Transforming Andale Ready Mix in the small farming community of Andale, Kansas, into a significant Wichita market player providing value-added products
Transforming Andale Ready Mix in the small farming community of Andale, Kansas, into a significant Wichita market player providing value-added products and services started with founder Jim Molitor’s idea to offer front-discharge ready mixed delivery. Since two front-discharge Oshkosh trucks were purchased in 1999, the company fleet has grown to 18 impeccably maintained mixers. Today, sons Pete and Bill Molitor run combined operations in Andale and Wichita, serving a highly competitive market with a focus on the value that a front-discharge fleet can provide.
Andale Ready Mix now is solidly ingrained in the greater Wichita area’s construction community. Known for customer service and high-quality mixes supplying a full range of four-season civil, industrial, commercial and residential projects, the producer has progressed a long way from its two-truck startup operation. Initially building a reputation for service and quality through work with a few small contractors, Andale Ready-Mix soon reaped the rewards of a winning combination: hard-working, caring employees and loyal customers.
It was a great learning experience building the business from scratch, affirms Pete Molitor. We were 20 miles from the Wichita market with zero customers and an outdated 6-yd. Ross plant. We started with do-it-yourself orders and eventually had a few local contractors give us a chance. That was our ticket. Without those guys who gave us a shot, we would have never made it. And, there began the quest for batching and mixing equipment to offer the best possible product.
ACTUALIZING A PLAN
Taking a page from the industrial sector, Andale recently adopted a development approach highly unusual for a smaller family ready-mixed operation. Accordingly, a design-build concept was implemented by the owners for the construction of a Master-Planned central mix facility to serve as a new main plant. That approach required partnering with a design-build contractor to serve as the Îumbrella’ agent coordinating the efforts of architect, engineering groups, project management, and general contractor. Thus, a customized plant was virtually designed and constructed under a design-build contract, enabling close collaboration with the owners in the selection of equipment and process components.
Among premier firms offering such design-build services within the concrete industry is San Antonio, Texas-based Plant Architects, which implements Master-Planned concrete production facilities nationwide. Andale President Pete Molitor worked closely with Robert Ober, principal of Plant Architects and its sister firm Plant Outfitters, in designing and constructing the company’s new central mix operation. After touring several facilities, the elder Molitor and both sons arrived at some basic conclusions that they collectively brought to the design table, along with certain predispositions.
We knew a number of things we wanted to do with the plant layout, but needed help sorting it all out, getting things sized and streamlined, says Pete Molitor. There are so many aspects to building a first-class plant and enclosure, we just knew that it would get complicated fast. Here in Kansas, we experience all types of weather, and we produce concrete through them all.
Dad’s construction and agricultural background dictated that we should find a trusted partner and get the plant equipment and building underway together÷.We started construction of the new plant in the spring of 2005. Although originally we were going to buy a drum mixer, Robert Ober sold us on a twin shaft.
The plant is super clean and to us super fast. We have the capability to produce up to 300 yd./hr. into front-discharge trucks. The new plant has six cement screw augers, weighed water, an aggregate holding hopper above the mixer, a 10-yd. gob hopper below the mixer that allows us to have a load waiting before the truck enters the yard, and two separate aggregate scales that weigh simultaneously. Also, besides a 4.5 million-Btu Kemco hot water burner and Control Solutions automation, we have a TrakIt GPS system, so we can time out our next load and have it in the gob hopper, ready to be fed into the truck in just 30-40 seconds and out the door.
In addition, we knew we wanted to integrate batch operations, dispatch, and the front office in one large, completely enclosed building, he emphasizes. The drivers are our front line with customers, and we did not want to isolate them in any way. They know faster than anyone if there is a problem out in the field. When you isolate them, you lose access to a lot of critical information. This meant the new plant had to be designed for functionality from more than just the equipment side. It needed to work from a human resources standpoint as well.
