The big picture: Efficiency maintains family business

By |  January 6, 2015
Mullinax CEO Nathan Mullinax describes the HP200 cone crusher as the heart of his crushing operation.

Mullinax CEO Nathan Mullinax describes the HP200 cone
crusher as the heart of his crushing operation.

A family-owned Wyoming business considers all aspects of its operation to maintain profitability and longevity.

Third-generation Mullinax Inc. CEO Nathan Mullinax knows quality products and reliable service have been hallmarks of his family’s business since it was established in 1952.

Over the years, high efficiency has also become a primary element of his family’s successful business. In operating his mobile crushing service, Mullinax puts efficient communication, equipment and work methods at the top of his priorities.

“We recently shrunk our truck fleet from 12 end dumps with pups to seven larger-capacity four-axle side dumps that move about 40 percent more material with the same amount of labor,” says Mullinax, whose company is based in Sheridan, Wyo. “Some costing data revealed that we can do 40 percent more work with the larger trucks, reducing fuel, repair and maintenance costs.”

Five of Mullinax’s seven trucks are Peterbilt 379s, Peterbilt’s flagship truck from 1987 until the 2007 model year. The other two are Kenworth T-800s.

In combination with the high-capacity trucks, Mullinax relies on four Komatsu WA450-6 wheel loaders and one Komatsu 320.

“The loaders do a very good job and they’re economic to operate,” Mullinax says. “I do extensive costing on equipment and have found that, in just over 12,000 hours, the fuel and maintenance cost of operating one of my Komatsu loaders is about $28 per hour. The maintenance piece of that includes all fixed components of the machine, from headlights to tires and changing oil and air filters.”

In adding the cost of labor and capital replacement, Mullinax finds he can operate his loaders for about $62 per hour.

Equipment

The Metso HP200 is the cone crusher Mullinax describes as “the heart of his portable crushing operation.” He selected the HP200 because of its higher angle and high rpm. According to Metso, the HP Series cone crushers feature a unique combination of crusher speed, throw and cavity design.

“Higher-frequency crushers make it easier for us to meet city, county and state specifications,” Mullinax says. “It also allows us to improve our production rate. Road base is our biggest focus right now. Producing it economically and to spec are key elements of our crushing company’s sustainability.”

Mullinax’s portable crushing spread also includes a Komatsu BR380 jaw crusher and a 6-ft. x 20-ft. Superior screen.

To avoid an inventory of material that’s out of spec, Mullinax crushes “premier” gravel that meets Wyoming’s highest city, county and state grading standards. The practice reduces the need to track multiple stockpiles of different types of material and aids in fine-tuning crusher settings with each move.

Permitting

A network of family-owned gravel quarries in the state also helps Mullinax control costs. When it comes to permitting, Mullinax enjoys an additional advantage.

“Early in my career I worked for other construction companies,” Mullinax says. “Through that experience I learned a number of things that help me streamline our family business. Gaining a thorough understanding of the permitting process has allowed me to handle all of our company’s permitting needs. Typically, engineering firms complete this kind of work and the costs can be significant.”

Among the knowledge Mullinax gained is an ability to recognize ways permitting parameters can aid the mining process – something engineers can easily overlook.

“As a civil engineer, I came to understand permitting requirements very well,” Mullinax says. “Basically, understanding requirements such as the Clean Water Act, land-quality and air-quality requirements gives you what you need to successfully apply for permits. Learning what tests need to be completed and how to do them provides the necessary permit information. Combining that understanding with a thorough knowledge of the mining process means the permit can meet all requirements without hindering mining activities.”

When temperatures drop to levels that prohibit gravel production, Mullinax keeps equipment in service with recycling projects. Most of Mullinax’s jobs take the company to a customer’s site where recycling materials are stockpiled. Primarily, jobs consist of recycling reclaimed concrete and asphalt. Mullinax also recycles his company’s concrete washout, making it an asset to the company’s products rather than a liability.

