Packing Productivity

Rhome, Texas-based Turner Company set the stage for another decade by fortifying a wet and dry cast concrete product catalog that had evolved since 2001 from septic tanks and grease traps to larger utility or drainage structures and site walls.

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BFS Sales Manager Kevin Reathaford (right) discusses the BFS Souveraen operating basics with 2020 Pipe School participants, who toured the Turner Co. plant during the early-January American Concrete Pipe Association gathering in nearby San Marcos, Texas. PHOTO: Afinitas
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Afinitas configured the Lockhart plant’s Souveraen machine and limited robotics to run with an operator and forklift driver. The packerhead model’s counter-rotating, roller-head and compaction tools finish the concrete per an advanced, high-tech control system. PHOTOS: Concrete Products
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The forklift driver transfers 18- to 60-in. diameter Power Jacket forms to and from the production table. Coworkers position cages from an MBK machine in the forms. The three-piece Power Jacket helps speed the pipe production cycle and curtail foot traffic on the floor and in the kiln or curing areas. “You don’t have a worker waiting to strip the form or standing in rows of pipe,” notes Afinitas Vice President Matt Childs. “Our equipment eliminates such safety hazards.”
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Batch plant raw

The BFS Souveraen pipe and HawkeyePedershaab dry cast machines draw from a Voeller plant with four 40-ton aggregate bins feeding a loss-in-weight/decumulating aggregate batch system, with each bin bearing on a set of load cells. Turner Co. has begun Lockhart production with a Model CM5040 VB cyclo-pan mixer featuring 5-yd. output capacity; three hydraulic discharge doors, and hinge top covers. The platform is engineered for a second mixer, scheduled for delivery after display at the 2020 Precast Show in Fort Worth. The batch plant runs on a fully automated PLC to PC batch control system.
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The four-station, HawkeyePedershaab dry cast machine is equipped for box culverts and larger diameter pipe; it flanks the BFS Souveraen 1625 S packerhead equipment and an area for wet cast cone production.
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The producer took a major additional step into dry cast with the August 2019 opening of a greenfield plant in Lockhart, Texas. Equipped for high output of small to large diameter concrete pipe and manholes, plus medium to large box culverts, it extends the Turner Co. footprint across the booming Texas Triangle. One of 11 U.S. megaregions, it has a population soon to eclipse 14 million and stretches from Dallas-Fort Worth to Austin to San Antonio and back to Houston. Population growth, coupled with Texas Department of Transportation and local agencies’ sound planning and timely project permitting, support solid near- to long-term infrastructure prospects throughout the Triangle.

The Lockhart plant is unfolding in phases on a 37-acre site about 30 miles south of Austin and 200 miles south of Rhome. When it came time to outfit the new operation, principals Brian and Michelle Turner knew they needed a high-volume, automated pipe and box production system to a) meet the region’s ongoing demands for premium drainage infrastructure; and, b) demonstrate capacity and delivery capability for design-build and conventional design-bid-build work.

The Lockhart plant marks the North American debut of BFS Souveraen packerhead equipment from Germany’s BFS Betonfertigteilesysteme GmbH, a fixture in European pipe and precast operations. The Souveraen 1625 S machine runs 18- to 60-in. diameter pipe in a two-person process: A plant operator oversees production cycles as a forklift driver handles cage installation, mold positioning, pipe transfer and demolding.

At the start of a production cycle with the semi-automated machine, the driver moves the first pipe to the curing area. Upon returning to the Souveraen table, another pipe is ready for transfer. The forklift driver can perform each task with without leaving his or her seat: Hydraulics automatically opening double hinged Souveraen molds enable the driver to set the cage and remove the finished product. BFS calls the three-piece form a Power Jacket and underscores the efficiency and improved safety of its automated features, especially those freeing workers of the need to stand in rows of pipe subject to forklift contact.

