'Rock to Road' the world over

After recently consolidating its sixteen industry-renowned brands under the Astec banner, including Kolberg-Pioneer, Osborn Engineering, Telsmith, Johnson Crushers International, Astec Mobile Screens and Telestack, amongst others, Astec Industries is embarking on a major global expansion of its comprehensive product and linked services offering across the crushing and screening, material handling, washing and classifying, rock breaker technology, asphalt and concrete sectors. Guy Woodford reports
Crushing Static & Mobile / July 8, 2022
By Guy Woodford
Astec crushing and screening plant at work in the Hillhead 2022 Demonstration Zone

Astec Industries CEO & President Barry Ruffalo is very upbeat as Aggregates Business sits down with him at Hillhead 2022 near Buxton, Derbyshire, England. He notes the surprisingly good sunny weather that has accompanied his first visit to the major UK quarrying, construction, and recycling exhibition. He has also travelled from Astec’s Chattanooga, Tennessee HQ with a big story to tell – of exciting plans to significantly increase the U.S. off-highway machine manufacturing giant’s world market presence.

Astec CEO & President Barry Ruffalo at Hillhead 2022
Astec CEO & President Barry Ruffalo next to the Hillhead 2022 Demonstration Zone featuring Astec crushing & screening plant

“Nothing is recession proof, but there is a real need for the equipment Astec produces. Globally we’ve seen strong demand for our products, despite a prolonged period of economic uncertainty. The world needs more infrastructure, whether that’s roads, rail, or telecommunications. Our products and what we do as a company supports that.”

Ruffalo stresses that Astec has already been a global company for a “long time”. “Telsmith is a good example of one of our brands recognised as a [world] leader in crushing. Dealer organisations and customers are asking us to come here [UK and mainland Europe]. They recognise the value our products bring, and the service and support that comes with that. We are further investing in our [Telestack] Omagh [County Tyrone, Northern Ireland] facility and expanding it, having already expanded it not too long ago. We are excited about increasing our presence, producing products with high quality materials and tapping into the abundance of engineering knowledge in Northern Ireland.”

Artist's rendering of Astec's expanded site in Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
Artist's rendering of Astec's expanded site in Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland

Astec’s new Omagh site expansion project will add an additional 44,000 square feet to the facility, bringing the total to nearly 100,000 square feet and the total investment in the site since Astec’s acquisition of Telestack in 2014 to nearly US$10 million. Astec plans to break ground on the enlarged facility in late 2022 with an expected completion by mid-2023. Currently accommodating an Omagh area-based workforce of around 200, the larger site will add more than 80 jobs over the next 24 months.

Asked whether Astec has found it a challenge to attract Northern Ireland-based engineering talent to the company given the wealth of other quarrying plant manufacturers based in the region, Ruffalo says: “We have generated a lot of interest. We have done some recruiting, but a lot of talent is coming to us. They know our story and want to be part of something special. It validates the journey we are on.

“We are already producing Astec products in Omagh, which are being supplied to customers in Europe and around the world. We are going as fast as we can working with our people and supply chains. In my visits to the Omagh site and County Tyrone generally, I realise it is a special place. Fully leveraging the resources and industry talent there is going to take us to another level.”

Ruffalo says that alongside strengthening its product manufacturing capabilities outside North America, Astec is looking to partner with more dealers in key regional markets to help execute its global growth plan.

An Astec VSI in action
An Astec vertical shaft impactor (VSI) on customer quarry site

I ask Ruffalo how he sees Astec standing out in the ultra-competitive premium global quarrying equipment market? “Our people are our most important resource. Their industry knowledge and pride for what they do, along with their commitment to and relationships with customers, is what sets them apart. When you think of our new OneASTEC business model, the customer is in the middle of it, and our people live and breathe that.

“Our ‘Rock to Road’ value chain helps us stand out as well. We have rock crushing and screening and washing products, asphalt and concrete batching plants, and road construction machines. A lot of our customers are not, for example, just paver or quarry operators. As the global market consolidates, we expect our customers will take on more construction responsibilities, and we can help them do it. When you can also give those customers enhanced data and digital analytics, it is an even better offer.”

Barry Ruffalo by the 'Rock to Road' display on Astec's Hillhead 2022 stand
Astec's Barry Ruffalo in front of the company's 'Rock to Road' value chain display at Hillhead 2022

How to ensure a more sustainable quarrying and quarrying machine industry was a key theme during Hillhead 2022. What does Astec offer its current and potential new customers in this area?

