Ramp up aggregates production to meet market demand

Contributed

January 12, 2018

By Tina Grady Barbaccia, Contributing Editor
Increasing production goes beyond just crushing

When gearing up to increase production, producers should evaluate the additional material needed and current plant assets, explains Paul Mclaren, technical sales manager for Kleemann/Wirtgen America. “This means looking at whether it is a short- or long-term requirement and whether it is something that can be done with the equipment currently in the plant or if additional equipment needs to be brought in.”

If the current equipment at the plant is sufficient, producers also need to determine whether the aggregates operation has the capacity to produce the tonnage required. “Even if you add a shift, do you have the additional staff available to maintain the equipment?” Mclaren says. “It is not only about the equipment, but also the surrounding infrastructure.” This includes deciding whether to increase the number of hours worked or whether another plant with different staffing requirements is brought in to assist with producing additional material and if dump truck drivers and other equipment operators are available.

“You need to have enough drivers to keep the plant properly fed,” Mclaren notes. “The cycle time of haul trucks also has to be at a consistent enough point to get material to feed the crusher.”

If additional haul trucks would be needed on the road, whether the road has the capacity to handle the extra traffic and weight — and if local ordinances would allow it — must be considered.

When you take everything into account,” Mclaren says, “all the pieces need to fall into place.”

Another key factor is taking care of the operation’s equipment and the crews, says Patrick Pfeiffer, general manager for Consolidated Materials Inc., part of Sunset Logistics. Pfeiffer says his operation will ramp up to 12 hours per day, if necessary. However, he makes sure to cap work at eight hours on a Saturday and 65 hours per week or less during the peak of the season.

“You start to lose productivity after that,” he says. “You don’t want people to come to work and be like robots. The employees need to be focused on making a good product or you’ll sacrifice quality.”

Producers also need to be realistic and not promise a customer material if they aren’t able to fulfill the order. “Sometimes you just have to tell the salesman, ‘No, we cannot do it,’” Pfeiffer says. “That’s an honest answer. You don’t want to disappoint the customer.”

For example, if a customer says 60,000 tons of a specific material is needed, run the math to see if it’s possible, Pfeiffer suggests. “If we’re only capable of providing 40,000 tons I tell them that,” he says. “I think customers respect that. Give them an answer as quickly as possible so they can start looking elsewhere, if needed.”

Our Experts

Lyle Bushman

Lyle Bushman and his wife, Sandy, are owners and superintendents of Eagle Creek Quarries, located in Illinois’ Carroll and Ogle counties, near the Wisconsin border. Together, they each run their Milledgeville, Ill., and Polo, Ill., locations

Paul Mclaren

Paul Mclaren is a technical sales manager for the Kleemann division of the Wirtgen Group, where he has worked in varying capacities. Prior to this, he worked for other crushing and screening equipment manufacturers in assignments including monitoring and recommending ways to maximize production equipment efficiency and utilization, training of operation staff, and equipment recommendation for optimal productivity.

Patrick Pfeiffer

Patrick Pfeiffer is general manager of Consolidated Materials Inc., part of Sunset Logistics. He began working in a gravel mine when he was 12 years old, running a scale and helping his dad in the business every summer during school. After graduating from college, he returned to the aggregates industry and has worked in the business ever since.

Lyle Bushman

For a small, independent aggregates operation, ramping up production means just trying to stay ahead of producing material, says Lyle Bushman, owner and superintendent of Eagle Creek Quarries.

Bushman and his wife, Sandy, each run one of their two Illinois locations. As a small producer, keeping up with production is challenging, so ramping it up takes careful planning and close attention to details.

“The biggest thing for me is running more hours if we’re short on material,” Bushman says. “The easiest way for me to compete is to stay ahead. It is hard to work from behind, because the harder you push equipment, the more it breaks down.”

Bushman says when he decides to increase the hours of operation to make additional material, he brings in a local, retired aggregates operation manager who is “on call” to help load trucks when necessary. Having someone like this available is invaluable to a small operation, he notes.

Both Eagle Creek Quarries locations try to keep stockpiles of inventory on hand so they are able to absorb an unexpected need for material and rebuild the stockpiles during a slow time, Bushman says.

“Every once in while, we run out, but we try to stay ahead of the game,” he says. “We sometimes have to second guess what is needed.”

Occasionally, a job requiring aggregates comes up that Bushman says he isn’t aware of until a contractor calls to bid on material.

“When the contractors call and ask what I have on hand, some jobs will adapt to what I have in inventory,” he says. “If I don’t have it, they may go to another quarry or just take what is available. They usually don’t go away empty.”

If a handful of contractors request a specific product and are able to market it well, Bushman says he’ll increase production to make the requested product.

Paul Mclaren

Pushing an aggregate plant’s equipment beyond its capabilities may increase production in the short term, but can cause problems in the long term — and, ultimately, negatively affect production.

“If you push a plant or crew from 10 to 16 hours per day and expect the same guys to perform at the same level, it will cause problems,” says Paul Mclaren, technical sales manager for Kleemann/Wirtgen America. “Their general ability to accomplish work is decreased. A lot of mistakes can happen when you expect a plant already at capacity to do more.”

There is also the maintenance aspect. Each piece of equipment has scheduled maintenance and it comes up more quickly when production is increased.

“If you forget about maintenance, you will have premature wear and failure of bearings,” Mclaren points out. “When working for production numbers, scheduled preventive maintenance sometimes gets pushed back, and equipment and crews are pushed past their limits.”

This is when producers need to evaluate whether it makes sense to bring in a track mobile plant instead of relying on a primary stationary crusher, Mclaren explains. A mobile plant may only need two or three people to operate it, if it’s positioned directly at the quarry face.

“You need to determine whether to bring in a track mobile crusher or change the size of the stationary plant,” Mclaren says.

If the primary plant is already at maximum capacity, a secondary or tertiary crusher with screening incorporated can be brought in to help increase production and efficiency to fulfill customers’ needs.

“A lot of it comes down to understanding what equipment and options are available,” Mclaren says. “Material volumes and being able to move material away is equally important. You can feed the crusher as much material as you want, but it becomes a bottleneck if you can’t take it away.”

Patrick Pfeiffer

As sales increase or a producer receives new projections, production needs to be balanced against the hours needed to work and adjusted accordingly, says Patrick Pfeiffer, general manager for Consolidated Materials Inc., part of Sunset Logistics.

That being said, Pfeiffer explains, producers can’t only rely on sales projections. He says they are a “good tool,” but customers want product to be made for them so they overestimate the buy-ins.

“They want to secure a commitment to get it from you,” Pfeiffer says. “Everyone with sales projections also knows that you have to be responsive when the time comes.” It becomes an issue of making the material, having it available, and selling it the next year if there is a surplus.

“At a smaller company, you don’t have the option of always ramping up production,” Pfeiffer notes. “You have to build up inventory when you have the chance. You can cut back on it the next year, and you won’t have to work as hard in production.”

There shouldn’t be concern about having a surplus, Pfeiffer adds, because, historically, material will sell if it has been produced. “My dad was in the business for 50 years,” he says. “I learned from him that you can’t sell it if you don’t have it. There is no need to think about cutting back until you have a really large inventory.”

At Pfeiffer’s operation, the material production is seasonal. He says the plant uses the winter season to ship off stockpiled material, install different equipment, and adjust to the market choosing which products to make.

“From December through March is when you really want to see projections, if the operation is seasonal,” Pfeiffer says. “Although it really comes down to crushing material, it’s not just about that. It’s also about life balance — not burning everyone out or sacrificing quality or safety.”

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