NUTS AND BOLTS
A customized, high-intensity mix plant design comprising a heated and lighted enclosure encompassing all utilities, an instant hot water system, automation, and facility electrical services was drawn up by Ober for modification by the Molitors. For the basic central-mix layout, Andale required a high-intensity mixer versus a tilting or reversing drum model. Careful attention to mix-design developments, including self consolidating concrete, dictated the inclusion of a technically advanced batching and mixing system.
We feel SCC is one of the many new developments in concrete construction that will require better forced mixing, explains Jim Molitor. We also wanted to be sure we could load out dump trucks of very low-slump paving mixes, while maintaining the best overall mix quality for our everyday contractor clients.
In view of Andale’s needs, a custom layout subject to further refinements was developed, incorporating a 10-yd. twin-shaft mixer, a 300-plus-ton aggregate receiving system with individual weigh hoppers, fully galvanized steel construction, and bolt-in wear liners. A Marco radial stacking conveyor on automatic controls feeds the mixer.
Since the aggregate system was placed some distance from the plant’s high-traffic zone, a high-speed, 48-in. batch transfer belt with direct drive was introduced to feed an aggregate holding hopper above the twin-shaft mixer. The smooth flow of traffic now evident throughout the yard during peak production is the result of close examination of traffic patterns.
To accommodate high-cycle operations [32 cycles at 10 yd./batch for 320 yd./hour output], a holding hopper was installed directly below the mixer. The added elevation to the mixer platform also necessitated the relatively long distance between the mixer and aggregate buildings. The fresh concrete holding-hopper below the mixer allows us to premix the next load and simply load out the next truck mixer, says Jim Molitor.
Having operated Control Solutions technology on its original transit-mix plant, Andale once again tagged the provider to deliver an automation package for the new system. Our biggest concern was getting the automation to do what this custom-designed plant was going to require, notes Pete Molitor. So, we had Plant Architects meet with the automation supplier to make sure that the electrical engineer had all that was needed in the new automation system. Everything came together, as Plant Outfitters millwrights worked closely with the electrical contractor, pulling together a very fast startup on the Control Solutions automated plant.
Moreover, a TrakIt truck-tracking GPS system coordinated with the new automation provides customers a minute-by-minute delivery update and, for management, the best overall view of the fleet. A Kemco 4.5 million-Btu natural gas instant hot water system installed with a complete automation package, furthermore, allows preblending and selection of temperature-balanced concrete.
We did have a few curve balls thrown our way during plant construction, observes Bill Molitor. When equipment delivery was getting behind, Plant Architects and Plant Outfitters worked closely with company staff, local construction crews, and electricians to pull it all together and bring the plant online without any major ongoing delays.
For the plant enclosure, Andale worked with Ober’s architectural firm in the development of several elevations and varying motifs. A very contemporary look was seriously considered, says Pete Molitor. But, in the end we decided on a more traditional style similar to our Andale, Kansas, operation. Impressive results are evident in the facility situated directly off a major interstate highway interchange.
To eliminate air pollution, the Andale plant is equipped with oversized dust collection and an anti-overfill cement-inventory system. The twin-shaft mixer is virtually dust-free with an engineered air balance system. And, loading trucks indoors with a fully accessible drive-through also eliminates noise pollution.
It’s odd how so many ready mix firms have new plants that look so dirty, Jim Molitor comments. We wanted a plant that looked and operated clean. If you look at our fleet of Oshkosh front-discharge trucks, we try very hard to project a clean image: it’s part of our approach.
Besides close attention to air quality at the new facility, Andale’s Master-Planned project aims to develop wetlands and create a buffer bordering the busy interstate exchange. Adds Pete Molitor, This was a heavy industrial area many years ago. With the new multi-purpose central mix facility, we’ve tried to make a real improvement in what is viewed from the highway.
As concrete producers increasingly strive to implement more sustainable operations, professionally finished, enclosed, design-build structures will no doubt become more prevalent within the industry. The Andale plant offers a prime example of a Master-Planned facility based on an approach suitable for both green field and major retrofit projects.
Robert Ober heads Plant Architects and Plant Outfitters in San Antonio, Texas