“For years we struggled with how to dispose of concrete washout,” Mullinax says. “It accumulated pretty quickly and we were constantly searching for places we could haul and bury it, or looking for a draw where it could be used as a filler. We have started blending the washout stockpile with recycled concrete or asphalt, which is a much more economic and environmentally friendly way to dispose of it.”

A Komatsu excavator loads a side-dump haul truck with material.

A Komatsu excavator loads a side-dump haul truck
with material.

Business management and maintenance

Because the company includes mobile crushing, concrete production, irrigation services and construction supplies, maintaining communications with employees and keeping equipment at peak performance requires an organized approach. The detailed system Mullinax has established makes it all work together smoothly.

“With employees, we take a hard line on safety no matter which segment of the company they’re working in,” Mullinax says. “For instance, if a driver is delivering concrete product in a mixer truck in the morning, when he arrives he will talk to an onsite supervisor who’s completed a job-safety analysis to learn about any hazards of the job, any specifics of the project that are important to successfully completing it.”

The Mullinax maintenance process includes five dedicated mechanics who receive weekly reports on every piece of equipment, from four-wheelers to the largest excavators.

“Every Friday night the hour meter on each piece of equipment is input, so a report is generated for the maintenance supervisor,” Mullinax says. “Over the weekend, the supervisor inputs equipment data and determines the date and time for oil and filter changes, tire maintenance and every aspect of maintenance for each piece of equipment. We also maintain service records so at any time we can review all the maintenance activities for all our equipment.”

One unique aspect of the company’s oil maintenance program is testing oil on a weekly basis. Mullinax has found that oil life can be extended, adding to overall economic and labor efficiency.

“We don’t routinely change oil based on time or hours of equipment use,” Mullinax says. “Many times oil remains in good condition past manufacturing recommendations. We’ve found different machines are like different people. One engine is harder on oil than another and testing results are a more accurate and effective measure of oil quality.”

Detailed observation of equipment efficiency and coordinated maintenance downtimes also aid the overall production of all Mullinax products.

“A work order will go to every piece of equipment each week so the operator is aware of when that machine is scheduled for maintenance downtime,” Mullinax says. “While operators inspect their equipment each day, they know that a maintenance supervisor is closely observing the machine and they don’t have to worry about how effectively it will perform.”

If an operator identifies a machine deficiency, they provide a written report of the problem to the maintenance supervisor who schedules repair.

“Our maintenance structure greatly reduces downtime,” Mullinax says. “We also benefit from having an in-house NAPA store that services only our company. Parts specific to our fleet are stocked in the store and NAPA experts are right there to assist in any performance issues. We enjoy discounted supply prices and immediate service, all of which has proven to be a great benefit.”

Takeaways

Mullinax knows that passing a business such as his down through three generations often poses immense hurdles. He believes maintaining family ownership benefits every aspect of the company.

“Because of our family involvement, our business expertise has great depth,” Mullinax says. “We also stress family values for our employees and encourage them to take time to be involved in family activities as much as possible. We believe all of that contributes to strong company morale.

“We also stress respect for one another and often hear employees comment on their appreciation of that value,” Mullinax says. “Our customers know we’ve provided quality service and products for many years. That will continue to be a strength of our company.”

Take note

To avoid an inventory of material that’s out of spec, Mullinax crushes “premier” gravel that meets Wyoming’s highest city, county and state grading standards.

Loretta Sorensen is a freelance writer in Yankton, S.D. She produces material on a variety of topics, serves as a ghostwriter, and has authored her own books.

Allison Barwacz

About the Author:

Allison Barwacz is the digital media manager for North Coast Media (NCM). She completed her undergraduate degree at Ohio University where she received a Bachelor of Science in magazine journalism from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. She works across a number of digital platforms, which include creating e-newsletters, writing articles and posting across social media sites. She also creates content for NCM's Portable Plants magazine, GPS World magazine and Geospatial Solutions. Her understanding of the ever-changing digital media world allows her to quickly grasp what a target audience desires and create content that is appealing and relevant for any client across any platform.

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