Fort Payne Quarry, the Good Neighbor
At a time when many cities fight to keep quarries out of their communities, the city of Fort Payne awarded Vulcan’s Fort Payne Quarry with a Manufacturer of the Year award.
by Kerry Clines, Senior Editor
A recent executive brief released by the The Saint Index listed aggregates quarries as the third least popular business among not-in-my-back-yard (NIMBY) activists. Only landfills and casinos enjoy a higher level of opposition. However, that is not the way the city of Fort Payne feels about its local quarry . . . at least not now.
Fort Payne Quarry has been in operation for almost 20 years just across the tracks from the city of Fort Payne, Ala. As time passed, the quarry received less attention and investment from its out-of-state owner and fell into a state of disrepair.
The plant’s employees were really downhearted. The lack of involvement from the owner showed not only in the condition of the plant, but also in the attitudes of the employees. “What was there to be proud of at a rundown plant? Why should the employees care?” says George Grguric, Fort Payne Quarry plant manager.
In May 2007, Birmingham, Ala.-based Vulcan Materials Co. entered the picture. The company bought the struggling quarry operation and immediately set out to revitalize the quarry and change the community’s mindset.
Vulcan’s reputation for being a community-minded, environmentally concerned company preceded it, so the community welcomed the new owners. “We knew that Vulcan was coming in to improve the situation,” says Carol Beddingfield, executive director, Fort Payne Chamber of Commerce, “not just to drain the land of material, but to be a community-involved company as well.”
Since Vulcan came onboard, the plant employees’ attitudes have changed. They take pride in their plant and their work, and it shows. “Now, they want to do it right,” Grguric says. “We continue to improve in production, and they’re proud of that. They’re proud of the city. The people in the city wave, they’re happy to see us. We don’t shake the city anymore when we put shots off. You used to be able to find the quarry just by following the dust, now you can’t. My guys are proud of that.”
Fort Payne Quarry quickly became a leading corporate citizen in the area. It also became the kind of neighbor everyone would like to have by always trying to keep community concerns in mind.
In one case, the quarry worked with the city to develop a land-use plan involving set backs and vegetated, sloped embankments that bordered an old historic town cemetery. When stripping began near the area, the quarry employees made sure to leave plenty of space so the activity could not be seen from the cemetery. Little things like that make a huge difference to the community.
“That’s just an example of their community involvement,” Beddingfield says. “They have also supported downtown revitalization in Fort Payne. Usually, a quarry company wouldn’t even consider a thing like that — pleasing the citizens.”
The city of Fort Payne honored the quarry by presenting it with the city’s 2008 Large Manufacturer of the Year award for its improvements to the quarry and its commitment to the community. The accolades didn’t stop there, however. The Fort Payne Chamber of Commerce nominated the quarry for the 2009 Small Alabama Manufacturer of the Year award. This award is presented annually to a manufacturing company that employs up to 99 people and demonstrates superior performance in the area of customer focus, employee commitment, operational excellence, continuous improvement, profitable growth, and investment in training and retraining. Fort Payne Quarry won the award, an engraved piece of glass in the shape of Alabama, which was presented to Vulcan and Fort Payne Quarry representatives by the governor of Alabama, Bob Riley, during an awards ceremony in June.
“The company (Vulcan) is second-to-none in the industry with respect to safety, health, environmental stewardship, and community relations,” Beddingfield says. “They are all so community minded. If there’s any way, they will perform their jobs and provide the services yet keep the environment and community in mind. I think they do an excellent job of that.”
Fort Payne Quarry is considered a small quarry by Vulcan standards; it produces 300,000 to 350,000 tons of rock per year. It’s not one of Vulcan’s automated, high-tech heritage plants either. The plant is an older one, relatively speaking, with some older equipment and machines that have to be operated manually.
“Everything we do, we have to do by hand,” Grguric says. “We can’t throw a gate to change our stone sizes. We have to go out and change the screens. We run one mode, go up and change the screens, and then run something else.”
The older plant and equipment can be quite a challenge when it comes to maintenance, but the quarry developed a daily maintenance routine that helps the employees stay on top of any potential problems.
