Sunshine Stakes

During the last three years, Hanson Pipe & Precast has seen a significant uptick in capital investment in new plant construction and upgrading older facilities

Steven Prokopy

During the last three years, Hanson Pipe & Precast has seen a significant uptick in capital investment in new plant construction and upgrading older facilities around the country. But even Hanson Building Products North America President Richard Manning admits that the recently opened Winter Haven, Fla., pipe plant is something of a crown jewel for the company. It’s more of the company’s jumbo jet, he says. But, really, what it comes down to is we were careful to install a facility that was right for the location and the economy.

Although Hanson Pipe & Precast has other automated plants in Arizona, California, Texas, and Virginia, the Winter Haven operation was constructed to take the place of three older company plants Û an elliptical pipe operation in Venice, between Sarasota and Naples; and, two round-pipe plants in Bradenton, near Sarasota, and Kissimmee, a suburb of Orlando. Manning explained that searching for the ideal location for the replacement facility turned into a full-scale market research project. We analyzed population growth statistics, competition, volume requirements for the area, and the policies of the state before making our decision on this city in Polk County, he says.

The resulting facility is located on a 96-acre piece of property that used to be an orange grove (there are still many trees still on the site) and is adjacent to a Wal-Mart distribution center. Erected atop four acres of concrete slab is a 171,000-sq.-ft., under-roof pipe plant. It has been rare in my career to design and build such a purpose-driven facility, Manning says. Most pipe plants are not run and laid out the way they were originally built. Usually, you notice a lot of add-ons to an operation. And you can’t see us from any main road, which makes the neighbors happy.


Manning acknowledges the many challenges in getting the Winter Haven plant up and running in the fall of 2007, just a few months after Germany’s HeidelbergCement AG acquired UK-based Hanson PLC for $16 billion. Keeping morale up during the acquisition and integration phases was made easier by being allowed to operate the Hanson Building Products group separately and keep its name, admits Manning. Our operating group is a significant downstream customer of the regional groups that handle aggregates, cement, and ready mixed. But, the important thing is that people must be kept informed in that post-acquisition phase.

Hanson Building Products, which manufactures pipe and other precast products, brick, rooftile, pavers, and structural precast, operates independently of Lehigh-Hanson’s four regional groups (West, North, South and Canada), and experienced rapid growth in 2005-2008 with operations and reach across North America.

The other hurdle the Winter Haven plant is currently facing is the severe downturn in the Florida economy, in general, and building market specifically. We feel we’re in excellent shape to face the downturn, says Manning. In the United States, a lot of manufacturers were lulled into a false sense of success. This long an upturn is unprecedented, and we work in a cyclical industry. The inevitable consequence of this upturn is downturn, and there’s a lot further to come down when you’re that high up.

The most successful companies operate efficiently and economically in an upturn and a downturn. Our main productivity measure is tons per man hour. That’s where it matters, and ours is substantially better than where it was. And, we’re only a single shift today. When we move to three shifts, things are only going to get better.

For a time, Florida was the highest-growth state in all of North America, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Florida will boom again Û maybe not in the same way. And from this location, we have low-cost production that can serve all of Florida. Building this facility hasn’t brought additional capacity to the market, but you give yourself the ability to respond to any peak or trough thrown at us.

But, even before the economic downturn took hold in the Sunshine State, Hanson thought it was time for a change. Pipe manufacturing traditionally has been a local-based, labor-intensive practice, states Manning. As a result, you have a rigid product range. But, Florida requires a wider product range and more flexibility.

We definitely have more process control in the Winter Haven facility, and the flexibility to run six pipe sizes at any one time. And, if there’s movement in the market, a fast response is essential. We did employ a lot of people in [the older] plants, but those jobs were tenuous at best, depending on the market.

Old-style technology will not be acceptable in the near future, especially from a safety and environmental standpoint. I don’t believe the green movement will sweep the country; it will go one state at a time. But, Florida will be among the first. Let’s face it, pipe making is pipe making. It’s been the same for 100 years. But, this plant with this level of automation has brought pipe manufacturing into the 21st century. In terms of employees, we’re looking for technicians more than laborers.

Winter Haven Plant Manager Dan Burgess explains that since land in Florida is scarce due to wetlands protection and restrictive zoning around populated areas, the state didn’t offer any tax incentives to build the new facility in a particular area. To get permitting in central Florida in a great location like this one can be tough, he admits. After we built the plant, we did get reimbursement for PLC training. Polk County offers this if you bring technology and training to the area that were not here before.


