Granite Sets its Sights on the Future
Despite the sagging economy, Granite built and opened a new aggregates plant in California.
by Kerry Clines, Senior Editor
Granite Construction, Inc. has focused its eyes on the horizon, and on the prize, by preparing for the sure-to-come economic recovery that we all hope is in the near future. The company recently built and opened its new Vernalis facility, a combination of construction aggregates and hot-mix asphalt (HMA) plants, to replace its Tracy facility in California.
A plan takes shape
The plan for the new plant began to take shape long before the economic turmoil hit. “We started planning this plant at least 15 years ago when we knew our aggregate resources would be depleted at the existing Tracy location,” says Randy Kremer, vice president-manager of construction materials. “We attempt to look well ahead in our strategic planning. We look at what type of market we are in and what facilities are required for a long-term investment in aggregate resources and plants to process and manufacture those products. So, we acquired the property and began preparations to construct the new facility.”
The property was chosen for its aggregate resource quantities and qualities and its proximity to existing markets and growth areas. The property is located near several major highways — Highway 132, Highway 580, and Interstate 5 — which provide quick and easy transport of materials to highly populated areas in the state such as Stockton, Modesto, and the East Bay area.
Plant design and concepts followed a few years later. “We encourage our local management teams to look at their needs from the market perspective,” Kremer says. “What do we know we can produce and sell, what will be the demand for those products, and what would be the highest value return to the company and our customers? Based on those parameters, we utilize a process of collaboration for designing the plant itself.”
The project started out as a collaborative effort and remained that way throughout the entire construction process. The whole facilities team was involved in the design, as well as outside consultants and technical experts.
When the economy went south last year, Granite was very close to depletion of its resources at the existing Tracy facility, so the decision was made to continue the Vernalis project. The larger issue that faced the company was whether it would continue the plans for the ultimate build-out design that had been planned or make considerations to adjust the project and construct a facility capable of expansion in the future, yet sized right for the present economic downturn.
Bruce Bunting, plant construction manager for the project, pulled information from geology and talent and expertise from construction. He combined them with market and sales information and then rolled everything into a design that the company determined met the feasibility model of investment and return on investment. That meant making use of both used and new equipment in the facilities without sacrificing performance and quality production of materials.
“This project would not have been successful if not for a massive effort on the part of a whole lot of people,” Bunting says. “We did an immense amount of work internally that we don’t normally do. We did probably 200 to 300 percent more work with internal resources than we have on any other new plant previously built.”
The construction materials group worked side by side with the construction group. This provided everyone with a greater appreciation for the differences that exist with personnel in a vertically integrated company. The construction group now understands what goes into processing and the making of quality construction materials products, and the materials group appreciates what is required to manage and construct a major project such as the aggregates and asphalt plants.
The finished project
“We started moving dirt in March 2008 and were substantially completed with the construction, less the shakedown and turning of some of the motors, by mid-August 2009,” Kremer says.
The plant was designed to produce 1,200 tons of material per hour — 2.5 to 3 million tons per year.
“We use 637 push-pull scrapers to feed the plant,” says Don Claunch, plants superintendent. “Material is dumped into a grizzly feeder and then run up a conveyor to the processing plant.”
The sand processing station of the plant was constructed to make three products simultaneously — ASTM C-33 sand, Caltrans PCC sand, and specialty sands for masonry, plaster, or golf courses.
The telescoping, kneeling-designed radial stacker at the 1-inch by #4 surge pile has a level detector run by a computer that ensures the stockpile is kept at the proper height. It senses if the stockpile gets too high and moves the stacker to the side or extends it out to distribute the material, which helps with uniformity in the materials, prevents segregation, and maximizes space planning of the stockpile.
A 750-foot-long tunnel runs beneath the sand stockpiles. The tunnel houses two conveyors, yet is still wide enough for a Bobcat or small front-end loader to drive through. This makes cleanup easier after a belt break or material spill inside the tunnel and helps to reduce material contamination and downtime.
“This is the first tunnel of such width that we’ve put in a plant,” Kremer says. “It’s probably 4 feet wider than the largest tunnel in our other facilities.”
One of the tunnel’s conveyors feeds the HMA plant. The very first job for the finished asphalt plant was to repave the roads leading from the plant to the nearby highways.
To keep particulate emissions under control, the company built containment boxes at all the transfer points in the plant to allow the particulates to settle. A combination of high-pressure, low-volume water sprays and vacuum collectors enables the plant to be very clean and to exceed compliance regulations.
Power is typically a big concern with aggregates operations, but it is not an issue at the Vernalis facility. The plant has 120,000 volts of available electrical power and has its own power substation where the electricity is stepped down to 12,000 volts. Since the electric company doesn’t have to do the step down, the plant gets a cheaper rate for its electricity.
“Everything on the property is tied together with a fiber optic backbone system,” Claunch says. “This allows the control room operator to monitor everything throughout the plant.”
Once the plant was finished, Granite began bringing in existing as well as future customers to view the new facility and products being made. “They’re very excited about how we process and are all encouraged by what we’ve done this far,” Bunting says.
“In this particular project, we constructed the entire facility, which includes the egress and ingress and all the site work and paving,” Kremer says. “I’m extremely pleased that we came in under budget. And with the amount of people that were involved in the construction process, there were 0 reportable injuries and 0 reportable incidents.” That’s a track record that anyone would be proud of.
“Survival for Granite is not a question,” Bunting says, “the question is how do we want to come out of this [economic downturn]? We’ve downsized and made ourselves more efficient with the work we do.”
When the economy finally turns around and the market improves, Granite will be poised to claim its share of materials and asphalt sales, thanks to its new Vernalis facility.
Randy Kremer — the Man Behind the Screens
In 1973, Randy Kremer began working for Granite Construction, Inc. while going to school. What began as a part-time job became a long-term career highlighted with great accomplishments, benefiting both Granite and the aggregates industry as a whole.
At a time when Granite was only supplying materials for its own construction projects, Kremer helped the company realize that it had the potential and capacity to supply materials for other building contractors as well, thereby increasing profits.
“Since we provide for ourselves, we know the product quality needed by other contractors,” says Kremer, currently vice president-manager of construction materials at Granite. “That sets us apart from someone that isn’t vertically integrated.”
Kremer also spearheaded the drive to get mining and engineering schools across the nation involved in the aggregates industry. In the early 1980s, he visited the South Dakota School of Mines and spoke with a professor. As a result of this visit, and visits to other campuses, Kremer helped the schools develop aggregates curriculum to better prepare students for a career in the aggregates industry.
In addition, through the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (SME) and the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA), Kremer was able to develop the student design competition. “Each year, we put out a design project that is suggested by an NSSGA member company,” Kremer says.
The design competition is done during the course of the school semester and comprises teams of six members. Within a certain period of time on campus, the teams must complete 50 percent of the problem, which is then judged. The top six teams continue on to make presentations at the SME annual meeting and again to a board of directors comprised of several leaders in the aggregates industry. The groups are judged on their problem solution, their communication skills, and their knowledge of the economics involved.
“That has been one of the great joys in my life — seeing the competition finally come to fruition,” Kremer says. “Seventeen mining schools are now embracing the program by competing in the student design and are very interested in how aggregates companies can help them with their curriculum to develop career paths for their graduates. It has come a long way since its inception.”
Kremer was honored at AGG 1 this year for his many accomplishments and contributions to the aggregates industry. He was presented with the NSSGA’s Barry K. Wendt Award.
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Cat 637G scrapers
Cat 14H road graders
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John Deere 710E backhoes
John Deere 210LE skip loader
International 3,600-gallon water truck
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Terex RT780 crane
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