BCI Materials, the emulsion manufacturing division of Blythe Construction, Inc., has successfully earned accreditation of its quality control lab by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). The result of a rigorous third-party assessment process, AASHTO accreditation represents a substantial milestone in BCI Materials’ history and an opportunity for expansion of this unique business line.
Recognized as the largest accrediting body within the construction materials industry, the AASHTO Accreditation Program (AAP) formally recognizes the competency of testing laboratories to perform specific tests on construction materials. The nonprofit organization represents departments in all 50 United States, working as a liaison to establish national standards of quality. Accreditation from the program qualifies BCI Materials to test emulsion products for use anywhere in the nation.
Ron DiGiacomandrea, Manager of BCI Materials, initiated and oversaw the application process. He says it was a fitting goal for the company, given its focus on quality.
“Since day one, our approach to business has focused on quality and delivering the best product on the market,” he says. “We’re already meeting state agency quality control requirements. Accreditation was an additional next step, if you will, in holding our business and product to the highest industry standards.”
But while quality has always been integral to the company’s identity, AASHTO Accreditation wasn’t always financially viable, according to DiGiacomandrea.
“For the majority of the company’s history,” he explains, “BCI Materials has operated within a very limited geographical area. Mostly North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. As a result, we weren’t able to justify the costs associated with applying for and maintaining accreditation annually.”
That changed, however, in 2018 when BCI Materials’ parent company, Eurovia USA, expanded its territory into six new states with the acquisition of Lane Construction’s Plants and Paving business line. The acquisition created the opportunity for BCI Materials to test emulsion products for use on the entire East Coast of the United States. Suddenly, DiGiacomandrea had choices to make.
“If we want to sell our products in Virginia—and we do, because we now have Virginia Paving up there—then we have to obtain accreditation,” he says. “This affords us the opportunity for garnering additional business.”
Virginia Paving Company isn’t a hypothetical case, but the actual first encounter where accreditation was the necessary cost of business. In May of 2019, DiGiacomandrea attended the annual Virginia Asphalt Acceptance Program (VAAP) meeting, and discovered that AASHTO Accreditation would be required if BCI Materials wanted to expand its geographical reach.
“The state already had it loosely in their requirements,” he says. “Then they decided they were going to set it in stone and require everyone to meet that requirement, which was the determining factor for us moving forward with our accreditation.”
Once the decision was made, DiGiacomandrea set about meeting the requirements of the AASHTO board, including authoring a comprehensive Quality Management Systems program as the first step. The BCI Materials lab also added new equipment to increase their inventory of test methods that could be performed.
“Since day one, our approach to business has focused on quality and delivering the best product on the market,” says DiGiacomandrea. “Accreditation was an additional next step in holding our business and product to the highest industry standards.”
For a laboratory to become AASHTO accredited, it must undergo AASHTO’s rigorous third-party assessment of the lab’s equipment and technicians. During this assessment, for each test method the lab is seeking to be accredited in, the lab’s technical staff must demonstrate each specification test method in its entirety. In the case of BCI Materials, this included both asphalt binder and emulsified asphalt materials. After the initial AASHTO assessment which lasted two and a half days, the lab’s management staff corrected the few non-conformances found during the assessment within AASHTO’s 60-day requirement, after which time AASHTO accreditation of the laboratory was granted.
Increased operations also produced the need for increased laboratory space. To accommodate this need, BCI Materials is in the process of relocating to a larger building on the same N. Graham Street facility in Charlotte, NC.
DiGiacomandrea explains, “We currently have multiple lab shifts operating on a continuous basis. If you have more than two people in that lab it can get crowded. We have no more counter space for additional equipment. I actually had to stow a piece of equipment that was used only occasionally, to make room for new equipment coming in that we needed in the immediate term.”
But while AASHTO accreditation opens the door to new and wider-spread business opportunities, BCI Materials is taking a measured approach to expansion. DiGiacomandrea says the company will not pursue any outside opportunities that could negatively impact its ability to test its own products. “There is substantial demand for our BCI Materials emulsion products, which we are careful not to interfere with. We’re taking expansion of our lab testing a step at a time. Accreditation by AASHTO is a terrific first step.”