The Winter Haven facility features the only dual-operating system in the U.S., which Burgess says gives the plant significant flexibility on capacity and the ability to manufacture building products at the volumes required during any economic cycle at low cost. The double operation allows the plant to produce one pipe every 30 seconds, or 1,500 per day, running at full capacity. The product range includes 15- to 72-in. reinforced round pipe and 12- _ 18-in. to 48- _ 76-in. elliptical pipe.

The aggregate storage system from Advanced Concrete Technologies holds 8,000 to 9,000 tons of material in a small footprint. Automatic transportation of material to the batch plant cuts down on labor. The system automatically recharges the inside aggregate bins at approximately 450 tons/hour. Four aggregate compartment bins have a storage capacity inside of about 375 tons, and the system allows for multiple tracks to unload simultaneously.

ACT’s twin HPGM 3750 Planetary Countercurrent mixers can produce 3 yds. each, with the mixing system cycling a batch every 2.5 minutes. The unit is automatically operated by a Hawkeye PipePro96 machine; and, the concrete is batched, mixed, and delivered by the PCS control system. Each batch is preweighed and employs load cell technology to ensure the proper blend. The mixers use microwave technology to measure available moisture in the incoming raw materials.

Five silos, situated under roof, can hold roughly 189 tons of cement each, resulting in storage for about 4,500 tons of pipe production. The cement silos are pneumatically charged from cement bulk trucks. A ground-mounted dust collector captures and regenerates dust particles into a hopper for automatic recycling back into a silo.

The facility’s mirror design helps the operation run much more efficiently with each line arranged in a linear fashion. At the plant’s south end, small-bore round pipe is produced, while elliptical pipe is handled from the north end.

To move pipe to and from the kiln and to the pallet removal area, the Vollert Moving Floor System acts as a conveyor, transporting the newly formed pipe to a circulating kiln system that transfers the product through the curing chambers. Each kiln is 236 ft. long _ 29 ft. wide _ 12 ft. high, resulting in a total of 27,276 sq. ft. of kiln.

Using Kraft Energy technology, the fully-automated Quadrix Accelerated Concrete Curing System controls temperature, humidity, and air circulation. Designed for continuous shifts, the system cures each batch of pipe for six hours at an average temperature of 100_F and a humidity of 80 percent.

The Hawkeye VROC Automated Pipe and Joint Ring Handling Equipment automates the movement of the pipe and joint rings by transferring the cured pipe from the moving floor system with a pipe-handling manipulator to a pallet removal device. After removing he pallet and header, the VROC sands the edges of the pipe and retrieves the rings after cleaning them with dual hydraulic scrapers, pulverizing rollers, and multiple adjustable wire brushes. The cleaned rings are automatically stacked for storage.

Though the industry does not require this process, a vacuum test used to stress test the product is then executed to ensure quality control. Finally, the pipe is rolled to a storage rack outside, where it is then picked up by forklift to be taken to the yard for shipment. In addition, each pipe piece has a RF (radio frequency) reader on every kiln cart. The RF tags allow Winter Haven to track the pipe while in the plant, and it insures the correct information is stenciled on the pipe before it leaves the plant. Every pipe product made at Winter Haven is 100 percent quality-control checked. A white dot placed on the pipe by the inspector means the product is good; otherwise, it’s sent for patching or scrapped.

According to Dan Burgess, the yard is designed to efficiently unload pipe out of the plant and onto trucks. Our yard will look exactly the way it does today 20 years from now, he says.

Safety is a critical issue at the Winter Haven operation. Safety comes before profit, says Richard Manning. Every meeting we have opens with a discussion of safety performance and our record. Safety equipment only goes so far; you need a safety culture. It is every employee’s God-given right to go home at the end of the day in the same condition in which they came to work.

Manning says he treats every visit at any Hanson Building Products plant like a safety inspection. I try to find something wrong, he proudly states. How do you stop people from having vehicle accidents? You eliminate the vehicles. At Winter Haven, we put as much distance between employees and the removal of the pallets and headers. Our kilns put distance between the operator and the pipe.

Burgess adds that light curtains are in place throughout the facility that stop production if the light is broken. Foot pedals and weight pads make it impossible for controls to work unless the operator is standing in a certain, safe location.