Issue Summer 13
RexCon LLC’s owners got their feet wet in the concrete industry decades ago. “My partner and I, Michael Redmond, we didn’t come from a manufacturing background,” RexCon President John “Jake” Jacob explains. “We were raised in the concrete paving business in Chicago. We’ve done installations, we’ve operated plants, we’re familiar with construction sites – that’s how we run our company.”
RexCon understands the concrete business, Jacob emphasizes. “We were distributors in Chicago, and we bought Rex 10 years ago,” he recalls. “We were their largest distributor, and basically, they decided to cancel us as a distributor, so we bought the company. We went from being a distributor to being in the manufacturing business over a weekend.”
This enabled them to bring a fresh set of eyes to the custom manufacturing required to build massive concrete batch plants that produce from 80 to 600 cubic yards an hour. “This was a pretty big learning curve, and we went through quite a few people, but we turned it around and doubled the size of the business,” Jacob says. That necessitated building a new 130,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Burlington, Wis., that began operations in 2009.
“The factory that we moved from really wasn’t designed for manufacturing concrete plants,” Jacob concedes. “Our old factory was 90 years old. It was terrible. It was more of a fabrication facility.”
RexCon hired an industrial engineer to design the manufacturing flow of the new plant. “We did time studies of all the processes of what we do in the factory, and had each person in every department interviewed,” Jacob recalls. “We designed the factory from the inside out. So it’s been designed specifically for our processes that we use in manufacturing plants.”
To show its commitment to the industry, RexCon built its entire factory out of concrete, including the roof. “Even the cranes run on concrete,” Jacob says. “Instead of having steel beams, we have concrete beams like bridge girders. Each panel in our factory is 76,000 pounds of concrete. So it’s a free-standing building with no cross-bracing. We have a clearspan height of 40 feet. It’s an open facility, so it creates a very good flow of your materials, because most of our stuff is big. It comes in one end raw steel and comes out a finished plant, and away it goes.”
Additionally, all the concrete used in the plant was produced by RexCon’s customers in RexCon concrete plants. “So we made a big commitment to our industry by doing that,” Jacob declares. “It’s something we believe in. Concrete is a sustainable green product. We’re a smoke-free facility. We have a very expensive ventilation system so that the temperature in the shop stays constant. Our insulation factor in that building is R-25 – it never gets real hot or cold.”
The factory’s throughput was reorganized so well that instead of the 18 overhead cranes the old factory had, only four overhead cranes are needed. Jacob estimates efficiency has been improved in the new factory by 40 percent without extensive reliance on automation. Because most of the concrete plants are custom-built, it is difficult to automate their manufacture.
The plant has a new blast booth. “We take all the impurities out of the steel with steel shot before we prime it,” Jacob explains. “There’s impurities in it; it has slag and oil from when they make the steel in the mills. We get it as good as you can before it goes to the primer.”
The blast booth can handle pieces 60 feet long by 11 feet wide by 13.6 feet high. The paint booth sprays the parts with coatings and an oven dries them.
A separate department produces the electrical and electronic control systems for its concrete plants. “We’re the only manufacturer in this business that builds and designs our own controls,” Jacob maintains. The company has its own electrical engineers, computer and programming designers and a biochemical engineer.
Each concrete plant has two electrical systems – one 110-volt system for control wiring, and another 480-volt one for the plant’s motors – that are completely separate from the heavy manufacturing processes at the plant. “We build all those panels, design them and build all the wiring for them in-house,” Jacob says. He estimates approximately 6,000 square feet of the plant is devoted to electrical and electronic design and manufacturing.
RexCon also can provide parts for its concrete plants that are still in use. “We have plants running in the field that are 50 years old,” Jacob maintains. “We have a pretty big engineering department, so we can make any parts here going back to the 1930s.”
It took RexCon approximately eight years to digitize all its parts diagrams that were stored on paper, but this enables the company to build older parts to order for customers. “We still have calls from companies running mixers that are over 40 years old that we make parts and replacement drums for,” he insists.
“We made a cognitive decision here to be the best at this business as you can be,” Jacob concludes. “That’s one of the reasons why we build everything here, because we feel that it’s very important for our customers to have only one person to be responsible for everything. I think they appreciate that, because they know that they can get what they want.”