Since its formation in 1998, Midwest Products Group Co. has proved the economies of bringing a handful of independent block and masonry supply businesses
Since its formation in 1998, Midwest Products Group Co. has proved the economies of bringing a handful of independent block and masonry supply businesses under one roof, especially in the face of large concrete and clay product operators’ staking new territory. Administrative-cost savings and improved asset utilization, coupled with an annual 10 to 20 percent growth rate, have yielded production and capital expansion leverage best illustrated in two recently opened, but very different Metro St. Louis projects: the new Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals (sidebar, page 26); and, a big board machine plant for Kirchner Block & Brick, Midwest Products Group’s St. Louis franchise.
Opened for the 2006 season, the stadium includes high profile walls of colored, architectural concrete masonry, long a Kirchner staple. The company was able to tackle the job partly due to the backup from sister Midwest Products Group sites, which likewise helped during construction of Kirchner’s new plant. Located in Earth City, Mo., just over a mile from the company’s long-time headquarters in Bridgeton, the facility affords efficient production of branded Romanstone Interlocking Concrete Pavers and Versa-Lok and Keystone Retaining Wall units, while enabling the rollout of textured surface and face mix pavers; products bearing up to four colors; and, textured and colored cored concrete brick. Product exclusive to the Earth City line is sold in St. Louis; throughout the Midwest Products Group’s network covering much of Missouri and parts of Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee; and, to distributors in the nine states surrounding Missouri.
Compared to the land-locked Bridgeton site, Kirchner’s new operation is also set up for greatly improved order dispatch and truck staging and loading. By building this plant, we’ve doubled our production capability, says Kirchner Vice President and General Manager Paul Wienke. We support a big board product machine with a high-speed, twin-mixer batch plant and pigment handling to mold product with up to four colors and face mixes unique to our market.
Efficient, versatile equipment has been matched with a commitment to low maintenance and higher comfort levels for smaller plant crews, now working three shifts. The plant is designed with wet- and dry-material recovery systems, capturing 100 percent of waste materials. In the wet-material system, conveyors recover machine and conveyor spillage and return it to raw-material handling for recovery. A similar subfloor conveyor system collects dry spillage from the floor and larger splitting line waste for transfer outdoors, Wienke explains. The plant could eventually have crushing and reclassifying equipment to handle reclaimed dry material and wet product culls, he adds. In the interim, an aggregate supplier hauls material from a small stockpile area along a dump truck drive-over alley.
THIRD TIME CHARM
Opened in mid-2005, the Earth City plant was 10 years in the making. In 1995, Kirchner managers conducted a strategic market study, and through that analysis began mapping a super plant for a company whose capacity was being challenged around the same time architectural concrete masonry and landscape unit demand was poised for a surge. As the facility neared a mid-1998 ground breaking, company chief Dale Kirchner joined forces with Midwest Block & Brick Inc., Jefferson City, Mo., to launch Midwest Products Group Co.
The consolidation brought some relief for capacity-strained Kirchner, but long-term growth hinged on construction of another facility, for which Wienke returned to the drawing board in 1999. The Earth City plant was put on hold a second time in January 2000, as Midwest Products Group acquired the concrete masonry and landscape products business of Kirchner’s St. Louis neighbor, Kienstra Inc., with a block plant across the Mississippi, in Wood River, Ill.
Kienstra, whose principals remain in precast and ready mixed concrete, had just added a new production line in the Wood River plant in 1997 to meet landscape unit demand. Midwest renamed the business Kienstra Block & Brick LLC, as Kirchner tapped into the added capacity. By 2002, Wienke and his colleagues felt the capacity limitations from the Bridgeton and Wood River plants Û and Kirchner’s multi-layer machine-equipped Valley Park, Mo., operation Û and returned to the drawing board.
The Earth City site had an existing building with floor plan unsuited to material receiving and transfer; product forming, curing, palletizing and packaging; and, truck staging. It was demolished and replaced with an 53,000-sq.-ft. enclosure to house a Tiger PS-100 Concrete Products Machine running 1,400- _ 1,100-mm WASA/Uniplast plastic pallets; rack kiln holding 5,000 pallets; and, a 1,000-pallet accumulator to accommodate an independently operating packaging line that typically lags block and paver production by two to four hours per day.
