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Diamonds In The Rough

Detroit has seen better than its current economic cycle, but thanks to two companies entrenched in Michigan, the city has landed a potential one-two punch

Don Marsh

Detroit has seen better than its current economic cycle, but thanks to two companies entrenched in Michigan, the city has landed a potential one-two punch as home to this decade's best new urban cement-distribution and concrete-production facilities.

On a Detroit River-front site about three miles south of General Motors' downtown headquarters, Lafarge North America runs one of the most advanced powder terminals of its kind, offering blend on demand services from the largest-diameter silo in the country. The facility is a natural fit for its owner, whose portfolio includes two Michigan landmarks: a 2.5 million-ton/year mill in Alpena (the former Lake Huron Cement) and the 7 million- to 8 million-ton/year Presque Isle Quarry just up the shore.

The $30 million Lafarge Detroit Terminal opened in 2005, anchoring an 80-acre brownfield redevelopment, Springwells Industrial Park. In late 2007, terminal neighbor McCoig Concrete began production at a high-volume ready mixed plant with companion aggregate depot. Operating in the shadow of a seemingly ancient U.S. Steel Great Lakes Works mill, the site receives sand & gravel by barge from Michigan and Ontario sources, and supplies the new plant and McCoig's sister operations, Koenig Concrete and Michigan Foundation, outside Detroit. McCoig is backed by Michigan construction materials fixture Bob Thompson, who in 1999 sold his aggregate & asphalt business, Thompson McCully (now Michigan Paving & Materials), to Old-castle Materials.

The Springwells plant replaces Koenig's dated city operation, and had been on the drawing board when McCoig Cos. acquired old-line Koenig Fuel & Supply in early 2004. The acquisition of another market player, Michigan Foundation, followed in mid-year, positioning McCoig Cos. with six ready mixed plants, plus portable production.

With much taller neighboring structures immediately north and south, the new Detroit concrete operation is unencumbered by height restriction and built for abundant output. Its 12-yd. reversing drum mixer feeds a twin wet alley plus a dry alley. A stationary vessel bearing on four rollers, the mixer produces in forward (clockwise) motion, then discharges once motors are reversed. In optimum mode, it has a 60-second batch cycle and 45-second load time for front-discharge mixer trucks. Infrared temperature probe and mixer-monitoring camera provide operators a good idea of the quality of mixes going into trucks.

By Concrete Products records, Michigan has more reversing drum mixer installations than any other state, along with the highest percentage of new central mixed capacity attributable to such equipment. The McCoig site is the latest stop in the state for Ontario-based reversing drum and turnkey plant specialist, Inventure Systems.

Material handling provisions equip the plant for well over 200 yd./hour, befitting the urban locale. The 125-ft. high structure has 780 tons of aggregate storage, and hopper capable of batching 20 tons of rock and sand out of one gate. Six aggregate compartments are charged by a reversing swivel belt, which is fed from a massive charge conveyor running toward the river's edge and main stockpiles.

Cement storage and handling are equally impressive: A loading station can accommodate four tankers at once, blowing powder to six 110-ton silos, each fed by two 6-in. fill pipes. The silos have continuous guided radar for constant level monitoring, technology that Inventure Systems staff notes is new to the industry and beneficial for inventory control. The cement scale can hold up to 11,000 lbs., nearly 1.5 times the capacity of the manufacturer's typical installations.

Like its sister businesses Koenig and Michigan Foundation, McCoig Concrete dispatches locally. The Detroit plant has launched with a fleet that includes 15 Terex FD6000 mixer trucks, all equipped with EPA '07-compliant Cummins power.