A Ring To Bind Them

For a city with a population of about 1 million, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, has a surprisingly sophisticated highway infrastructure, one that is in the

Steven Prokopy

For a city with a population of about 1 million, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, has a surprisingly sophisticated highway infrastructure, one that is in the process of getting better still. Thanks to a booming economy and a relatively close proximity to Calgary (about 180 miles south), Edmonton is experiencing a major construction boom in every building sector.

Several years ago, as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the province set about building better roads for travel from Alaska through Canada and into the United States, explains Larry Diduck, Lafarge North America’s vice president & general manager of Western Canada ready mix. Since then, the government has set the ground work for construction of a ring road around Edmonton to ease traffic downtown.

The Anthony Henday Drive Ring Road is an 80-km (about 50-mile), beltway-style highway that is being built in three stages around the city; a similar ring road is being constructed around Calgary. One of the driving forces of the region’s economic boom is the discovery of the Fort McMurray Oil Sands deposit in southern Alberta, said to be the largest of its kind outside of the Middle East. The oil-saturated sand has drawn the attention of every major oil company in the world and excavation teams have brought upwards of 20,000 workers to the Alberta and Edmonton areas. Edmonton is essentially the infrastructure that keeps Fort McMurray going, says Diduck, who adds that many workers make a weekly commute from the city to Fort McMurray and return on the weekends.


All sectors Û residential, industrial, commercial Û have been booming for about 10 years. It’s not isolated to just one market, Diduck adds. Edmonton right now has a huge labor shortage. Companies are looking at bringing in workers from Europe and Mexico; our Premier said recently that we would need 100,000 additional people in the province to satisfy the work force growth.

Construction of the greenfield Lafarge Winterburn plant on Edmonton’s west side was directly tied to the Ring Road project. Although the company’s ready mixed plants were supplying some of the materials for road construction, the real motivation behind the new plant’s erection was its proximity to the road itself.

We’d been thinking about building a new plant since 2000 because our limited capacity in that area resulted in our coming up short for about three years, Diduck says. We scouted locations for many months before deciding on this one in 2002. We owned the land already on the west side Û less than a mile from the ring road Û and we put together a solid business plan to take to the powers that be at Lafarge in 2004 to build our case for them to invest the capital. A year later, construction began.

The philosophy with the seven Edmonton-area Lafarge Canada ready mixed plants is fewer locations with higher output at each. The ring road will allow Winterburn’s 56-truck fleet (a combination of International and Mack vehicles) Û as well as Lafarge’s other 57 mixers in the Edmonton area Û to get to and from job sites with greater speed. In the next five to six years, we’ll have great access to all points in the city and to all growth locations, explains Diduck, who estimates the lifespan of the new plant to be at least 25 years. With 26 plants and 288 trucks in all of Alberta, clearly the company views the Edmonton market as a major component in the province.


Operating at an hourly production rate of about 250 cu. meters (325 yd.), the Winterburn facility, which opened in June, replaces a three-decades-old plant that closed last month after many years of constrained capacity. We had a welder on call all the time to keep that plant running, notes Larry Diduck. More importantly, the Winterburn plant is Lafarge’s first greenfield undertaking in the Edmonton area since at least the 1970s. We’ve rebuilt a few, and the company built two new plants at Fort McMurray, but I’ve been with the company 28 years, and don’t recall any greenfield developments during that time.

Raw aggregates are deposited into one of four, 40-metric ton, drive-over loading hoppers, which feed into one of two eight-compartment, 500-metric-ton-capacity aggregate bins at a rate of 750 mtph. Winterburn houses four 200-metric-ton cement storage silos, one of which has a double compartment used for any specialty cement or fly ash options. Two of the single-compartment silos hold standard portland cement brought in from Lafarge’s Exshaw, Alberta plant, while the remaining silo is reserved for fly ash. The cement scale is fed by 209-in. screw feeders.

We have larger-than-normal silos because of the recent shortage of cement, Diduck says. The larger vessels give us more working time with the product and facilitate more flexible delivery. The problem with smaller, 50- to 75-ton silos is that if a cement load shows up, you may have to turn it away with product still inside. Still, all of these silos combined full would only give us a day and a half’s worth of product. It’s something of a cushion, but not a big one. I think you’re going to see more of this as supplies continue to tighten.

After the Command Batch RM200 batch system, the centerpiece of the fully enclosed facility is a 13-yd. BMH Systems RollMaster reversing drum mixer, driven by four, 60-hp motors and featuring a drum shovel designed for high-intensity mixing. We could have had a 12-cu.-meter (15.7-cu.-yd.) mixer, but it would have been a prototype unit, and we weren’t interested in going that route, adds Diduck.

With dual-alley loading, the mixer features a wet and dry side, although only one side can be used at a time. We have two loading bays, but you can only use one at a time, explains Diduck. One is used almost all the time Û our central mix bay Û while the other dry batch bay can be used when the primary is under maintenance. Ninety percent of what comes out of this plant is from the drum mixer.

In the main bay, raw material goes from the scale to the mixer to the truck. With the dry mix mode, material goes directly into the truck. As with most plants in Alberta, we have a preference for central mix, probably two-thirds of all concrete. We get a lot of calls for specification mixes, and I believe you get better control with central mix. Production rates are the same, but you can get better slump control with the dry mix.

The operation also includes dual-alley water stands. And while the plant does reclaim its water, it does not have any mechanical reclaimers. The plant also features a washout area for collection and management of process water.

The steel structure with ribbed metal panels that encloses the plant helps contend with Alberta’s severe winters and makes it possible to operate the facility year round. Heating pads are used in travel areas outside the building and underground heating pads in work areas keep temperatures warm inside. Since the plant is not located in a residential area, noise control wasn’t much of factor in planning, although Diduck is quick to add that the plant is very quiet and clean. Many people in my position in Lafarge can simply buy a plant, build it, and run it, he quips. The weather here adds a building enclosure, and therefore costs, to any plant we build.

Of course, some of that extra money has been more than made up for by almost no downtime, thanks to increased demand. In the past, we used to experience a production slowdown in the winter months Û maybe 10 percent. Now, things barely slow down, Diduck adds.

Although there are no plans to expand the Winterburn facility, he says that his team does have a plan in the works to build another greenfield plant on the east side of Edmonton, also near the Ring Road, sometime in 2008. It would coincide with the completion of that section of the highway. We wanted to have a plant that had good road access, sufficient capacity to allow for current and future growth, and easy routes to the South, East and eventually Northeast. Those goals have been achieved, he affirms.