Design & Rebuild

For nearly the past 10 years, Northwind Concrete Products Co. of Romeoville, Ill., has replaced piece by piece the used pipe production equipment it purchased

Steven Prokopy

For nearly the past 10 years, Northwind Concrete Products Co. of Romeoville, Ill., has replaced piece by piece the used pipe production equipment it purchased after acquiring the 30-acre site in July 1998. The plant had been built and owned by Material Service Corp. since the 1950s. What we did first was go up to Canada to buy used equipment from Best Pipe a producer near Toronto in 1999, explains Dave Boosted, vice president of precast operations. Year by year, we covered a difference aspect of the plant, culminating with the replacement of the two pipe machines in the spring of 2006.

Northwind originally began operation with three Hydrotile packerheads and a dry cast machine; two of the Hydrotiles have since been replaced with two Besser BiDi Advantage units, an A-36 model and an A-84. The company, which specializes in smaller-diameter pipe (ranging from 10 to 108 in. diameters, with 50 percent of the business coming from pieces 24-in. or smaller), sold upwards of 70,000 pieces of 12-in. pipe in 2005, according to Boosted, with the older Hydrotile machine running about 90 percent of the small-bore product. Will County [just southwest of Chicago] is a hot spot, and obviously Cook County is as well, he says. The housing market has kept us real busy for many years, but now we’re on the flip side. We’re seeing more highway work, like the I-355 extension and the Route 88 Tollway. We’re also getting county and municipal jobs, but I bet business will be down in 2007.

We do some work in Chicago but mostly we service the surrounding counties, up north to the Wisconsin border, south to Peoria and Kankakee, west to Dekalb and Rochelle. Twenty-five percent of what’s in our yard should have been gone a month ago, but the weather has made job site prep work more difficult. In 2005, we had five crews working. In 2006, there were three or four crews. Now we have one, but that’s typical for the winter. But the fact is better machines make it possible to have fewer crews.

Northwind is part of the Evanston, Ill.-based EOCN Corp., which comprises another pipe plant in South Beloit, Ill., plus three manhole plant Û one in Wisconsin and two in Illinois.

The Romeoville plant’s production is geared toward the housing and commercial markets, and, to a lesser degree, roadwork. Its pipe products are used in backyard or curb inlet drains that feed into larger pipes. A vibrating underground pit machine also makes box culverts from 5 _ 3 ft. to 12 _ 12 ft.; elliptical pipe; and large-diameter (84- to 120-in.) pipe. We’re almost set to upgrade that part of the operation, hopefully next year, adds Boosted. Some newer plants build the VUP units above ground with catwalks around them. But keeping ours underground means we don’t have to build the enclosure as high. We probably need a better concrete delivery system for the VUP, but it will stay in the pit.


Raw materials from Hanson Aggregates are dumped from trucks into outdoor hoppers and transported to the plant via an open conveyor. Cement from St. Marys plant in Dixon, Ill., as well as Holcim’s Lemont and Summit terminals, is stored in covered silos and added to the mix through a flared-end apron feeder. Two Voeller 4-yd. pan mixers feed the pipe machines. Two new wire shops were recently created off the main building, but Boosted adds that no new buildings had to be built to hold this process. We rearranged a few things in our main facility to maximize the efficiency of our production line, he says.

Northwind uses the Besser A-36 machine to produce diameters of 10- to 24-in. profile gaskets tabbed for storm sewer use, with 27-, 30-, and 36-in. to be added later this year. The A-84 makes diameters from 27 to 84 in. All pipes from both machines are in 8-ft. lengths. The large-diameter pieces are O-ring. Each machine is controlled by Vision 2 automation for product consistency and quality, and one supervisor monitors both consoles from a centrally located control room. The machines also are fitted with quick-change rollerhead assemblies with quick-change turning and vibrating standards, allowing for size changes in minutes, according to Boosted.

Once the pipe is formed, it is moved to a nearby kiln using a forklift. The kiln used to have a moving floor that rotated in a circle inside the kiln, but it was old and tended to jerk around, and sometimes pipe would tip over, so we leave the floor stationary, Boosted adds.

The facility features 30- and 50-ton Demag cranes to move pieces too large for the forklift to a storage area featuring a new kiln curtain. The finished pipe is set on the floor, the curtain is pulled over a row of pipes on three sides, and steam from recently purchased Johnson Cure Paks enters the enclosure via a series of hoses. The curtain can be extended to 40-ft. wide and 120-ft. long. Our volume increased so rapidly that we were forced to use plastic covers for the pipe until we could build more curing kilns, says Boosted. We were leap-frogging ourselves. We would buy more equipment to keep up, but then we’d get more business. It was a nice problem to have. The curtains were a good solution because we were losing so much steam with the plastic that our natural gas bills went through the roof.

Usually we have enough pallets for one day’s work on one machine. If all three machines are running, then each one is running different sizes typically. With all of these new machines, we’re getting better production rates, more control of product quality. I used to carry much more inventory when we had old machines because we had so many breakdowns.