more skill to its design, manufacture, and construction skills set. It is developing a waterfront Hyatt House in Naples on land it bought. Finfrock proudly showed off the project construction to a reporter via webcam on his cell phone even as trucks loaded with the 40,000 pound pieces of the future hotel chugged out of the company's parking lot.
The new hotel will be the first time FINFROCK has used a new technology called DualDeck, developed and patented by FINFROCK to create pre-stressed concrete floors and walls. The process delivers finished floors and ceilings that already have the plumbing and electrical chases in place, sandwiched between two high-strength slabs of pre-stressed concrete.
The top of the sandwich is the floor of one unit and the bottom is the ceiling of the unit below. There is no need to add drywall or other finishes to the interiors because the concrete and space between the two slabs minimizes sound transmission.
The hotel's walls are also poured concrete and include window and door openings, as well as precisely placed rectangles for electrical outlets. There are even places cut in the concrete that allow for maintenance workers to access the space between the floor/ceiling concrete sandwich. When the pieces get to the site they can be erected quickly by cranes.
The latest technological leap would not have happened if Finfrock had not invested in technology during the Great Recession. FINFROCK started a software company to develop 3-D software specific to the precast/prestressed concrete industry, creating STRUCTUREWORKS. It operates lasers that project onto forms allowing workers to precisely locate the steel between the concrete sandwich as well as the plumbing and electrical. In the factory workers use computer tablets rather than tape measures to determine utility placements.
The laser connection has cut the amount of labor in half and makes the panels precise within a millimeter, Finfrock said.
Another patented investment in technology named PIECETRACKER is part spreadsheet, part materials tracker, part scheduler. Every panel has a code on it that allows the software to know exactly where it is in the yard, on the way to the jobsite, and at the jobsite itself. And the program tells workers what to build next.
"We know where every wall, floor, piece is at any time, when it left the yard, where it is in process," said Finfrock. That's more important than you would think since the panels tend to look alike.
For FINFROCK, the journey toward becoming a full-service builder of all things made of concrete panels started with free-standing parking garages where most everything is concrete anyhow. The company perfected the art of building the garages from panels precast at its Apopka headquarters and transported to the sites where they are erected by cranes. That is much faster and cleaner than the older method of pouring the concrete on site.
One record-breaking feat was building a 300,000-square-foot, 1,000-car parking garage in Tampa in six months, including design time. That could not have been accomplished if the company had to rely on subcontractors to do the design.
FINFROCK has between 30 and 40 percent of the freestanding parking garage business from Jacksonville to Miami, the company estimates.
But it has branched out to other types of structures over time, including campus housing. It built dorms for the University of Central Florida and has constructed other multi-family projects.
"There are efficiencies that came into the process that we didn't even imagine when we started," Finfrock said.