Operational Optimization

Capital improvements, yard utilization help ATMI precast pace strong Midwest markets

By Don Marsh

ATMI Precast Inc. continues to evolve the equipment portfolio and fabrication processes at a 23-acre operation on the western stretches of the country’s third largest population center. Ongoing capital investment and yard tweaks have yielded better than anticipated architectural and structural product capacity gains—coinciding with a flourish of post-recession, commercial building activity across the Chicago market—plus safety and energy efficiency improvements.

The most recent upgrade at the Aurora, Ill., operation is an enclosed batch plant with 5-yd. mixer for structural products, replacing dated, 40-yd./hour equipment no longer matching volume requirements or quality levels. ATMI owner Jim Armbruster dedicated the facility to his late brother, John “Buster” Armbruster, with whom he founded the business in 1990.

Construction saw more than new iron capable of producing better concrete in greater volumes. “There were three goals for the project: Improved mix quality, higher production capacity and utilities overhaul,” says ATMI Operations Manager Mike Pelz, reflecting on a 2015-2016 schedule.

The first two goals were addressed with Voeller Mixers’ delivery of a new Cyclo-Mixer pan model, plus 400-ton overhead aggregate storage bin, 5-yd. bucket skip hoist, and three 350-bbl silos. Voeller crews handled bin, mixer, mezzanine and material handling structure erection. ATMI fabricated and erected 32 insulated panels, 10- x 55-ft. and 12-in. thick, for an enclosure just shy of 5,000 sq. ft. and topped by hollow core plank. The producer subcontracted cast-in-place concrete work, from foundation slab to below-grade skip hoist pit and a drive-over grizzly-fed bunker. The latter holds 22 tons of sand & gravel, and has freed up a former loader operator for other yard duty.

Utility improvements at the suburban Chicago plant are across the board. An 800- to 2,000-amp power service boost comfortably equips the batch plant and utility lines for greater electricity demand, partly owing to the installation of stadium lighting fixtures along the main enclosure elevation and at casting bed ends. ATMI engineers detailed a 5-ft. wide trench from the batch plant enclosure to the perimeter of five main casting beds, the newest installed in late 2015. The concrete trench carries electricity to the beds and other outdoor points; air lines for bed tools and vibrators; and, curing heat. Engineers opted for dual glycol-based systems to supply hot and cold water for the batch plant and casting operations. Hot water system efficiency hovers 90 percent.

“We are able to run all five outdoor production beds year-round, down to single-digit temperatures,” explains Pelz. With a fifth bed, lighting upgrades and greater mix production capacity, he adds, “Our weekly output potential has gone from about 20,000 to 60,000 square feet of structural product.”

The new batch plant has a receiving hopper equal to 22-ton fine and coarse aggregate loads. Newly delivered material is transferred to four, 100-ton overhead aggregate bins in the insulated panel enclosure. The bunker and bins are served with Voeller Mixers’ Agtherm heating system, which forces hot air through fine and coarse aggregate, and encompasses a blower, gas burner, plus ductwork with diverting dampers that control flow to bins’ multiple diffuser assemblies. A crusher breaks up any remaining material clumps after the heating process. PHOTOS: Voeller Mixers (construction); Concrete Products (plant)
The bins feed a skip hoist bucket sized to transfer the full aggregate requirements for each batch loaded into the Voeller Cyclo-Mixer 1855VB, with 6-yd. mixing tank and 5-yd. output. The three 350-bbl. silos have fill tubes bearing anti-overfill devices that prevent vessel and baghouse damage. Batching operations, plus aggregate receiving and heating functions, run on a Windows-based Eagan KF Batch2 controls package.



Glycol-based systems support hot and cold batch water lines, plus lines to production beds carrying steam for curing. Included in the mechanical scheme are two Boilerroom Equipment Inc. HeatSponge units, which recover flue gas heat otherwise released. They contribute to heating system efficiency around 90 percent. The Sidekick Water Boiler Economizer (center, w/recycling symbol label) is for condensing and non-condensing. Pennsylvania-based Boilerroom Equipment notes that the Sidekick can bring condensing efficiency to conventional boilers.


PHOTOS: Concrete Products


The beds adjacent to the John Buster Armbruster Memorial Batch Plant are among 19 production points across an operation divided by a city street. The ATMI Precast flagship has a payroll upward of 250 and on peak days will load and dispatch 50 trucks completing 125 deliveries. It serves Chicago and the rest of Illinois, northern Indiana, plus southern Wisconsin, and has shipped to Kansas and Pennsylvania. A Greenfield, Ind., satellite is equipped for architectural and structural precast/prestressed similar to the Illinois headquarters, but at smaller scale.

ATMI Precast launched as Automatic Teller Modules Inc., a niche operator serving the retail banking market. Within five years of opening shop, Jim and John Ambruster looked beyond modular building precast to full-scale structures, quoting products for bank buildings, then manufacturing and distribution facilities. The producer focused on load-bearing, insulated precast concrete wall panels; architect, developer and general contractor communities embraced the potential for durable, quicker to erect, and better insulated structures—especially as metal building system alternatives.

Since the early 2000s, ATMI Precast has emerged as a full service producer with a complete range of structural and architectural solutions. The Aurora plant carries Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute Plant Certification C3 Prestressed Straight–Strand Structural Members; C3A Commercial Products with an Architectural Finish; and, A1 Architectural Precast Concrete Products. Coupled with design, fabrication and finishing competencies, certification has positioned ATMI to service a broad spectrum of project types, from mid-rise office or residential developments to parking structures. Management attributes solid customer recognition to team members’ service throughout the construction process and maintaining high product quality from one contract to the next.

ATMI Precast runs the premier MF50HD gantry crane. Mi-Jack Products designed the Heavy Duty series with more robust frame and gear features than standard models. The 50-ton model at ATMI followed Mi-Jack’s delivery of twin MH70HDs to a West Coast plant.

Architectural and structural product depth and volume necessitate a full-bore steel inventory and fabrication shop.