What to do with returned concrete is a recurring problem faced by many ready-mix producers. Rather than letting it go to waste, they can now turn that overabundance into highly marketable cast concrete products, thanks to the wide array of steel block forms manufactured by Design Pro Inc., Duluth, Minn.

Jefferson Street Bridge in LaQuinta, Calif. American Flag Form Liner

Gene Luoma, the companys founder and president, is the person responsible for devising this practical solution to ready-mix excess. Luoma has a long history of inventing products that solve peoples problemsranging from a handy little household device, called a Zip-It, that clears clogged drains to a solar-powered mobile sign for warning motorists of highway problems. He came up with the idea for Design Pros first productthe V-Interlock block formabout 5 years ago.

"We created the V-Interlock block form based on a customers desire for a concrete block that would perform to his specifications yet would be durable and easy to use. He ended up telling other people about the form, and we started to get orders for them," says Luoma.

Available in an assortment of standard and custom sizes, the reusable all-steel form produces a rectangular, interlocking concrete block that can be used to build everything from retaining walls to storage bins. The forms feature two-piece construction and attached quick-release clamps that allow for easy setup and stripping and eliminate loose parts. "This is still one of our best-selling products," says Dan Stocke, Design Pros director of marketing and Luomas nephew. "People just love the forms because they are simple to use and versatile."

In response to customer requests, Design Pro soon began expanding its product line to include forms for median and security barriers, curved landscaping blocks, steps, parking curbs, septic tanks, feed bunks, and fences. "Well take a doodle off a napkin and make a form out of it, if thats what someone needs," says Stocke.

In fact, the companys mission is to engineer forming solutions. "We design our block forms according to our customers specifications so they work exactly as they want them to," says Luoma.

Over the years, Design Pro has broadened its customer base along with its product line. In addition to selling forms to ready-mix producers, the company now markets them to precasters, design/build contractors, and even landscape designers.

Strong interest from the landscaping and architectural concrete markets led to a natural extension of Design Pros linepatterned urethane liners that can be placed inside the companys forms to give plain block a decorative face resembling limestone, river rock, and other natural stone.

Design Pro also produces custom form liners for special applications. "We are doing a lot of custom work with liners," says Stocke. "We recently produced liners for the Jefferson Street Bridge in LaQuinta, Calif., that were used one way then flipped upside down to create a wavelike pattern."

Liners with corporate or government logos also are popular. "We just supplied a company making security barriers for the U.S. Air Force with custom liners incorporating the USAF symbol," says Stocke.

Design Pro saw the demand for its barrier forms surge following the tragic events of Sept. 11. Because the molds allow for quick production of security barriers, the company has been receiving requests for them from all over the country.

"Since 9/11, sales for our security barrier forms have increased fivefold," says Design Pro vice president Rod Johnson. "Security barriers used to be temporary devices used for crowd control, and it didnt matter what they looked like. Now they are more permanent, so our customers are asking for a more decorative look. We are able to supply them with whatever they want."

Inspired by the countrys fervent show of patriotism after 9/11, Design Pro even created a form liner that will imprint an image of the American flag onto block faces. The patriotic blocks are then stained red, white, and blue.

These latest efforts epitomize Design Pros ingenuity and can-do attitude. "When a customer calls us up and asks, Can you do this? We always say, Yes!" says Stocke.

For more information about Design Pros forms and form liners, visit www.designproforms.com, or call 888-728-9481.

Anne Balogh writes feature articles each month for The Concrete Network ( www.concretenetwork.com). She is a freelance writer based in Glen Ellyn, Ill., and a former editor of Concrete Construction magazine.