The Earth City plant has replaced the lines at Wood River, where a distribution yard remains, and Valley Park, the land at which is being sold. Back at Bridgeton headquarters, Kirchner’s sales and marketing staff has reclaimed underutilized warehouse space Û adjacent to the business office and outdoor patio and landscape design and display area Û to create a bright, open showroom with a common contractor and retail counter. Contractors enter a side with two aisles of tools, surface treatments and other supplies. Home owners, building and landscape architects, and other retail-type customers have a more prominent entry flanked by paving stone and segmental retaining wall unit displays, plus brick and faux stone veneer sample racks.
In addition to maintaining a modern showroom open to home or building owners or designers, and trades, Kirchner has recently stepped up promotion through cooperative advertising support of six customers, Exterior Scapes Dealers, who run radio spots promoting paver and SRW usage and maintain a web site, www.exteriorscapesdealer.com.
A GRAND SLAM FOR MASONRY
The red-brick motif of St. Louis’ new Busch Stadium mirrors a staple of the city’s architecture and provides a fitting tribute to the Cardinals’ Redbird colors. While the official opening of baseball season may herald record-setting performances, the stadium is likely to achieve a place of its own in record books due to the unprecedented masonry work spearheaded by St. Louis-based Heitkamp Masonry, Inc.
According to Geoff Hart, Heitkamp’s project director for the stadium, the structure comprises more than 2.5 million clay bricks and about 750,000 concrete block Û arguably North America’s most masonry-intensive professional baseball park. For general contractor Hunt Construction Group, the country’s largest sports-venue builder, Busch Stadium ranks as the most extensive masonry project built to date. HOK Sport of Kansas City, a branch of the St. Louis-based architecture firm Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, Inc., is the project architect.
We had only 18 months to lay millions of individual elements, notes Hart. To expedite the process, Heitkamp was named a prime subcontractor over seven other subcontractors.
In addition to red brick exterior walls, the design called for concrete block that would complement interior elements of the new stadium. Under Heitkamp’s direction, Kirchner Block & Brick molded CMU featuring a smooth finish and the desired reddish autumn color. To facilitate installation, the producer designed the units to be lighter in weight than usual. Thus, a single worker could install the blocks, instead of the two usually required.
Notes Kirchner’s Les Staggemeier, The challenge in the mix design was meeting all structural requirements and specifications, yet having a block weigh less than 30 lb. in order to satisfy work rules. Obviously, we also attempted to maintain consistent color, which is always a challenge with smooth units. Kirchner’s part of the contract entailed more than 500,000 colored and 200,000 gray units.
Regarding placement logistics, Staggemeier explains, We simply wanted to fulfill whatever the need, be it off hours or Saturdays. Some of Heitkamp’s staff have been working with Kirchner dispatchers and drivers for 50 years combined. They know how the system works, so it came off without a hitch.
Busch Stadium’s extensive masonry also necessitated truckloads of preblended mortar and grout for installation. Innovative load and go mortar and grout silos, created by local firm Simpson Materials/Spec Mix, streamlined the dispensing process. Efficiency was maximized as workers were able to mix mortar and grout close to separate work areas as needed.
COLORING OPTIONS ABOUND
Kirchner Block & Brick tagged Cape Girardeau, Mo.-based Standley Batch Systems for the Earth City plant’s raw material handling and transfer equipment. Seeking much production versatility, the company opted for a custom blending scheme for its Elementis Ferrispec GC granular crystals pigments. The plant’s 4-yd. base-mix mixer has three discharge gates, while the 0.5-yd face-mix mixer has four gates, including one with a clean-out chute.
Round discharge hoppers (bottom photo) with attached feeder conveyors are suspended from load cells beneath six of the gates, providing continuous hopper-level indication to the batch plant’s automation system. The arrangement allows the operator to monitor material usage, variations in material flow, and discharge hopper cleanliness. The three base-mix feeders discharge onto the base feed conveyor, which transfers material to the product machine base hopper. The three face-mix feeders discharge onto the face feed conveyor, whose reversible operating mode can transfer material either to the product machine face hopper or to the base feed conveyor. This arrangement allows the blending of up to four colors for faced pavers or six colors for solids.
Outside, drive-over grizzlies feed twin 50-ton aggregate bins, from which sand and rock are belted to a bucket-style sidewall conveyor. Standley figures that the bucket option, compared to a conventional belt design, reduces by 60 percent the main conveyor’s length. The sidewall feeds a shuttle conveyor charging four (two split) 160-ton capacity bins, affording about 11 hours of big board machine production time. Weigh and transfer belts feed holding hoppers charging 4-yd. and 0.5-yd. Haarup mixers.
The Earth City plant is equipped with one 135-ton and two 85-ton silos for white and conventional powder, plus slag cement. The silos’ location at the rear of the property isolates tanker trafficking and unloading.