AUTOMATION AFFINITY

The BFS Souveraen 1625 S operates in tandem with a four-station (XY Feeder) HawkeyePedershaab dry cast machine for box culverts and large diameter pipe. The Turner Co. Lockhart plant is a milestone for St. Louis-based Afinitas, which acquired BFS in 2018 with an eye to augmenting the machinery and dry cast technology platform of its HawkeyePedershaab flagship brand. The transaction followed closely on the heels of Afinitas acquiring New Hampton Metal Fab and preceded CAM Sales and Spillman Co. deals rounding out a portfolio with accessory and additional precast formwork capabilities.

Afinitas Vice President of Sales, Americas Matt Childs and Equipment and Automation Division, Europe President Daniel Bühler helped bring the Souveraen system to North America—years after the latter had eyed market prospects this side of the Atlantic as BFS managing director. Leading into the Lockhart plant contract, the Turners observed robotics packages and varying levels of automation at Souveraen installations in Europe. They opted for robotics sufficient to support the machine in two-person operating mode.

While the robotics are a huge benefit, what separates the Souveraen from other concrete pipe machines is the packerhead design. “Most packerheads have a row of rollers and a row of trowels that pack the concrete against the form,” explains Childs. “The Souveraen has multiple rows of both. That allows you to pack the concrete with as much force but less torque required from the machine. And, you have more even distribution of that force against the concrete. A Souveraen typically exerts higher pressures with less torque than other packerhead machines, and it allows operators to make a single pass to produce the pipe as opposed to the double pass many models require.”

“From a strategic perspective, we have had great success with our ePak packerhead solution in North America,” says Afinitas CEO Brad Schmidgall, reflecting on the rationale behind the BFS-HawkeyePedershaab union. “Now, with Souveraen, we have two highly rated packerhead machines that cover the full range of customer needs.”

BFS model automation possibilities speak to an issue many North American concrete pipe and precast producers confront: Finding skilled production workers. Automation will be the key to industry growth in years to come, Schmidgall believes, noting, “Some of it is a function of the economy and some of it is just that the labor force is changing. The kind of jobs that people want are less toward manual labor and more screen-facing. The problem will only get worse, so as a company we are laser-focused on introducing automation solutions as well as continuing to refine and develop our own existing automation solutions, primarily as it relates to areas of the precast market that are currently done with manual labor.”

While automation has become more prevalent in recent years, he adds, “There are still wide swaths of the precast market where work is being done the same way plant crews did it 50 or 60 years ago. We are very focused on addressing those issues and will be, as far as I’m concerned, for the next 10 or 20 years. We have to help producers future-proof their businesses by reducing the amount of dependence on manual labor.”

Another aspect of the future Afinitas takes to heart is the scale of personal investment in a new pipe plant, especially for a family-owned business. “Customers like the Turners are literally trusting us with their family’s future, and we can’t take that responsibility seriously enough,” Schmidgall affirms. “That’s a big reason why, as we structure our company, we are focused on providing a lifetime of service through overstocking on parts and keeping technicians available for customers who rely on us to keep their machines running.”

TIMELY DELIVERY

Afinitas’ machine uptime mindset gels with an operator like Brian Turner, who started on a path to pipe and precast production after building a namesake septic tank installation business serving Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex homeowners and builders. Four years into a profession he pursued immediately after graduating high school early, he tired of tank supply and delivery problems and opted to take precast production in house, building the Rhome plant. While he learned the ins and outs of making precast concrete, wife Michelle Turner ran the office side of the operation. They figured out production and administration as they went along, adding product lines, hiring, navigating the regulatory system, and building a customer base.

Turner Co. grew along with Texas, which has perennially been one of the fastest growing states for decades. The Turners fit right in the Lone Star State, supplying a wide range of underground infrastructure and other precast products throughout the territory. Their customer base has grown from homeowners and builders to electrical and site utility contractors, commercial developers, plus state and local agencies. Payroll between the headquarters and Lockhart plants exceeds 250.

“The Turners are a great American success story,” observes Matt Childs. “Brian started buying wetcast forms, then he put in a couple of manhole machines for drycast, then he bought a pipe machine. Then he started doing boxes, and before you know it, they’re huge.”