Making bridge components for the highway upgrade

Ten years ago what was then Abi Group set up a concrete batching plant in Macksville in preparation for the Pacific Highway upgrade.

Fast forward 10 years – the facility is now Australian Precast Solutions, owned by Lendlease and what was previously one production facility, has now grown to three with more than double the workforce.

All three are in peak production, making the concrete girders for the 107 bridges needed for the Woolgoolga to Ballina stretch of the highway.

It is the last piece for the long-awaited East Coast transport corridor with opening due in late 2020.

Engineering Manager Mark Davies said the site was producing 3000 separate components needed for the bridges, ranging from three to 80 tonnes.

“While some of the management team have been brought in from outside, the bulk of the crew are locals,” Mark said.

“Working in a pre-cast concrete plant is not something you can do a course for, so we train everyone in-house, skill them up and away we go.”

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Out in the yard, there is the beep of cranes, the whistles of dogmen, the screech of angle grinders, and the general clanking and yelling that goes with large scale production.

In Bay One we meet engineer Amy Gilmore, fresh back from maternity leave, who explains the process of building the 20 metre long pre-stressed concrete girders that are currently in production.

“First we build the cage out of reinforced metal, then the cage gets put into the mould (along with a polystyrene core),” Amy said.

“Next the stressing operation takes place with the cables stretched through the length of the girder and tightened with stressing jacks … then the concrete is poured in.”

The concrete is left to cure for about 12 hours, overnight, in the mould. The cables are then cut, the girder removed and allowed to harden for a minimum of seven days.

At this point we move to the finishing bay, where careful checks are made of the concrete.

“Grinding and repairs happen here … sometimes corners get broken off – surfaces are roughened, forms are made and cementitious material is poured in.”

Mark said that of the 2500 girders needed, one hundred have already been made. 

In Bay Two, 500 head stocks are being built – these are what the girders sit on when they are attached to the bridge structure.

And when all that is completed, it is time to transport the girders to their new home … up the highway behind the prime mover with police escort, often at night.

And there is more: stay tuned for stories about some of our residents who work onsite