OH&S Products

The original Vertical Shaft Impactor

The story of the Barmac VSI dates back to the late 1960s when New Zealander, Jim Macdonald, was promoted to the role of street works engineer for the Wellington City Council. This job involved taking charge of Kiwi Point Quarry, a run-down quarry where the established set-up could not produce the product or shape required.

“Jim thought about what sort of rock crusher could be made in the council workshop, based on two ideas: breaking stones being only a brute force activity and steel being protected from abrasive wear by a layer of trapped stone. He believed it should not be too hard to come up with a solution,” says Bryan Bartley, co-inventor of the Barmac VSI, the original rock-on-rock VSI.

By 1970, Mr Macdonald had designed and manufactured his first crusher. Mr Bartley, who at the time was the general manager of central engineering services for the Winstone Group of companies, heard about Mr Macdonald’s idea of a machine that crushed stone against stone, rather than stone against metal. He also heard this machine was producing a very high quality product. Having not had any other encouragement from the quarrying industry, Mr Macdonald welcomed Mr Bartley’s interest and the pair began working together.

The partnership between the two worked brilliantly. Both men enjoyed the technical discussions, developing different features and evaluating the results of the machine.
“Jim believed Kiwis could do anything and he had an inventive ability and enthusiasm that was contagious. He had a vision of the sort of crusher that could be made in the council workshop. The surprise was it could produce almost perfect cubical shaped particles of all sizes.”

Mr Bartley continues, “Jim was also a remarkable leader. Following World War II, he was New Zealand’s most decorated naval officer. During his service, he was awarded two bars for DSO and one for DSC, with bars to each, and also a Royal Humane Society commendation for saving life at sea. All this by the age of 27.”

For his own part, Mr Bartley brought over 16 years of experience in quarry plant design, installation and management that complemented Mr Macdonald’s skills perfectly.

“The early experimental machines had encountered a few problems, namely they could burn out a rotor in 10 minutes,” said Mr Bartley.

The major breakthrough came while experimenting with a machine that he had built for his employer Winstone’s. He found the use of tungsten carbide tips, acquired from old drill bits, increased the wear life of the rotor tips, from three hours to six weeks. This meant the machine became economically and commercially viable. Soon afterwards, the two men formed a partnership, which they called the Barmac Associates.

Both partners in Barmac Associates were otherwise employed, with Mr Macdonald becoming Wellington city engineer. Consequently, they could not take part in manufacturing and selling the machine, so they went about selling licences. The first licences were given to three New Zealand companies, two of which went on selling expeditions to Australia, which resulted in a fourth licence being issued in Australia. In the late 1970s, two significant licences were granted, the first to Kemco of Japan and the second to Croft Impresa in the United Kingdom.

The machine was known as the Macdonald Impactor in those early years. However, it was felt that confusion surrounded the name MacDonald because it was shared with a foundry manufacturing hammer mills and also by a company that made hamburgers.
“So, at the request of the early licensees, the name of the crusher was changed to Barmac.”

Mr Bartley and Mr Macdonald were awarded equal first in the UDC Finance Inventors Award in 1979, and together they developed and patented the Duopactor. This design represented a significant improvement in energy efficiency.

About this time, Mr Macdonald and Mr Bartley met Paul Tidmarsh. Mr Tidmarsh owned a small engineering shop in Matamata, New Zealand, and he had been manufacturing machines for one of the New Zealand licensees. Mr Tidmarsh was a Barmac enthusiast and as he was not being regularly paid for his machines, he approached Barmac Associates for his own manufacturing and retailing licence.

“We offered Tidmarsh and his company, Tidco, a non-exclusive licence to sell Barmacs to the North American market. Tidmarsh arranged to take a group to the United States to attend the Con/Agg Expo in Las Vegas, with the goal of establishing a dealer network through the United States,” says Mr Bartley.

The group, including Andi Lusty, Mr Bartley and Mr Macdonald, were ready to take the next big step.

Sadly, Jim Macdonald did not make it. He died of cancer a week before the group was due to leave.

In the years following Mr Macdonald’s death, the Barmac VSI enjoyed a dramatic rise in sales. Mr Bartley believes sensible changes and developments to the machine and rotor design, along with high manufacturing quality, all contributed to Barmac VSI’s success.
“Credit must go to Paul. His ability to employ good people and the establishment of a quality management culture formed the basis of this success,” says Mr Bartley.

As Tidco’s business grew rapidly and the Kiwi dollar appreciated, the demand for more capital was increased. The opportunity to acquire the UK licensee Croft Impressa added further demands for capital and, by the end of the 1980s, Mr Tidmarsh was in need of more funds to meet the demand for the product. In 1990, Mr Tidmarsh agreed to sell the company to Swedish corporation, Svedala, the largest corporate group in the industry. With Svedala’s financial muscle, the company increased its turnover six-fold during the next six years.

Mr Tidmarsh left the company in 1992, leaving behind the quality culture that remains today. In 1995, Svedala acquired Barmac Associates, including the patents and the Barmac name. In 2000, Metso, a Finnish multi-national conglomerate, duly swallowed Svedala to form a new global leader in the mineral processing industry.

The Barmac VSI’s manufacturing and sales facilities have remained in Matamata, despite the two mergers.

Mr Bartley said, “I am a patriotic New Zealander and was disappointed to see the company sold to a foreign owner. However, I praise the decision to keep the manufacturing of the Barmac VSI in Matamata. The management there has a willingness to try new production techniques. They produce high quality machines, with automobile paintwork, matched with outstanding parts and backup service. It was a very astute decision to keep the manufacturing there.”

The relationship between Metso Barmac and Mr Bartley has continued, although Metso now own the intellectual property.

Mr Bartley says, “I watch the progress of the Barmac with interest. I am invited to meet and speak to overseas customers and visitors to the Barmac factory in Matamata, which is always a pleasure. I will always have a common interest with those in Matamata regarding the success of the Barmac.”

Over the last 36 years, the Barmac VSI has found a niche in many different applications, from aggregate and mineral processing applications to recycling.

Mr Bartley says, “The crusher was always satisfying a need of our customers. The Barmac was originally invented as a tertiary crusher for a badly run-down quarry plant in very hard greywacke rock – and it sure did that well. However, I have been surprised and delighted to see the developments for the Barmac.”

The Barmac has been used in such diverse applications as crushing carburundum (sintered Chinese bauxite) grinding grit, crushing cast iron for cast iron powder, crushing steel swarf for grit blasting flakes, crushing copper slag and aluminium slag to release metal, and manufacturing sand to replace the use of natural sand.

Mr Bartley believes the future will see the Barmac continue to grow in the quarrying industry, as the ideal, final reduction machine, producing cubical shape in all sizes and manufactured sand. Mr Bartley is intrigued by the opportunities in the industrial minerals field, due to the machine’s reduction ability and at an efficient cost. He also sees potential in crushing and grinding in the mining industry, where acceptance of the Barmac VSI has, to date, been slow.

Mr Bartley, often referred to as ‘Mr Barmac’ by visitors to the factory, enjoys reminiscing about the past.

“Looking back, the only thing I would have done differently was to charge higher royalties!” jokes Mr Bartley.

The story of the original rock on rock VSI is a story of a great invention, which was developed and supported by talented people.

Mr Bartley concludes, “We have a truly great product, but it’s the people who are most important. The success of the Barmac is a credit to Jim Macdonald, and to people, such as Paul Tidmarsh and Andi Lusty, who continued working with the crusher after Jim’s death, taking it to great heights. I am proud to have been part of Barmac’s history.”

Scott Parsonage provides marketing support for Barmac VSI (Metso Minerals).

Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend