Asphalt Solutions: Astec, Inc. Innovates for Cost-Efficiency

On the road to growth

A leader in the production of warm and hot mix asphalt plants, Astec, Inc. focuses on providing its customers with state-of-theart technologies and innovative products that reduce the cost of doing business

Founded in 1972, and based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Astec Industries was created from a vision of applying creative thinking and state-of-the-art technology to traditionally low-tech industries. Bolstered by an ethos built around putting customer service first, Astec Industries would go on to become a global leader in the manufacture of equipment for asphalt road building, aggregate processing, oil, gas and water well drilling, and wood processing.

“Astec Industries has grown consistently over the last 40- odd years, both through organic expansion and a series of targeted acquisitions,” explains Michael Swanson, Vice President of Operations for Astec, Inc. “Having grown into a corporation of companies spread across the world, making products mainly related to the construction and infrastructure sectors, last year Astec Industries made a turnover of a billion dollars for the first time in its history.”

Astec, Inc. is a division of Astec Industries, and is in itself a world leader in the production of both warm mix and hot mix asphalt equipment technology, support and training. It is the only manufacturer in the world to offer a complete line of portable, relocatable and stationary continuous mix asphalt plants, from 80tph to 600tph, as well as batch mix asphalt plants, soil remediation equipment and wood pellet plants.

“Our product range is constantly expanding and modifying as the market around us changes, but our core business continues to revolve around asphalt plants,” Michael continues. “It was these plants that the company was created to make, was the first thing it ever produced and we are still making them today, on top of our many other valueadded products.”

The United States represents the strongest market for the company, where it presently commands roughly three quarters of the total market share. On an international scale, while it may hold a smaller share of the market, Astec, Inc. is currently making strides to increase its reach in order to become a more dominant global player.

Core products produced by Astec, Inc. include its Double Barrel drum mixer, Unidrum counter flow drum mixer, Phoenix burner series, the Six Pack portable asphalt plant, the portable Voyager120 asphalt plant, Astec’s patented warm mix system, and its new generation long-term storage silos. Alongside its technologically advanced equipment, the company is also committed to providing the world-class sales, service, parts and technical support that its customers expect and demand. Supporting its activities, the company also maintains a large replacement parts inventory.

“The level of service that we provide is well known throughout the industry as being one of our strong suits,” Michael says. “We never walk away from our customers when they are facing challenges, and we have the confidence in our equipment and products to believe that we can make any situation right. We are equally recognizable for the way we always strive to be innovative in what we do. We aim to stay at the forefront of the latest trends and the way we like to think of ourselves is as not necessarily being smarter than anyone else, rather we are a couple of hundred mistakes ahead. We achieve this by listening closely to our customers, specifically pinpointing their needs as they arise. For example, one customer may advise that they need to run higher percentages of recycled asphalt and, while they might not know how to achieve this, they recognize that with our experience and expertise we can come up with the ‘how to’ scenario.”

Continuous improvement

The vast majority of the company’s work revolves around metal forming, specifically cutting and bending, braking and rolling plate or sheet metal. “Within our fabrication shop we have a total of nine plasma tables, and both water jet and laser cutting facilities,” Michael reveals. “Our processes are highly refined and result in quality products that possess considerable life spans, with some of these pieces of equipment lasting up to 20 years or more. At the same time, we are always looking at ways of modernizing our infrastructure in order to grow the business. For instance, this year we intend to replace one of our aging laser cutters with a state-of-the-art model, one which will also eliminate the use of two of our older plasma tables as well. Effectively, one machine will be replacing the current workload of three, thus resulting in cost efficiencies and increasing our capacity.”

Industry firsts

Another advance that Michael is hoping to push through in the coming months is the purchase of a new robotic beam line, which will bring an increased element of automation to the company’s facilities. “The system that we have identified and earmarked for purchase will allow us to take out much of the manual labor used in the process of prepping structural elements, essentially freeing up close to half a dozen individuals,” he describes. “These people can then be moved from the prepping of materials to the actual assembly stage, which we feel will result in a noticeable increase in productivity and a decrease in instances of human error.”

An equally interesting recent development for Astec, Inc. is in fact occurring outside of what has been its traditional market segment. “We are currently in the process of completing what will be our second wood pellet plant,” Michael says. “While not related to the asphalt plant market, the technology and equipment required in both segments is remarkably similar. Having carried out extensive research into this, and identifying the growth potential, we decided to enter into the pellet plant business and remain the world’s only producer of full turnkey pellet plants.”

The company’s wood pellet plant features a number of industry firsts and is poised to change the wood pellet production industry. The modular design of the plant results in there being virtually no points in the process where any equipment failure can shut the entire plant down. It has also been designed so that major maintenance cycles can be performed line-by-line while the plant continues to operate its other lines. The plant’s modular design also allows for a quick and easy set up process, with most major plant components preassembled at its facility before being shipping to site.

It is clear to see that Astec Inc. is very much in building mode at present and as part of this it is one of Michael’s jobs to target the international expansion of the business. “We are working to develop some strong resources outside North America to be better positioned to provide more attractive pricing and delivery schedules to our international customers even at times when the strength of the US dollar acts as an effective upcharge for those customers.”

The criteria that Michael has to consider when it comes to possible partners is varied and includes things like labor costs, existing facilities and geographic location, the latter relating specifically to access to ports and other transport infrastructure.

“From a manufacturing perspective, my role also involves identifying ways of growing our capabilities by around 30 per cent over a five-year period,” Michael concludes. “We are currently in year two of this cycle and we are already proving our ability to ramp up production, while maintaining our high levels of quality and safety, and that bodes extremely well for the future ambitions of the business.”

Astec, Inc.
Products: Asphalt equipment, technology and plants