While the base technology that underpins crushers has not dramatically changed for more than a century, there are still manufacturers that seek to think outside the box. Quarry spoke to Superior Industries’ Mike Schultz who is championing more innovative thinking in the crushing space.
The COVID-19 pandemic of the past 18 months has shaken industry. It has impacted supply chains and forced many countries that had decades ago wound down their manufacturing bases (including Australia) to reconsider the importance of restoring a local manufacturing base.
Even before the pandemic started, the quarrying industry and its suppliers around the world were consolidating resources. “Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen a domination of the larger producers buying up the smaller producers, and some smaller producers sold out to the big guys, and the same thing is happening with the manufacturers,” Mike Schultz of Superior Industries, told Quarry.
Certainly, in Australia, some family-run and independent quarrying producers have not completely given up their identities but have continued to trade under the wings of larger blue-chip companies, with the likes of the Mawsons Group being part-owned by Adbri Limited. Abroad, we’ve also seen large OEMs bring former competitors under their wings, including Metso Outotec acquiring McCloskey International, Wirtgen becoming a John Deere company and Terex MPS recently buying MDS International. Seven Group, which owns WesTrac, a distributor of Caterpillar equipment in New South Wales, ACT and Western Australia, has most recently diversified by assuming majority ownership in Boral Limited.
A risk perceived of OEMs consolidating is that there is less competition and choice of plant, equipment and services for quarrying producers. But there is also another concern that innovation could be a casualty of consolidation and that there is little, if any, product differentiation that will enable quarries to raise efficiency and productivity in their operations.
“I did 20 years with a large OEM as a product manager and most of the designs that were there when I started were still the designs when I left,” Schultz said. “A lot of the time when you see development in those companies which have product lines for a long time, you just see an upgrade to an existing product.”
This is particularly pertinent in a segment in which the base technology – eg the crusher – has not remarkably changed in more than a century.
Superior Industries, headquartered in Minnesota, USA, is seeking to change this global narrative, both in its homeland and Australia. The 50-year-old company engineers, manufactures and supplies bulk crushing, screening, washing and conveying systems plus all related parts and services for the quarrying and mining industries. In Australia, its distributors include Tricon Equipment and 888 Crushing & Screening Equipment.
“If we go all the way back to the beginning of Superior, it was a fabrication shop that was servicing the aggregates and mining industries,” Schultz told Quarry. “Then our folks decided to jump into the crushing and screening market. The depth of Superior in the past 50 years was the conveying market. It was serving all of these customers but only providing one segment of the equipment that was necessary.”
VOICE OF CUSTOMER
Superior Industries began developing products for the crushing and screening market in 2016. With more than 25 years’ experience in the crushing segment, including 20 years on Terex brands such as Cedarapids, Pegson and Jaques, Schultz said he was “attracted to the Superior team because we were starting with a clean sheet of paper. Having been in the industry for as long as I had been, I knew the advantages and disadvantages, and pitfalls and issues that people have had along the way.
“To paint it with a broad stroke,” he explained, “the advantage is that you start with something that you design from the ground up, being able to avoid the pitfalls that we know exist with other manufacturers’ designs. It’s about developing something with a team with fresh eyes and fresh perspective, not a team of engineers that has been designing plant for 30 years and has its own way of doing things. All of that translates into very innovative, cost-effective, efficient product lines that are safe and easy to work on. We have tried to blend all of those things into whatever product line we sell. I think our task is easier because we don’t have to fight the old historical machine battle.”
Today, Schultz is in Superior’s specially titled position of crushing and screening product champion. Schultz described his position as an “amalgamation of different roles. I’m a technical liaison between the sales teams and the customer, and the sales teams and the engineering teams. There is mentoring that goes on with that, there’s some teaching and learning responsibilities, and there’s some direct customer relationship responsibilities. It’s a combination of different roles, geared more at the technical aspects of crushing and screening”.
“The mindset was Superior wanted a ‘one-stop’ solution for the customers and we wanted to provide equipment from the rockface to the load out,” Schultz explained. “In order to do that, we had to develop the products. Obviously crushers, vibratory equipment, screens and feeders, and washing equipment was a huge part of that.
“I would say our streamlined approach to these was defined by our customers. Before we develop any products we have a process called the ‘Voice of customer’. We go out and talk to the customers and we ask: ‘Hey, listen, we are going to go into in this market. What part of this market is important to you? What do you use the most? Where would you like to see significant developments in this market?’ And so that’s what we use as our guideline. Our streamlined approach really is determined by our market and our customers’ voice telling us where we need to be at in that space.”