“Many parts of this plant are still original,” Grguric says, “and they don’t last if you don’t take care of them. Maintenance is important.”
Daily maintenance begins with a pre-shift checklist. “We made up a checklist for everybody to use in each one of the areas,” Grguric says. “The checklist is specific to this plant. They go over this everyday.”
Each area is checked by those who work in that area and any problems are reported immediately. “I do the pit,” says Jeffrey (Bodean) Dean, pit excavator and loader operator. “Rex does the processing plant, and the yard loader operator will do the stockpile and roads. The guy at the primary will check that off. Then I check the shop and, if we have a driller, he’ll check that [the drill]. The stripping crew will check the berms and make sure the roads haven’t washed away before we start.”
Every day after operations shut down, the employees check their areas once again. “You’ve pretty much got to walk the whole plant,” says Rex Lowe, finish plant operator and head of plant maintenance. “I check my belts. I walk up there [by the conveyor] to see if there are rips or anything wearing. I check the bearings. I look at the crusher feed belts and the motor for the feed belts. I check the springs to see if one of them is busted. There’s a lot to it. If you catch a problem ahead of time, it can save you a lot of downtime and, possibly, equipment.”
Plant operating hours are from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., which allows time for employees to performa maintenance in the afternoons and take care of whatever problems arise. “When something tears up, we fix it,” says Roger Barron, plant lead man. Whether it’s something as simple as changing out a filter or as difficult as replacing a conveyor belt, the plant employees work together to accomplish the task.
The quarry has had some help getting up to speed with maintenance. “Fort Payne Quarry, being relatively new to us [Vulcan], has had a lot of outside influence from central services in Birmingham,” says Alan Gulledge, area operations manager for Vulcan. “We’ve had groups from other quarries come up and work with the guys as far as maintenance practices. We’ve still got a ways to go to really get it [the quarry] up to par, but the guys have responded very well and they’re eager to learn. George and his guys have done a good job here.”
Surviving tough times
Vulcan Materials hasn’t been immune to the economic tough times that everyone has been facing, but Fort Payne Quarry has been successful in exceeding its prior year’s sales. Despite being an older quarry, the operation supplies all the crushed stone needs of the area and produces quality products that meet Alabama Department of Transportation specifications.
Part of the quarry’s successful sales can be attributed to the engineering and production of two new products at the request of its customers. The specialized stones and sizes have helped keep some of the quarry’s customers and are expected to increase future sales and revenues.
The quarry shares employees and equipment with two other Vulcan quarries in the area to help keep overall expenses down. The stripping equipment and operators float from one quarry to another as they are needed.
Vulcan has taken advantage of slow times at the quarry to tackle a few projects. One such project was the construction of the tunnel that runs beneath the surge pile. With the help of Vulcan engineers, plant employees helped install the tunnel. Not only did this provide a much-needed addition to the plant, it gave the employees a sense of accomplishment and pride in its completion, and a feeling of ownership in the plant.
“The Fort Payne area is a small market, and it’s difficult times right now, so everybody’s struggling,” Gulledge says. “I think we’ve done really well. During difficult times, sharing resources and making things work — making all the ends fit together — pays off for Vulcan.”
Grguric says he is extremely proud of his employees and what they’ve accomplished in the two years since Vulcan acquired Fort Payne Quarry, and he plans to continue that trend.
Equipment Line Up
On site 100 percent of the time:
Cat 345B excavator
Cat 988F loader
Cat 770 haul trucks (2)
Cat 769C haul truck
Komatsu WA500 loader
Komatsu WA450 loader
Cat D7H dozer
Cat 226 skid-steer loader
Ford F800 boom truck
Kenworth T300 water truck
International S1900 tool truck
On site 50 percent of the time or less:
Komatsu PC750 excavator
Cat 771D haul trucks (2)
Stationary Process Equipment
Svedala/Universal 3254 jaw crusher
Class #1 rip rap screen
Tramac pedestal-mounted breaker
Jeffrey Rader electromagnetic surge feeder
Diester two-deck scalping screen
Hazemag 1620 impact crusher
Diester twin three-deck finish screens
Hazemag 1320 impact crusher
Simplicity wash screen
Ortner sand cyclone