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How Nels Ostero keeps aggregate all in the family

By |  December 22, 2020
Nels Ostero

Nels Ostero’s T-Class screening machines are now in their third season with the company. Photo: Haver & Boecker Niagara

The Peace River region of northeast British Columbia is often associated with rich soils and moderate temperatures, making it an ideal agricultural environment. 

But there is also plenty of money to be made just below the surface through the land’s natural resources. One aggregate producer recognized this in the mid-1960s and decided to take action.

A family history

In 1966, Nels Ostero established a sand and gravel operation in the Peace River region that bears his name. Since then, Nels Ostero has grown significantly, but remains humble and family-oriented. 

Ostero’s son, Tom, took over the plant in 1982. In 2007, his grandson, Nilson, assumed the manager position that he retains today. 

The plant, which resides on 130 hectares (321 acres), supplies sand and gravel for residential and commercial needs in the Peace River Regional District. The company’s products are used in concrete applications, asphalt plants, oilfields and highways. With a capacity of more than 1 million tpy, the equipment on site plays a huge role in the plant’s success.

Finding the right fit

To keep up with the demand of sand and gravel products, the quarry requires top-performing machinery. There are 11 vibrating screens, two crushers and dozens of loaders, trucks and excavators on site, all of which must perform efficiently. 

One equipment provider, Haver & Boecker Niagara, has been delivering equipment to Nels Ostero for decades. In fact, the Canadian-based screening company has been a go-to supplier since the quarry’s first years of establishment – back when the manufacturer was known as W.S. Tyler. 

“My father chose the company because of the reliability of the equipment,” Nilson says. “I have tried some different equipment and screen media brands over the years, but nothing compares to Haver & Boecker Niagara.”

The first piece of Haver & Boecker Niagara equipment the company purchased was a Ty-Rock (today known as an F-Class vibrating screen) installed in 1966. Since then, Nels Ostero added a number of technologies from the manufacturer.

Most recently, Nilson replaced two 7-ft. x 16-ft. screening machines supplied by another manufacturer that were situated at the finishing end of the operation. Having been running since the 1980s, the equipment was outdated, inefficient and required more maintenance, according to Nels Ostero. 

So, Nilson turned to Haver & Boecker Niagara, which evaluated his operation and recommended implementing two Niagara T-Class machines. The new machines have proven themselves a good fit, Nilson says, increasing capacity and requiring little to no maintenance.

“The T-Class machines are on their third season with us, and we haven’t had a single issue,” Nilson says. “They allow us 20 percent more capacity than our old screens, but more importantly, they are stronger and more reliable.” 

Haver & Boecker Niagara characterizes the T-Class machines as highly efficient and durable, which is important to the success of any screening business. This is especially true for this particular operation, which runs through the winters and experiences the effects cold weather can have on material and screening equipment. 

The British Columbia winter weather averages 39 degrees, but it can dip down as low as minus 40. While some plants shut down in the winter, Nilson’s equipment allows him to perform crushing and screening year-round. 

When temperatures remain steadily below 27 degrees, the operation pauses aggregate washing. Still, even with a portion of the operation’s process shut down, the company is able to produce more than an operation that has to completely shut down for several months. 

“The colder it gets outside, the stickier the material becomes,” Nilson says. “The extra moisture can lead to blinding and pegging, resulting in downtime for maintenance to clear out the material. That doesn’t happen with the T-Class machines.” 

Nels Ostero

Markus Kopper, general manager of Haver & Boecker Niagara Rocky Mountains, and Dave Warden, Haver & Boecker Niagara sales manager, worked with Nels Ostero to determine the optimal screen media combination for the operation. Photo: Haver & Boecker Niagara

Additionally, Nilson believes the operations that run smoothly are better able to hire and retain high-quality employees. 

“At the end of the day, if the guys are working with good equipment, they are happier and perform better,” Nilson says. “Safety is obviously a big deal, but another thing is providing efficient, top-notch machines that don’t require unnecessary maintenance.”

Equipment is only one part of the equation, and he quickly found how impactful the screen media would be – especially when it comes to downtime and maintenance.

Downtime decrease 

Maintenance is required on all jobsites, but unexpected maintenance and subsequent shutdowns can equate to a significant loss of money for any company. 

Scheduled maintenance activities are possible with thorough analysis and planning, as well as quality equipment and screen media. Nilson consistently found that any attempt to cut corners only resulted in lost profits. Each time he experimented with lower-cost screen media, he would watch as unexpected downtime and lost revenue skyrocketed. 

“The cost savings [were] attractive, but it was never worth it,” he says. “Cutting corners always meant a sacrifice of some kind, and it inevitably ended up costing me more money.”

Until the operation implemented the Haver & Boecker PROdeck method, the standard screen media required attention after every eight shifts, as well as a complete changeout every two weeks. According to Haver & Boecker Niagara, PROdeck evaluates the screening process to effectively blend screen media for the highest production with the least amount of unscheduled downtime. 

Markus Kopper, general manager of Haver & Boecker Niagara Rocky Mountains, and Dave Warden, Haver & Boecker Niagara sales manager, worked with Nels Ostero to determine the optimal screen media combination for the operation. This included a combination of Ty-Max, Ty-Wire and traditional woven wire, as well as Major’s Flex-Mat.

“Haver & Boecker Niagara partners with each customer and thoroughly evaluates an operation before making recommendations,” Kopper says. “For Nels Ostero, they were able to achieve a 70 percent increase in wear life with our PROdeck approach.”

Nilson also consulted with Haver & Boecker Niagara to determine if any additional upgrades to his vibrating screens could reduce the time required for maintenance and screen changeouts. He found a time-saver in the company’s Ty-Rail quick-tensioning system. The new T-Class machines are equipped with this system, which combines the tension rail and all hardware together in one assembly. Ty-Rail simplifies the process, saving his team at least three hours each time a changeout is needed and helping to eliminate losing nuts and bolts into the hoppers below. 

“A complete screen changeout, on one screen, would have normally taken us five or six hours,” Nilson says. “But with Ty-Rail, we can do it in as few as three hours. And guys aren’t dropping bolts every 15 seconds, so that’s an added bonus.”

The three-hour time savings, coupled with increased throughput, resulted in an overall production increase over the first year. On top of that, Nels Ostero saved an estimated eight to 10 days of downtime per season, equating to an increase of thousands of dollars.

Nels Ostero

Says Nilson Ostero: “A complete screen changeout, on one screen, would have normally taken us five or six hours. But with Ty-Rail, we can do it in as few as three hours.” Photo: Haver & Boecker Niagara

But Ty-Rail wasn’t the only time-saving option Nilson discovered. After years of frequently replacing worn-out crossbeams, he opted to add Zip-Guard to his T-Class machines. The 1/2-in.-thick polyurethane liner is designed to reduce the impact of passing material by protecting the crossbeams from wear. This results in increased equipment longevity and minimized downtime for maintenance.

All of the technologies on site are supported by an ongoing service program, which gives the company an added level of confidence in the products. 

Predicting the future

Since the company’s inception, Nels Ostero has grown to one of the largest sand and gravel producers in its area, employing more than 30 people – several of whom have been with the company for more than 15 years. 

With a constant focus on relationships and quality, the Ostero family built a longstanding business on enduring whatever the economy throws at them – all while maintaining a reputation for consistently providing quality products that meet the demands of their customers. 

Looking to the future, Nilson hopes to continue to grow the business. He hopes to increase output year over year, retain and add employees, and – perhaps most importantly – keep the business in the family and one day pass it on to his children to continue the family tradition.

Information for this article courtesy of Haver & Boecker Niagara.

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