Education, Events, International News

Steve Franklin: Could tech in Tennessee affect Australian aggregates?

Steve Franklin, founder of Eltirus, attended the AGG1 Academy & Expo in Nashville, Tennessee. He reports what he found at a key event for the North American aggregates industry.

Co-hosted with the World of Asphalt, the AGG1 Aggregates Academy & Expo witnessed a record-breaking attendance.

More than 15,800 industry professionals participated in the three-day event, marking a significant 38 per cent increase from the previous record of 11,400 attendees in 2022.

This surge in attendance underscores the event’s growing importance and influence within the aggregates and asphalt industries.

The show not only set new records in attendance but also expanded its reach in terms of educational sessions and exhibitors, offering more than 120 educational sessions and featured over 400 exhibitors across 18,000 square meters of place with attendees from all over the world, including as far as Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Europe to engage with the latest innovations, technology, and education in the field.

Who was there?

The exhibitor area was well represented by equipment manufacturers and equipment.

In terms of aggregate equipment suppliers, all the companies that you would expect to be there were – Caterpillar, Epiroc, Develon, HD Hyundai, John Deer, Komatsu, Liebherr, Sandvik, Volvo, and more.

On the technology side, I saw Carlson, Inform, Loadrite, Price Bee, Topcon (to name but a few).

I also ran into a range of people from companies that I know who were not exhibiting, but nevertheless there catching up with customers and prospects.

Aggregate equipment suppliers were at the event, including Liebherr. Image: Steve Franklin

Electric and autonomous equipment

I was much disappointed to see very little in terms of this type of technology. The only notable machine was a small electric wheel loader. The big news in the North American market in terms of autonomous operation is of course the Luck Stone Caterpillar trial at their Bull Run quarry, however I didn’t hear any discussion of this at the show.

Automated environmental monitoring

Monitoring of environmental performance can be a pretty time-consuming affair when done manually. I have often thought there should be an easier way of doing things and I saw just that at AGG1.

Sauls Seismic provides a fully managed service that provides, installs, and manages IoT sensors that measure ground vibration, rainfall, water flow and water level, pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, conductivity, weather and dust deposition.

I have never seen a company that has all the environmental sensors that a site might need, installs, and maintains them and provides access to the data in a consistent format through a public API. Is there such a service in Australia – if so, please let me know.

Inventory management

Using drones for stockpile management is a big step up from manual measurement in terms of accuracy.

However, I am sure that you will also know that the approach can result in variable outcomes at time.

All it takes is someone to start changing densities, mis-pick the material type, alter the elevation of a stockpile base or boundary for you to see big swings in tonnages. In short, it is a good approach, but not an infallible one.

Enter Stockpile Reports (SR). Famous for their app that allows you to measure a stockpile using your iPhone (and more recently using the new Apple Vision Pro VR goggles), they also offer an enterprise inventory management service. So, what do I mean by inventory management service and how is this different to the way that we are used to measuring stockpiles with say Propeller or DroneDeploy?

Stockpile Reports is the only automated, controlled, and scalable third-party solution for managing bulk materials inventory that provides third-party verification and stockpile measurement accuracy scoring. Whether the imagery is captured with planes, drones, phones, or installed cameras, their patented technology ensures precision with reports that auto-correct obstructions, provide an objective surface score, and measure confidence in toe and base calculations.

The thing that really makes it stand out is the fact that your stockpile volumes are verified, and SR stand behind the numbers.

They also provide API access to the data and sensors that can provide real time analysis of stockpile volumes using fixed cameras that help identify potential stock-outs. It is amazing technology.

More than 15,800 industry professionals participated in the three-day event. Image: Steve Franklin

Aggregate and concrete plant scheduling

I think we can all agree that keeping quarry production and sales teams can sometimes get out of sync, with less than desirable outcomes.

Plant Demand aims to help alleviate this problem by putting in place a system that helps to keep everyone on the same page by helping to improve stock level visibility and reduce potential stock-outs. Increasingly common in North America, I think it has the opportunity to help businesses in our region too.

Logistics optimisation

Whether you deliver ready-mix concrete, cement, aggregates, asphalt, or any other building materials, effective transport planning can mean the make a big difference to the bottom line. Inform, a German company provides a remarkable AI based system that claims to increase truck fleet performance up to 30 per cent by calculating an optimised delivery schedule and fleet configuration for the next day based on service levels.

I am sure that to anyone who runs a fleet of trucks, 30 per cent improvement sounds like a big number. With this in mind, I was looking to talk to people at the show who had experience of Inform and could validate the sort of improvement that they are promoting.

One former managing director of a European aggregates operation who had experience of the system confirmed that they had indeed seen improvements on the order of 25-30 per cent in fleet productivity through the use of Inform and that its approach to fleet sizing or redistribution, truck right-sizing, fleet size/mix, haulage contracts made a profound difference to how they ran their fleet.

Quoting and sales price optimisation

Price Bee was very kind in allowing us to co-show with them at AGG1. I was amazed by the interest their product generated at the show, with many, many people stopping by to see their integrated quoting and pricing system for aggregates, concrete and asphalt.

Having seen the system from its inception many years ago, it was very interesting to get a deep dive into the software and how it can help providers. Even more so was to see the progress they have made into the North American market with a number of big-name customers.

If you haven’t seen Price Bee, it provides a fast, effective way to quote aggregates, concrete and asphalt (if you are using Excel for quotes, you must see this), but it also integrates pricing optimisation into the quote to ensure that different customers are charged the right pricing tiers and works to help you maximise price across the board.

Fleet management

Last but not least, great to see a home-grown technology solution at the show – Komatsu’s Smart Quarry Site system which was well represented and created a lot of interest.

Summary

Probably the most noticeable trend at AGG1 this year was the focus on digital transformation. The vast majority of producers I spoke to have an accelerated interest in this area and were working on projects to change how they did business. •

If you would like to know more, you can contact the author at steve.franklin@eltirus.com

Send this to a friend