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Vaulting Forward

Having been a part of the Northern California concrete business since the late 1950s, Christy Concrete Products has always devoted its production to making

Steven Prokopy

Having been a part of the Northern California concrete business since the late 1950s, Christy Concrete Products has always devoted its production to making small utility boxes, designed to be placed underground and house various underground utilities such as water, electrical and telephone. Manufactured in plants in Fremont (near Oakland) and Marysville (north of Sacramento), these meter and junction boxes range in size from 9 _ 15 in. to 30 _ 48 in. But shortly after the company was purchased by Auburn, Wash.-based Oldcastle Precast, Inc. in 2002, Christy set its sights on building a vastly expanded facility that would serve booming residential and commercial markets as far away as central Arizona, southern Nevada, parts of Oregon, and all of California.

After an extensive search of various Central Valley and Northern California locations, a one-time manlift assembly plant in Madera (just minutes from Fresno) was purchased in October 2005. The mission was not just to open a new production plant, but to relocate the 70,000-sq.-ft. Fremont operations to Madera, a process that begin this past May. Currently employing about 35 office and production staff in Madera, it is expected that sometime in 2007, total employees will number around 70-80 as operations from Fremont continue to transition to Madera. This is by far the largest of Oldcastle's small-box facilities (the others being located in Texas, Florida, and Arizona).

Right after the first of this year, we began installing the batch plant in Madera, says Christy General Manager Greg Barner. With trial runs beginning in March, the batch plant includes three 120-ton Turmac aggregate bins, a 100-ton Turmac cement silo, a 1-cu.-yd. Haarup mixer, and a Turmac Millennium batch plant controller.

We debated placement of the batch plant for a time, whether it should be between the buildings or in front, explains Barner. With Oldcastle Services Û the project manager of the batch plant installation Û we were able to design a feed conveyor that runs parallel rather than perpendicular to the batch plant. It cost a bit more but it saves us a tremendous amount of space and gives us room for another batch plant across the alley for when we open up a second production building.

Barner adds that the hidden batch plant option also was done in an effort to be good neighbors. We didn't want the batch plant to be visible from the road. Where it is now is totally hidden, he says. Also the plant features a water recycling system, so all the water used for wash out is recovered.

Boxing day

By the end of March 2006, Christy was producing its first meter boxes with a new Columbia Model 50 block machine. The facility also uses an additional Columbia Model 50 machine, a Columbia Model 16 block machine, and two Teksam drycast large-box machines, which were moved from the Fremont operation in May. We're still in the process of relocating production equipment from Fremont, but we plan to leave it open as a distribution center, states Barner. Opening up a new facility was important because we needed to improve production capacity. The Madera plant is more than 282,000 sq. ft. Û a third of which is shared with Oldcastle's Utility Vault Metals Division Û and this new plant layout has made it possible for efficiencies to improve at least 30 percent with automation. Everything from batch plant delivery to rack loading is automated. Finished product pallets run on an automated conveyor out of the plant.

When designing Madera, we eliminated a lot of the manual lifting that was going on at the old facility. Also, with the automated delivery system, there's not a lot of forklift traffic. These measures all speak to our health and safety practices, and we do have a full-time safety coordinator on staff as all Oldcastle locations do.

The Madera facility features 25 cranes in the main production building, including 14 5-ton overhead, one 3-ton overhead, four 2-ton overhead and six half-ton jib cranes.

Barner says that the block machines and molds were easily modified for box production. Using molds designed and fabricated on site, the Columbia machines feature a traveling bullet system from Haarup. When the hopper over the block machine senses concrete is needed, a Duotrans bucket comes from the batch plant from overhead with product.

According to Barner, the mix design for Christy's products is a standard 4,500-psi drycast, using no pumice, just aggregate and sand.

Newly made meter boxes are loaded onto racks, which are not taken into a kiln, but allowed to cure in the insulated, temperature-controlled structure. Each machine has 35 racks, which hold 18 or 36 boxes each, depending on product size. The day after being cast, the vaults are cubed on 4- _ 4-ft. shipping pallets, four high, as the racks return to the production line. The entire vault package is shrinkwrapped and taken to the yard.

Located on a nearly 40-acre site, Oldcastle plans to eventually utilize the two additional 75,000-sq.-ft. production buildings for other product lines. We plant to expand and make utility vaults and possibly polymer concrete products, notes Boner.