“In our OneASTEC business model, sustainability is identified as a key driver of our success. When I joined Astec and met with customers, I did not get many questions on sustainable solutions. Today, eight out of ten customers ask how we can help them with their sustainability goals.

“We have a good sustainability story to tell when it comes to recycled asphalt or concrete. Moving forward, all new products will have a sustainable component to them.

“We’ve used electric generators for over fifty years, so we will continue to roll sustainable power solutions into our product lines.”

Ruffalo says Astec is also doing a lot to make sure its global real estate is operating sustainably. “Our facility in Johannesburg is partly powered by solar panels, and we’re looking for other opportunities to use solar power. We are also evaluating the carbon footprint of concrete and asphalt plants and researching how we can reduce them to give a better solution to our customers.”

Before joining Astec in August 2019, Ruffalo was employed by Valmont Industries, the diversified global producers of highly engineered fabricated metal products, where he served in group president roles since 2016, having previously served as the company’s executive vice-president of operational excellence.

Prior to Valmont Industries, Ruffalo was employed by Lindsay Corporation, one of the global leaders in proprietary water-management and road infrastructure products and services.

“When I joined Astec, we were ‘Rock to Road’ plus some other things. Today, we have divested assets not within the ‘Rock to Road’ value chain, simplified our approach and focused on what gives customers value,” he explains. “We have the ‘Rock to Road’ engineering knowledge, the right commercial acumen. We know this business and our customers and that is why we are investing all our time in it.”

Astec GT205S screener
An Astec GT205S screener in action

Analysing Astec’s market footprint beyond North America and growth opportunities, Ruffalo says: “We have a good and growing commercial presence in Latin America. We have a good presence in Australia and New Zealand, on the mining, asphalt, and concrete side of our business.

“We have facilities in Brazil, South Africa and Northern Ireland. Our [Belo Horizonte] site in Brazil used to operate independently, with no connection to our U.S. or Johannesburg sites. We have made it easier to do business within our company and operate more regionally. The site in Johannesburg, for example, is no longer an Osborn Engineering facility, it is an Astec site that has a commercial reach into Africa and the Middle East.

“As we grow globally, we will continue to focus on two areas of operation: [product] specs that add value for our customers and a supply chain that maximises customer support at a local level.”

Stephen Whyte, Group Vice President, Product Management at Astec, and Ron Earl, Astec’s Group Vice President, Sales and Marketing, have been listening to Aggregates Business’s conversation with Ruffalo, which followed an enjoyable on-stand discussion with the pair the day before.

“Barry has brought a big product management focus to the table. We now have dedicated product managers,” says Earl.

“We have grown as a company,” continues Ruffalo, highlighting how Dr. J. Don Brock, Astec’s former CEO and chairman, who died in 2015 following a battle with cancer, had done “everything” within the company he helped found in 1972. “Dr. Brock was the CEO, chairman, top product manager, the marketing guy. He would be the first to say, ‘I can take this company to a billion dollars [annual turnover], but someone else has to take it to four or five billion.’

“Taking on Ron’s point, we needed to take a step back and work out what we had to do to make Astec a really sustainable growth story.”

“The biggest thing we did as a company is getting that product focus while still connecting with the other areas of Astec, allowing us to work together internally and exchange ideas on products innovation and telematics platforms,” adds Earl, who has worked for the company for 23 years. “The OneASTEC approach has also leveraged our financial and business investment strength.”

Astec plant being seen at work in the Hillhead 2022 Demonstration Zone
Hillhead 2022 attendees watch Astec crushers & screeners in action in the exhibition's Demonstration Zone

“We have a strong balance sheet and acquisition is going to be part of our growth strategy,” emphasises Ruffalo. “Personally, I like the opportunity to grow with partners who understand how to operate in the markets they trade in. As we evaluate potential partnerships or acquisitions, it needs to work for both parties, but nothing is off the table.”

As the conversation draws to a close and stand and quarry demonstration area photographs to accompany Aggregates Business’s Astec focus feature are discussed, Ruffalo says: “Attending a big event like this as an Astec employee, I’m proud to see the Astec branding and presence and to hear the positive feedback from our customers and our dealers, and dealers representing other brands. It is another exciting step on a long journey.”

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