Schultz added that producers to an extent require and like a “level of standardisation”, especially if there are full plant builds required. It is easier for them if they are negotiating with a single company. “Our market asked us – given we are privately held, not as large as some of our competitors and not solely focused on our product lines – to build crushing and screening products so they don’t have to deal with the downsides of larger companies. That’s been a feather in our cap because we’re smaller and more versatile, and able to be at our market’s beck and call.”
CUSTOM DESIGNS FOR MULTIPLE CUSTOMERS
What distinguishes Superior Industries is its capacity to custom design, manufacture and assemble plant and equipment to suit the producer’s needs. “We have a construction management team within our group that do turnkey installations of full plants, completely designed, erected, started up and run by us. That’s odd for a manufacturer to offer that kind of service,” Schultz explained.
Superior Industries has in the past five years introduced four crusher product lines – the Liberty jaw crusher, the Patriot cone crusher, the Valor vertical shaft impact crusher and the Sentry horizontal shaft impact crusher. These four lines cater to what Schultz describes as the company’s three market segments – the smaller, mid-range and larger quarrying producers.
The smaller producer, he said, is more of the “mobile guy, that runs fairly small production machines, and maybe does contract crushing”. The mid-range producer has machines that are “larger versions of the small producer, maybe numerous crushing plants on wheels or tracks, all the way up to a quarry that’s producing half a million to 750,000 tonnes per year”. The large producer is “always in fixed plant production, high power, high tonnage machines, probably producing three quarters of a million to multi-million tonnes per year”.
Schultz said the Liberty Jaw, Patriot Cone, Valor VSI and Sentry HSI can all be designed to suit each segment. “We design all of our products for applications in all three of those markets, and we’ll have horsepower ranges that will suit for each one. Within the Liberty Jaw, we’ll have a horsepower range that suits the small guy, the middle guy and the big guy. Within the Patriot Cone, it will be small guy, middle guy, big guy.”
To that end, there are more than a dozen models of the Liberty jaw crusher available. These models range from 16 tonnes to 135 tonnes, with feed openings from 510mm x 1400mm to 1500mm x 2000mm, closed side settings (CSS) from 38mm to 304mm, maximum feed sizes from 406mm to 1200mm, and power from 110kW to 400kW.
Similarly, the Patriot Cone, which is designed as a secondary or tertiary crusher, has five models – the P200, P300, P400, P500, P600 – weighing nine tonnes through 51 tonnes, maximum feed openings of 236mm to 356mm, with power ranges between 150kW and 450kW.
All four product lines can be installed for fixed, semi-portable and mobile applications, with a view to providing the best added value for the producer. “We’ve worked with other companies where we’ve built parts and pieces of our plants that really help to maximise production,” Schultz said. “An example would be a rotary cone feeder. There’s a company that builds one, so we try to implement these rotary cone feeders into our plants because they do such a good job of feeding material into the centre of the crusher. We try to standardise on those products, in designs that are going to mean the most for the customer, from an efficiency perspective. I don’t think there’s a lot of other folks that pay close attention to that amount of detail.”
Schultz added the Superior Industries team also strives to tie automation into all of its product lines, again with the view to make production as efficient as possible for the producer.
“Within our business, having the capability to build plants from the ground up has taught our teams where we can maximise efficiencies. I would say, far and away, it’s important to introduce automation where and when you can, giving the machine the best ability to perform as efficiently as you can.
“For example, a cone crusher is designed for maximum amounts of volume, power and force. That force, power and volume is all going to be determined by what you put into it, how much you put into it, and how effectively you can get material to the crusher. So, as the plant designer, we can say ‘I want that machine fed with a belt feeder with a variable speed drive on it’. The variable speed drive will run in conjunction with the cone’s drive motor, and we will want that cone drive motor to run at 100 per cent at all times. So what we’ll do is develop the technology for those two machines to talk to each other, so the feeder either speeds up or slows down to ensure the crusher is running at full capacity at all times.
“These are things we can do as a plant designer and fabricator that leads to more efficiency for the end user. Lots of people can design plants and put up the structures and they can set the machines but we take a more in-depth look and try to maximise the potential of the equipment that we are installing through automation.
“We do this often. It doesn’t matter if it’s a crushing plant, a washing system, a screening system or a conveying system. We try to implement that automation as often as we can, and we help the end user design it, with the functionality and the capabilities they want it to have, whether it’s a single point person in the control room, or two or three control rooms to capture everything that is going on. The point is that we design it custom for your needs.”
