How producers are making the most of available tech (Part 1)

By |  July 28, 2022
Polydeck’s Jerry Teague says his company is exploring technology it can incorporate into screen media panels to provide users insights via their smartphones. Photo: PamElla Lee Photography

Polydeck’s Jerry Teague says his company is exploring technology it can incorporate into screen media panels to provide users insights via their smartphones. Photo: PamElla Lee Photography

The following transcript was edited from one of two concurrent discussions at this year’s Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference. For Part 2 of this series, click here.

P&Q: With labor shortages enduring and existing plants and equipment fleets aging, more aggregate producers are actively making investments to prepare their operations for the decades to come. For producers: What transformational equipment and technology are you investing in that you expect to shore up the business? In what ways are you ‘doing more with less’ these days? Also, how are you going about purchasing here in 2022? For manufacturers, dealers and others: In what areas are you investing resources to develop or provide solutions that make producers more efficient? For everyone: AGG1 2022 was very well attended, and ConExpo-Con/Agg 2023 is next March. What are your expectations for ConExpo? Will producers return after largely bowing out of ConExpo in 2020? What sorts of new offerings should the industry expect at the trade show? Similarly, are your companies looking at June’s Hillhead and October’s Bauma as opportunities?

PATRICK WEAVER (L&H INDUSTRIAL): I think equipment and technologies have pushed a lot of the decision-making because of a lack of being able to get some of these electronics in. One of the biggest requests we are seeing on our end is to automate legacy equipment. Customers will ask: ‘Can you make my old stuff do the fancy stuff that new equipment does?’ We’re being asked to go into R&D to find ways to bring legacy equipment up to industry standards from a safety and innovation standpoint. We’ve seen a lot of that. You have to be very realistic with them because it can be very costly. You don’t want to get too far down that rabbit hole without the customer understanding that we can make it do whatever you want, but there’s a cost to getting there.

BRIAN VRABLIC (RULMECA CORPORATION): There’s earlier adoption of technology with some of the larger producers out there. You see a lot of the Vulcans, the Martin Mariettas and those sorts of companies are early adopters of automated vehicles, electric vehicles and data capture. They all want data. Everybody wants data. We’re not seeing that same level of adoption at the smaller producer levels largely because it’s so expensive. It’s a matter of finding that right balance between providing equipment that has capabilities for data capture, for making your operations more efficient from a technology standpoint and managing the costs appropriately.

KEATON TURNER (TURNER MINING GROUP): One thing driving technology adoption from some of our clients are ESG (environmental, social and governance) initiatives. The larger, publicly traded clients have an ESG score they’re trying to achieve. A lot of that comes from clean equipment, hydrogen equipment and electric vehicles. A client of ours built a solar farm just to power the mine and all the mine equipment, which is a whole lot different than they would’ve done things 10 years ago. It’s an ESG approach from a big private-equity company. We see ESG driving a lot of these technology adopters. It’s not always cost-effective; sometimes it’s cost prohibitive. But when you’re looking for an ESG score, that’s the way to get it.

JERRY TEAGUE (POLYDECK): We’ve seen a lot different ways to capture data. Dealing with screen machines, I want to know the strokes, the speed and so much about that machine as easy as possible. We’re looking at technology we can input into our panels that will let you read from a smartphone – what condition your panels are in, wearing, things of that nature. We’re hearing a lot of people who are looking to that type of technology.

JOHN SCEPANIAK (WM. D. SCEPANIAK): We’re primarily utilizing equipment and technology innovations to apply to the learning curve – borehole pressure, for example. Anytime we configure the control panel, we have our systemic interlock. So the operator cannot fire the plant up as long as the procedure hasn’t been done. That’s been a huge help for us because it spares a lot of hard lessons that a new operator would have to learn by hitting the wrong button in the wrong sequence. Something as simple as that we’re really looking at, because even if you have an experienced operator going to a different plant and a different configuration, it just makes everything universal for them.

WEAVER: I think the reason you’re seeing so much effort put into technology is not only about wanting all these bells and whistles, but it goes back to hiring. Most of these kids coming out of college are used to having the technology, and that’s what they expect. They want something that says: ‘I’ve got a problem down here, and this what I think it is. So now I’ll go look at it.’ I think that’s where it’s going very quickly. I think we’re going to keep seeing more and more of that in hiring practices because these kids are coming in and saying: ‘What technology does your company have? What can I use in my job that’s going to make it easier so I don’t have to walk day after day in the cold to do that stuff? I want something to tell me when I have a problem.’

AVERY MARTIN (SANDVIK): The new equipment that we’re selling has a lot of technology, a lot of automation. We’ve created simulators for each of those products so we can train operators. One of the benefits from that is we can pretty much take anybody and put them on that machine. If we have a veteran operator who’s been operating a machine we built 20, 25 years ago and you try to put them on that machine with the new technology, they really struggle with it. It’s become a lot easier to train people who have never even drilled a hole before.

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