2018 in a nutshell

By |  October 8, 2018

A friend emailed me late this summer asking for my take on a few areas of interest related to the crushed stone, sand and gravel industry. The questions for which he sought answers were these:

  • How’s your industry segment doing this year?
  • What do future years look like?
  • What trends are you seeing in the industry?

After hammering away some responses for about 15 minutes, I realized my answers to these open-ended questions could probably stretch to tens of thousands of words. There is, after all, a lot going on in the aggregate industry at the moment, as 2018 has been one of the most exciting years in recent memory to cover the developments and activities surrounding aggregate producers.

It’s been an exciting year, primarily, because the industry is doing very well. Producers are largely experiencing good demand for construction materials, and some markets can be described as thriving.

Demand for frac sand is through the roof at this stage, as it’s driving a flurry of activity in West Texas. Producers are racing to the region to establish sites, get permits and set up plants so they can cash in on an opportunity that’s expected to stretch out for at least another couple of years.

Traditional aggregate producers aren’t necessarily seeing the demand that frac sand producers are, but 2018 has been yet another positive one with plenty of activity to keep aggregate producers busy.

The industry had been waiting for a stretch like this for about a decade. Many producers were waiting to upgrade their plants and fleets, delaying capital investments to a time when their confidence was more rock solid. Fortunately, the time for many to spend is right now.

Talk to most manufacturers, and they’ll echo what their customers say: that the market is healthy and that demand for their products is high.

Demand for data is catching on, as well. More producers see the value in automating their plants with the latest technology, capturing and reacting to details about material flow that allow them to optimize production.

Interest in fleet data is growing, as well. I just had the chance to visit Volvo Construction Equipment’s headquarters in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, where company leaders shared some of their latest developments. The short visit provided a glimpse of where the industry is going.

The industry is headed toward new norms like 24/7 machine monitoring and predictive analyses that determine when machine components, for example, need to be replaced. Having this data and, more importantly, effectively reacting to it will position aggregate producers to operate more efficiently, safely and profitably into the future.

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