One Company is Helping Make Cement Smarter and Safer

When Aali Alizadeh looks at concrete, he sees more than just your typical grey, cementitious mixture. To him, it’s a world of intrigue worthy of intense scrutiny and study.

“From outside, it may look like a simple mixture of ingredients like aggregate, water, sand, and cement, but in reality, it goes through a lot of chemical reactions and during its lifecycle it is exposed to a lot of chemicals. There’s a lot going on inside the concrete and it makes it really an interesting material,” said Alizadeh.

Alizadeh’s fascination with concrete started when he was an undergrad civil engineering student. He was on a team that participated in a competition organized by the American Concrete Institute that attempted to develop high-strength concrete. His team placed third. 

He was hooked.

As he completed his Masters and then a Ph.D., he got deeper and deeper into the science of concrete and cement.

Revolutionizing Cement

Today, he is co-founder and chief technology officer of Ottawa-based Giatec Scientific Inc., a Procore partner that is revolutionizing the construction industry by bringing smart-testing technologies and real-time data collection to the forefront of job sites.

During a webinar with Sanjeev Dhillon, Alizadeh discussed the company he and his business partner Pouria Ghods formed 10 years ago. The webinar is now part of Procore’s How We Build Now series.

Going With His Gut

Originally, Alizadeh had his sights set on becoming a professor. However, after completing his Ph.D., he felt that something wasn’t quite right in the world of concrete. He simply couldn’t ignore the calling.

“I saw that we’re doing so much research in academia with a deep understanding of concrete at the research level, yet we’re seeing that bridges are collapsing, and concrete structures are crumbling. It was mind-boggling that we have so much knowledge, but it’s not applied in the field.”

“It was mind-boggling that we have so much knowledge, but it’s not applied in the field.”

Ghods felt the same way, so they started Giatec. They planned on using their engineering skills to produce products and applications that would improve practices on construction sites around the world.

Making the Built Environment Safer and Smarter

The company portfolio includes portable smart-testing technologies that measure and monitor such things as corrosion of concrete structures. The flagship product is a sensor that can be embedded in concrete to allow contractors to monitor the material as it cures and hardens in real-time.

“It was a simple idea of bringing the corrosion protection tool to the market that can assess the state of infrastructure faster and easier and more accurately,” explained  Alizadeh.

The company developed wireless sensors which are basically Bluetooth sensors. They can be embedded in the concrete to monitor parameters like the temperature and strengths during construction. The sensors are installed and secured in the material when the concrete is poured.

Contractors can then use a mobile app on their Android or iPhone devices to connect to the sensors wirelessly and download data related to the concrete temperature and strengths in real-time.

Efficiency Like Never Before

“This is very important information that superintendents and construction project managers are interested in when optimizing their schedules. They want to know concrete is hard enough before they move to the next step,” Alizadeh said.

The sensors, for example, can help contractors decide when it is safe to remove covering from a concrete surface and when to open formwork or shoring in a construction project.

Traditionally, contractors have to take field-cured cylinders to a lab where they’re broken up and tested. The labs then return the results to the field. However, the process is time-consuming.

The sensors put real-time information in the hands of decision-makers so they can make informed decisions and optimize their schedules, improve efficiency and productivity, and address safety.

The Journey to Success

It wasn’t easy to develop the products. Alizadeh and Ghods burned the midnight oil many nights.

“It has been a journey for us, and obviously, that’s how we got into a wide range of products and so many products that we have today,” says Alizadeh.

The vision of Giatec is to revolutionize the concrete industry, he believes. The company offers a range of concrete testing technologies and solutions to address various challenges.

The vision of Giatec is to revolutionize the concrete industry.

Products are now used at more than 6,200 construction projects worldwide. In addition to the sensors, the company also has devices that measure corrosion detection. They are useful for engineers to assess the state of infrastructure, bridges, and parking lots, and know when to do repairs.

Alizadeh has learned many lessons during his entrepreneurial journey, one being that the success of a venture comes from execution and making a product that gets people excited.

“The first few years at Giatec, we worked really hard to turn our idea to a prototype, to a product that we can demonstrate, that we can market. When we started marketing, we initially got some interest and those interests turned to sales. Then we used those sales to build a story and grow our portfolio and grow the sales.”

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