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The Man Who Reinvented Concrete Floors

“In construction everyone understands that concrete cracks. That is just one of the characteristics of concrete. It is as fundamental as how water makes things wet. But I challenged that,” said Dan Pratt, BYU alumnus and Senior Vice President at Hughes General Contractors in North Salt Lake.

In one of Dan’s school building projects, the school district wanted polished concrete floors instead of carpet for easier maintenance. There was just one little obstacle that made the school district frown after viewing floor samples: they did not like the cracks and saw-cut joints used to control the shrinkage on the concrete floors.

Dan’s team met with the engineers immediately to try to figure out a solution to keep concrete from cracking. The engineers said, “We’ll just put lots of reinforcing steel in the concrete to make it so strong that it won’t crack.” Dan tried the engineers’ idea, yet what happened afterwards was something even more startling than having open cracks.

“We found that the steel provided the tensile strength to prevent cracks from opening in the concrete; however, since the concrete still needed to shrink, and the rebar would not allow any joints to open up, every few inches we got tiny hairline cracks in the concrete. When we put the stain on the concrete, it penetrated deeply into these hairline cracks. It looked like there were more cracks than before.”

Everyone was a little frustrated at the situation. One of the school architects said, “Why in the world can’t someone just invent concrete that doesn’t crack?” Dan was inspired and thought to himself, “You know, everyone says concrete has to crack, but why does it have to crack?”

He immediately took on this personal research project to figure out what makes concrete shrink and crack and what can be done to stop that from happening. Over the course of about a year, Dan and his team tried everything they could, including talking to snake oil salesman and anyone else who claimed they had a way to keep concrete from shrinking. They didn’t find anything that worked. However, through the efforts of testing combinations of those things, they figured out ideas that might work by combining different materials and processes together.

“I envision the first people deciding that they were going to bake a cake. Up until that time, all people had ever done was putting flour and water together. Primitive man ground wheat on a stone to make flour; then they mixed it with water, baked it in charcoal, and ate it. They stayed alive using this method. As man advanced beyond mere survival instinct, someone thought, ‘This flour and water is really yucky! What if we made it taste better?’

“Sometime later someone discovered sugar, and people start adding sweetness to their mixture. Later someone discovers yeast, and people start adding volume to their mixture. Eventually someone figures out how to make cake out of all of these random ingredients. Isn’t that product much tastier than just flour and water covered with ashes? Well that’s kind of how it was with us.”

But the recipe for non-cracking concrete wasn’t easy to make. After many months of research and experiments, none of the existing solutions Dan’s team tried worked until they combined ingredients together—that is where the spark went off. “We were able to create a ‘recipe’ by doing a whole bunch of different things in tandem with each other. The result of our labors was to finally pour concrete that didn’t crack in our projects.”

They eliminated more than 95% of saw-cut joints and typical cracks as well as most of the cold joints. This patented process is now called MagicSlabTM and produces slabs that are seamless, crack-free, and durable.

Last year, Dan’s team completed a grocery store called Kent’s Market, located in Plain City. The entire retail floor is about 220 feet by 180 feet with absolutely no saw-cut joints or cracks. “It just looks like a perfect floor!” Dan told me excitedly. “And when your grocery cart goes down the aisle, you won’t hear that ‘clackety clack’ sound as you go over every joint.”

Dan’s team ended up calling their product “MagicSlab” because it truly worked like magic!

Dan Pratt graduated in Construction Management at Brigham Young University in 1984. He is currently the Senior Vice President of Hughes General Contractors, Inc. With more than 35 years of construction experience, he has overseen the construction of more than 200 educational, industrial, tilt-up, office, warehouse, manufacturing, and municipal projects.