Chicago Construction News special feature
In March, the Epoxy Interest Group of the Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute (CRSI) announced Marcelo Guadalupe Acuña as the recipient of the Epoxy Industry Service Award. The award recognizes individuals who contribute time and effort to further the use of epoxy coated reinforcing steel.
Acuña is president of ABC Coating Company, a business that spans many regions, with roots firmly grounded in the industry.
In 1979 Acuña and his then partners Gerald Campbell and Don Benge formed ABC Coating Company Inc. He says they spoke with people who were using epoxy coating on rebar, at that time on projects in New Mexico, learned the process, bought a plant, took it apart and moved it to Oklahoma, creating the first stand-alone epoxy-coated reinforcing steel coating plant in the world.
“We had to go through quite a few trial runs to find the right powder for the job. It had to be flexible enough to meet the bend test and that wasn’t easy to find.”
He says at the time there were not many powder suppliers and most epoxy then was used for pipe coating which did not provide the flexibility rebar required.
In the early days, Acuña says Campbell handled sales while he did the fabrication work.
With time and experience he says they learned how to coat eight bars at a time instead of one and began building their own production lines. “We played with the heat and speed of the line, fine tuning as we went to get the right results.”
He says the company received valuable support from the mills who they worked closely with to develop a material that was straight and without sharp edges, in other words, a material that could be effectively coated.
During production cycles, Acuña says they had to be on top of the work every minute to ensure the specifications were being met.
As they gained experience, they added plants, in Michigan in 1980, and in Texas and Colorado in 1981.
Over time the company made several other acquisitions in Denver and Michigan, and added another location in Washington, expanding its capabilities and footprint across the country.
As they gained experience, they also gained attention. Acuña says they had representatives from Japan coming to look at their plants and inquiries from Saudi Arabian representatives looking to have similar plants built there.
When Campbell died in 1996, the remaining partners resolved the company and Acuña became sole owner of the Oklahoma and Michigan plants.
In 2001, Acuña grew his holdings to include ABC Coating Company of Minnesota, Inc. and in 2003, ABC Coating Company of Illinois, Inc. was added.
Over the years Acuña says the industry has become more technical and the specifications more intense. He says ABC’s clients are buying a product that needs to last and stand up, especially in the northern states against salt and de-icing mixes.
The company works with transportation departments in several states and must adapt its own processes to meet local requirements. “Some inspectors have different preferences. Some inspect in-house before materials are shipped, some pre-approve materials, and some inspect each and every load and sheet number prior to shipping.”
Acuña says his team meets regularly with state representatives to find out what their needs are, to discuss changes or concerns and upcoming project requirements.
The CRSI announcement noted that throughout his career “Marcelo has provided his time and financial support to the CRSI epoxy plant certification program and ASTM meetings. He has continuously been a strong supporter of the programs of the Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute (CRSI).”
Acuña has been involved over 40 years in many initiatives to keep the industry advancing. Recently he has been involved with a group seeking alternative sources to fund infrastructure development and sits as a committee member for coating certifications.
The CRSI award announcement further says: “Many members of his family are involved in the ongoing operation of four plants started by Marcelo and his partners, and he has mentored them with a strong commitment to product quality. He has also mentored many others in the industry.”
Acuña’s sons Marcelo and David, his daughters Rose and Sylvie Rocha, his son in law Fred Rocha, and his grandson Freddy Rocha are all involved in various locations and in a variety of capacities within the company from data entry to dispatch to plant management.
He says his son-in-law David, the oldest, has been with the company for many years, beginning when Acuña worked in the concrete industry. Marcello Jr. helped get the Washington plant operational when he was just in his teens and the others came on at various times over the years.
“I’m very proud to have my family involved and proud of them. They knew it would be hard work but they have all been committed to being part of the company and of doing the work that requires.”
He says some of his grandchildren are now in college and he hopes some will choose to join the family business after graduation as well.
“In this highly competitive industry of corrosion resistance, it is important we continue to improve our materials and our processes to stay competitive and to stay economical for our project partners. I am proud to have my family with me in this endeavor.”