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Quebec Concrete Pipe all in for automation

quebecconcreteChanges in Quebec’s concrete pipe market and production practices, coupled with an owner’s long-standing ambition, have prompted Lecuyer Group to return to a business segment it had abandoned during a major manufacturing technology shift decades ago.

“We saw that many [area] pipe producers were using older equipment and labor-intensive processes, and believed the time was right for a completely automated plant in Canada, which could produce the right types of [product] at the lowest possible cost,” says Antonio Tavares, president of Lecuyer Ltd. in Saint-Rémi, south of Montreal.

Founded in 1956 by the father of Lecuyer Group CEO Maurice Lecuyer, Lecuyer Concrete launched as a small family-run business producing wet-cast catch basins, manholes and small diameter concrete pipe. Dry cast pipe manufacturing soon took over the market and Lecuyer Concrete abandoned wet cast pipe to focus on other precast drainage products.

After becoming president of the family business in 1969, Maurice Lecuyer would oversee introduction of many new product lines, including utility vaults, Easi-set and Easi-span precast utility buildings, and Stormceptor storm drain systems, while establishing satellite production and expanded market footprint. A desire to return to the company’s roots in pipe loomed amid pursuit of speciality drainage and utility structures businesses. “Mr. Lecuyer has been thinking about and researching every aspect of pipe production for at least the past 10-15 years,” affirms Tavares.

After a 15-month planning and construction window, Lecuyer Group’s newly branded operation, Quebec Concrete Pipe Inc.—or Tuyaux de Béton Quebec Inc., per province custom—was ready for inspection by the Bureau de Normalization du Quebec, the provincial certification agency accredited by the Standards Council of Canada. “We passed all of our testing [in] February 2011,” says Tavares. “We had already approached many of our existing customers and had numerous advance orders for pipe. We are well known in this market for quality and on-time delivery.”

The new pipe plant rose on a Lecuyer-owned industrial park site adjacent to its Saint-Remi flagship production facility, the enclosure designed to house a HawkeyePedershaab PipePro XT RCP manufacturing system and ACT MobilMat Mo80/4-PCS concrete batching plant.

The PipePro XT’s unique turntable design allows three different products to be produced at the same time. “In the small market [where] we operate, it’s important that we have a flexible manufacturing system that allows us to fill multiple small orders for different types of products,” says Tavares. “With the PipePro, we can produce, for instance, 10-in., 30-in. and 72-in. pipes in the same production run. Or, if necessary, just 72-in. pipe to meet a larger order.”

Machine flexibility enables Quebec Concrete Pipe to fill a variety of orders without stockpiling a large inventory. The system enables just-in-time production and delivery, and is completely automated, requiring just a handful of workers to operate: one each for monitoring the pipe machine and robotic handling systems, two to run the CageFlex reinforcement cage system, and two to move finished pipe to yard storage and conduct maintenance.

“Most manually operated pipe plants would require at least two to three times as many workers,” notes HawkeyePedershaab’s Ron Schmidgall. “By building plants with robotic systems and computer control, we reduce labor demands and optimize output and quality.”

In addition the three-station, rotary turntable, the PipePro XT features:

  • Demolding by an automatic crane (off bearer) that transfers the mold unit, bearing one to four pipes, to a moving floor system. The mold jacket is then loaded with a new reinforcement cage and returned to the production system.
  • Moving floor transfer of green pipe to twin curing tunnels for approximately eight hours. As pipe exits, robotic devices remove from each end the joint rings, which are automatically cleaned and returned to the production system.
  • Post-production processing, where pipe is automatically tipped and conveyed downline for deburring, vacuum testing and marking. Sorting lines send different size pipes to appropriate staging points to be picked by a forklift truck and moved to the storage yard.

“We vacuum test every pipe, randomly test pipes hydraulically, [and] check the measurements of the tongue and groove or bell and spigot to ensure total accuracy,” notes Tavares. “We record every detail of production on our computer systems, including concrete batching, [PipePro XT] system characteristics, and other factors and we can associate it with each pipe by [stamped] serial number.”

Beyond the advanced pipe and concrete mix production and handling systems, he adds, the new plant has such sustainability features as high efficiency electric motors to reduce power consumption and extend plant life; gray water recovery system to recycle mixer wash water; and, dust collection system for a clean work environment.