Concrete Products

JUN 2018

Concrete Products covers the issues that attract producers of ready mixed and manufactured concrete focusing on equipment and material technology, market development and management topics.

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Page 35 of 61

32 • June 2018 COVER STORY BY DON MARSH Attendees of the National Concrete Masonry Association's Icon Expo 2018 – Machinery & Equipment Show were greeted with a display of pre-sold, blockmaking iron bearing the sig- nature Besser Co. blue and yellow. Instead of a Texas, Southeast or other plant destina- tion of high population growth, the Servopac Select machine bore the banner of a Michigan building bellwether. Best known on its home turf for ready mixed concrete, with 22 plants across central and western Michigan, Consumers Concrete Corp. is also a key source of gray concrete masonry in the state, plus architectural block and segmental retaining wall units through- out the central Great Lakes region. It has building and hardscape production lines near its Kalamazoo headquarters and Wyo- ming, just south of Grand Rapids. Through investment in the Servopac Select—a next generation, three-at-a-time block machine engineered for rapid mold change, production flexibility, and ease of maintenance—Con- sumers shows Michigan's rise from the depths of a trough pre-dating the recession and bot- toming out in 2009-2011. Portland Cement Association figures underscore the stark- ness of a post-September 11 construction market curve: Cement consumption in the state dipped from a 2001 peak of 3.9 million tons to 1.5 million tons in 2009, turning the corner three years later with a slow climb toward 2.4 million tons last year. "The Michigan market has strengthened notably in the past two to three years, although cement consumption is still around two-thirds of its peak. Everyone we talk to is comfortable with the market and for the next two to three years," says President and CEO Bruce Blair, who joined Consumers in 2016 after 30-plus years at Lafarge North America, capped with the position of vice president, Product Performance and Marketing. Echoing producer and contractor sentiments on the labor market, he adds: "Greater Grand Rapids is down to 3.5 percent unemployment. From plant operators to truck drivers, it is hard to find employees. Some contractors are not bidding projects because they don't have the crews." Blair assumed day-to-day management duties from Tom and Steve Thomas, who remain chairman and vice chairman, respec- tively, after steering the family business through the most challenging economic cycle of their long careers. Blair's challenge is to continue history of growth and innovation of the company to meet increasing market demands. He has implemented a renewed focus on safety and teamwork with Home Safe and One Consumers initiatives. They stress the importance of individual and team safety as well the importance of communica- tions and working together, as one. Assisting him with these initiatives is a seasoned management team, most of whose members have 20-plus years with Consumers. Across the payroll this year, 18 managers and team members are reaching the 25-year of service threshold. NIMBLE IRON, STAFF Consumers Concrete produces primarily hardscape units at its Kalamazoo plant and architectural and standard building block in Wyoming, where the Servopac Select arrived in April after its Indiana Convention Center unveiling and brief return to Besser head- quarters in Alpena, Mich. The machine is the producer's largest investment in concrete prod- ucts capacity in more than 10 years. It replaces a Besser V3-12 2000 Series installed in 2008 after the Wyoming plant was first acquired by Consumers from Modern Kent Block in 1999. As Consumers Concrete recovered from the recession, ideas for increasing opera- tional efficiency and new capital investments became possible. Products Operation Manager Randy Parsons and Production Supervisor Fred Jacobs made the case for the Servopac Select outlay by running numbers for an upgrade to their current machine, which had logged over 7 million molding cycles. "The new machine operates at a similar speed but with better features and at a 50 percent reduction in mold wear. Instead of four or five 8-in. mold replacements per year, we're now looking at two," Jacobs explains. "The Servopac Select has reduced our mold change times from 15 minutes or more to under four minutes, and cut height change times to under a minute, especially due to operators not having to remove and replace lift spacers. The V3-12 2000 required more than 20 minutes for mold and height changes." THUMBS UP, MICHIGAN Consumers Concrete embraces Great Lakes markets of tomorrow Bruce Blair PHOTO: Consumers Concrete Continued on page 34

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