2023 another strong year for the aggregate industry

By |  December 1, 2023
ConExpo-Con/Agg 2023 looked and felt like shows from the not-so-distant past. Photo: P&Q Staff

ConExpo-Con/Agg 2023 looked and felt like shows from the not-so-distant past. Photo: P&Q Staff

The aggregate industry has been on a pretty good run of late.

Demand for aggregates is keeping producers busy, and equipment orders are fueling a healthy amount of activity for manufacturers and dealers.

Overall, the good times are still rolling industrywide.

Looking back years from now, 2023 might not necessarily be thought of as the gangbusters year that some others were. But this year should go down as yet another good one for those with businesses invested in aggregates.

Tech trends that emerged

2023, of course, was a ConExpo-Con/Agg year. While not record-setting, those who attended the March 14-18 trade show found a high-energy environment as they explored the latest equipment.

ConExpo-Con/Agg always serves as an inflection point for where the industry is with technology. Trends that emerged or accelerated at the show this year were digitalization, the electrification of equipment and sustainability. These developments are already shaping operations today, and they’ll take hold more widely in the years to come.

The digitalization of equipment, for one, is here to stay.

“With the iron, it changes,” says Eric Baker, vice president and general manager of Astec Digital. “There’s new developments and innovation. But the real innovation and growth in new technology is more in [digital].”

Electric was all the rage at ConExpo-Con/Agg, as well. Time will ultimately tell if electricity emerges as a winner in construction markets like aggregates.

Ample construction opportunities kept aggregate operations busy in 2023, although the nature of the leading projects is changing. Photo: P&Q Staff

Ample construction opportunities kept aggregate operations busy in 2023, although the nature of the leading projects is changing. Photo: P&Q Staff

“Companies, governments [and] states have put mandates and targets in place,” says Rod Schrader, chairman and CEO of Komatsu North America. “All manufacturers are investing in technology to decarbonize their vehicles. Electric is the first kind of start. I don’t think it’s the only, and it may not even be the winner. There may be other technologies that occur.”

Similarly, sustainability is as front and center as ever for producers. And more manufacturers are exploring how they can meet the needs of a world demanding remarkably lower carbon emissions.

“We have to do things differently over the next five, 10, 15, 20 years than we did in the past to create a more sustainable world as we go forward,” says John Garrison, chairman and CEO of Terex Corp., who will retire at the start of 2024. “We think that creates tremendous opportunities for the types of solutions that we bring.”

Thinking outside the box

Another 2023 development in equipment and technology – one that appeared on the pages of Pit & Quarry early this year – was Luck Stone’s venture with Caterpillar involving autonomous haul trucks.

Luck Stone plans to deploy autonomous haulers at its Bull Run Plant in Chantilly, Virginia, partnering with Cat to outfit a fleet of 777G trucks with Cat MineStar Command for hauling. Project goals are to prove the viability of the technology in the 100-ton class – one whose trucks are sometimes utilized in large quarry environments – and develop a solution that can be commercialized for aggregate producers.

“We’re trying to open up and be curious about the things we don’t know about,” says Charlie Luck, president and CEO of Luck Stone, when visited at CES 2023 in January.

“This is the mindset of everybody on this project. As we think about the financial components, downtime, productivity [and] the complexities of the site, innovating, communicating and working together is where the magic is going to be.”

Working the workforce problem

The inaugural Dirt World Summit in October put the spotlight on an age-old industry issue: the workforce. Photo: P&Q Staff

The inaugural Dirt World Summit in October put the spotlight on an age-old industry issue: the workforce. Photo: P&Q Staff

While advances like autonomous tech and automation will address the industry’s workforce issue – which remains challenge No. 1 for aggregates – more work is ahead to position the industry in a better light with the next generation of workers.

The industry’s workforce issue took center stage at the inaugural Dirt World Summit in October, as leaders across construction trades gathered not only to discuss the problem, but to generate solutions.

“If you think out 25 or 50 years from now, the demographics in this room will be different,” says Jorge Quezada, vice president of people and culture at Granite Construction. “We will have more women in this room – close to 30 to 40 percent. The question we have to ask ourselves [is] what do we have to do different today [for] our companies to have 30 to 40 percent women.”

An industry made up of 40 percent women might seem unachievable today, Quezada says. But the industry must open itself up to untapped talent pools if it’s going to effectively compete in the coming decades.

“Twenty-five to 50 years out, we’re going to be multilingual,” he says. “We’re going to have to figure out systems and ways to communicate differently. We have to prepare ourselves. We have to think about childcare. We have to think about how we get childcare companies to open up their doors at 4:30 in the morning to allow for more women [in the workforce].”

Final thoughts

Sure, plenty of work is ahead for producers to sustain their businesses into the future. For now, at least, resolve continues to drive producers toward their desired results.
This was the case once again in 2023. What’s in store for 2024 will be known soon enough.

“Businesses in our industry need to stay adaptable, innovative and well-informed to navigate potential challenges and capitalize on opportunities as they arise,” says Ian Edwards, vice president of global sales at Major.

Related: Equipment manufacturers cautiously optimistic for 2024

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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