BREAKING INTO THE AUSTRALIAN MARKET
To date, the most popular of Superior Industries’ product lines in the United States has been the high speed Patriot cone crusher. “It’s been well received by our customers, it has a history of performing very well and it is highly competitive with the other manufacturers on the market,” Schultz said.
In Superior’s other product lines, notably its vibrating screen products, the Guardian triple shaft horizontal screen is the next most popular. “It’s a tried and true machine, we’ve done very well in capturing some of that market share that had been dominated by a few manufacturers for many years,” Schultz said. “The Guardian Screen has been accepted by the industry as equal or better than the machines that have been out there prior to its development. So the Guardian screen and Patriot cones are two of our flagship product lines, for sure.”
While Superior Industries has had a presence in Australia through a number of distributors over the years, the company has found the Australian quarrying industry a challenging market. Schultz, who has dealt with Australian customers on and off over two decades through his involvement with Terex and Superior, said Australia is “a prove it to me type of market” whose quarrying producers “want to see results with our machines that they wanted from their machines”.
“For us, it’s a matter of focusing on the Australian market and building a name for ourselves,” he continued. “It’s about aligning ourselves with good dealers and representatives that support us in those marketplaces, and that’s an evolution. There’s definitely a plan to promote our products in Australia, our names, and our plant designs. It’s an evolutionary process that’s going to take some time but we’re already making strides in selling pieces of equipment and establishing a flagship installation which people can visit and see our equipment run.”
Schultz added that Australian quarrying producers should consider Superior Industries precisely because it is not a traditional manufacturer. “When quarrying producers deal with Superior, they will deal with a manufacturer that is different from the manufacturers they’ve dealt with in the past. We listen, we’re open to ideas and suggestions, and at the end of the day we take away all that information, and we come back with a plant that’s going to work for you, that is going to be supported for you and there’s going to be parts on the ground for you. It’s a process for us to get ourselves up to a point in Australia where folks will think of us but we aim to make an impression over time.”
Schultz agreed with a question put by Quarry that, given the disruptions caused to the international supply chain by COVID-19, perhaps the key to opening that door to the elusive Australian market is through the manufacture of some parts and components in Australia.
“I agree with that statement,” Schultz reflected. “Maybe next time it’s not a biological issue that we’re dealing with like COVID-19, maybe it’s a geopolitical issue that disrupts the manufacturing process, for example you can’t source steel from China or manufactured parts from India. What happens is everyone pulls back and you start to look at what is around you to get the job done. We’re seeing that in the States already and I’m sure you see that in Australia where there could be a guy down the road who is a local fabricator. He could be 50 cents in the dollar more expensive than the guys overseas but you can walk down the road and you can look at the product and talk to him and there’s value from that which is more important than the dollar. I think this industry in particular has a very good view on what the actual value is.
“I don’t see local fabricators and manufacturers going away. I think they provide a service that is necessary for our producers out there. So while I think global manufacturers will stay strong, I don’t think they will still dominate and put smaller manufacturers out of business. I think there is always going to be a need for those folks.
“I think there will be a return of the smaller producer, and there will also be more focus on the smaller manufacturers, the more customisable folks that we’ve tried to pattern our business after, the people that will sit down with you at the table and talk about a plant for a day or two rather than hand you a portfolio of plants and ask you to pick.
“I think the more and more we become a global market, companies that align themselves with countries and technologies that are going to be used in other countries, they are going to be on the forefront of the global perspective. Superior is a smaller, privately held business that is really hyper-focused on our closer markets but we’re reaching out to those smaller markets now. So it’s times like these when we’re really having to put resources and investment into developing those markets and it’s something that’s going to be extremely important for our future. The global market perspective is going to drive our business for the foreseeable future.”
Schultz concluded that the crushing equipment itself won’t necessarily change radically but there will still be ongoing innovation. “There’s only so many ways you are going to make small rocks out of big rocks, and I think at Superior we’ve done a fair job of evolving the equipment that we have. There will be new products that come out, and some of them will be good, some of them won’t work, and some might succeed a little but never catch on. But there will be no end to the amount of innovation that happens, it’s just whether it catches on is the big question. We are constantly having development meetings every month where we discuss new ideas and sooner or later one of those is bound to catch on. So I think that’s coming.”
To view Superior Industries’ product lines, including its crusher range, visit superior-ind.com •
For further inquiries in Australia about Superior products, visit triconequipment.com.au
This article appears in the September issue of Quarry.