As U.S. ground troops in Iraq well know, the devil lives in garbage bags, soft drink cans, even animal carcasses. This is where insurgents are hiding IEDs, or improvised explosive devices: bombs remotely triggered by handheld devices (anything from a cell phone to a garage-door opener) meant to destroy passing convoys. Aside from the military and civilian casualties, IEDs severely damage roads that are critical to completing missions. But thanks to a young Baltimore company 6,200 miles from Baghdad, countless lives are being saved.
High-performance construction-material manufacturer CeraTech makes one of the military's saving graces: Pavemend, a fast-drying concrete repair product that cures in one hour. By using Pavemend to fill massive craters in Iraq's roads and highways, Marine combat engineers repair IED damage in record time and get soldiers out of harm's way. Traditional concrete can take 24 hours to dry; even worse, insurgents bury IEDs in the wet cement.
"Pavemend first got a foothold in Afghanistan, where military engineers were using it to fill mortar round pockmarks in airport runways," says Leo Kahl, CeraTech's vice president of marketing. "Somewhere along the line, a military official saw a use for it in Iraq. Now the Department of Defense is one of our biggest clients."
Founded in 2001 and led by CEO (and 23-year Army veteran) Jon Hyman, CeraTech saw minimal growth in its early years. Then the military launched Operation Iraqi Freedom, and all that changed. The company had sales of $3 million in 2005; that figure doubled to $6 million in 2006, and are projected to hit $9 million in 2008. That inspired Columbia-based specialty materials and chemicals giant W. R. Grace & Co., which has annual revenues of $3 billion, to purchase exclusive rights to market CeraTech products and technology globally in the premanufactured concrete market.
Thanks to that growth, CeraTech has rolled out a slew of Pavemend offshoots, each branded, logo-ed, color-coordinated, and marketed like new flavors of Gatorade: There's Pavemend SLQ, Pavemend SL, Pavemend TR, Pavemend VR, and Pavemend EX.
The troops couldn't be happier about having Pavemend to combat the IED crisis. One Marine recently e-mailed a CeraTech employee: "We're out here using Pavemend all over the place. We go through hundreds of buckets a week. I can't tell you how much your products have made our lives easier out here. What used to take us days now only takes a few hours."
Lucky for CeraTech, its products will still be in demand once the troops come home. The Maryland Transportation Authority is already a believer: Pavemend SLQ fills a deteriorating concrete slab in Lane 7 of the Fort McHenry Toll Plaza.