David Smale, Astec Australia’s Regional Managing Director of the Australia Pacific region, shares insights on what the quarrying industry has been experiencing and the role of companies like Astec in helping the industry overcome challenges.
How has Astec Australia performed over the past year? What have been some key milestones?
Astec’s number one commitment always is to our customers and continuing to meet that commitment has meant we’ve grown substantially over the past year, both geographically and internally. Our objective has been to strategically position people where they can most effectively support our customers, and that has meant bringing new people into the business. Even in this tight labour market, we have been able to attract the right people into the company. Many of our excellent team members have been with Astec for more than ten years. That kind of stability has a significant impact on a company’s culture and a positive flow-on impact for customers. For example, our team has a zero-tolerance policy for not responding to customer calls, because the person on the other end of the line might have an emergency and it’s our job to be there when they need us. It also has positive impacts for our people. Take our safety culture, for example; recently we achieved 1500 days with zero recordable incidents. It is a significant milestone, but one our team is constantly striving to surpass.
Supply chain issues continue to impact international markets. Every company has had to negotiate supply delays of critical components and materials and that, coupled with shipping disruptions, has meant increases in prices and lead times. Overall, though, I think at Astec, we have been able to anticipate and mitigate those issues. That is not to say we have resolved them completely, but we remain focused on finding solutions and, as always, supporting our customers is our highest priority.
Restructuring our geographical presence has helped us meet our business KPIs and better service our customers and our dealers’ network. Whereas in the past, our dealers had to work with our factories internationally, they can now work with us at a local level, and we can connect them to the right people across our global network to receive the support they need.
We have also expanded our presence in markets including New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, particularly around supply of materials solutions such as cone crushers and screens. Our dealer in New Zealand, Turnco, is performing well and we are delighted to have them onboard.
Astec has also made significant progress this year in expanding and improving our technology platform. We have recently established a global digital group which is working on standardising digital control systems across all our businesses. This follows Astec Industries’ acquisition of a company called MINDS, a leader in plant automation control systems and cloud-based data management in the asphalt industry. As we strive to enhance control of our equipment for asphalt customers, we’ll look to extend MINDS’ capabilities into other areas of our business, including materials solutions and aggregate and concrete plants.
From your perspective, how has the quarrying industry performed over this period?
The quarry industry is performing well, mainly because it is working to keep up with everything that’s happening, particularly along the eastern seaboard – from the high level of activity in Victoria to the Western Sydney Airport project in New South Wales, to projects in Queensland in preparation for the 2032 Olympics.
One of the things we are seeing is industry and governments working in a more collaborative way; governments are inviting industries and associations to the table. As we head towards the Olympics, in particular, Queensland has really embraced this collaborative model of working with industry. Together we are developing a strategic plan that will enable and support industry to deliver projects critical to the success of the Olympics. Governments and industry in other states, too, are seeing this model as an effective way of delivering major construction and infrastructure projects.
In your opinion, what are some major challenges for the quarrying industry today and how is Astec prepared to manage those challenges?
Continuing issues around supply chain logistics, inflation, and the availability of skilled people remain the key challenges. At Astec, we have recently appointed a regional logistics manager. His role is to interact with the factories, shipping lines and freight forwarders to help us stay on top of those supply issues. We’ve also taken other measures to try to reduce lead times and minimise delays for our customers, and that has meant having to forecast industry needs up to 18 months in advance.
Another major challenge is people. Our customers tell us they can get trucks but can’t get drivers or operators. The lack of skilled people is the one thing that’s going to cap our capability as an industry. Astec is working very hard in this space, including with governments here and around the world. We’ve had discussions with the Queensland Minister for Transport about our own efforts, and letting him know we are keen to work with his government on its initiatives around the problem. Astec’s global international human resources manager is also doing a lot of strategic planning around ‘people and inclusivity’. The aim is to make sure we cast the net as wide as possible when we are inviting people to work for us.
Which Astec products are currently most popular in the quarrying industry in Australia?
Our product lines continue to be well received by industry. Our roller bearing cone crushers are a good example of that, as are our horizontal, inclined and high-frequency screens.
The high-frequency screens continue to surprise our customers with their capability and versatility, particularly in waste recycling applications and very fine material sizing. Also, the Astec multi-frequency screening technology is gaining recognition in the mining industry.
More recently, we have had good success with our tracked pugmills, too. Our range of tracked crushing and screen equipment supplied into Australia has expanded with four new models being delivered in 2022, and more new model releases planned for 2023. This worldwide demand on our tracked crushing and screening plants has necessitated the expansion of our manufacturing facilities to keep up with customer requirements. All our new products are performing very well in the market and there are more on the way.
Astec global recently appointed a new vice president of operations international. What will be the implications for Australia?
Yes, Martin Dummigan is our new vice president of international operations. Martin was president of Telestack before our business re-structured to become OneAstec. His role is to optimise production capability across our international factories. While that’s a mid- to long-term plan, we do expect it will help deliver products to our market more efficiently and cost effectively.
What are Astec’s major goals/focus areas in 2023?
That’s easy. Continuously improving service and support for our customers remains our core focus, just as it has always been. We will continue trying to mitigate supply issues, and continue working closely with our customers so we can identify potential problems before they arise, and if they do, resolve them quickly. Our focus always is to support our customers so they can get on with the job of delivering essential infrastructure.
For more information about Astec’s global capabilities, visit the Astec Industries website: www.astecindustries.com