Astec Industries turns 50 this year. Roads & Infrastructure’s Tara Hamid sits down with Astec Australia’s Regional Managing Director David Smale to talk about how the company has been an innovation leader through all those years and how the recent business restructure has reinvigorated its purpose, ‘Built to Connect’
Few manufacturers within the road construction sector can match Astec Industries in the number of innovations the company has introduced since its inception almost 50 years ago.
Founded by Don Brock – himself an inventor and Doctor of Mechanical Engineering – in Tennessee, United States in August 1972, the company quickly established a global reputation for producing innovative, high quality and reliable products in the asphalt and quarry industries.
“From the very beginning, Don Brock built this company to truly connect to its customers and to provide them with innovative products and unparalleled service,” says David Smale, Astec Australia’s Managing Director. “And today, under the strong leadership of Barry Ruffalo, President and CEO of Astec Industries Inc., ‘continuous devotion to meeting the needs of the customer’ still remains our number one core value.”
From the introduction of the Shuttle Buggy, which has forever transformed the way asphalt is paved, to Astec’s latest Barber Green (BG) series of modular asphalt plants, and high frequency screens for recycling materials including Recycled Asphalt Pavement (RAP), glass, plasterboard and more – every Astec product is designed to create value for customers and care for the environment.
Smale, Astec’s Managing Director in Australia since day one, recently guided the company’s transition from a decentralised model, where it operated as 16 separate businesses, into a centralised structure incorporating all the company’s products and services under the OneASTEC banner. Smale says the simplification was timely and necessary.
“Bringing the likes of Astec Inc, Heatec, Powerflame, CEI, Dillman, Roadtec, Carlson, JCI, KPI, BTI, Telsmith, Osborn, Rexcon, Con-e-co, BMH and GEFCO, all under
one umbrella has provided the company with focus and alignment of purpose globally, while establishing greater regional connection with our customers.”
Smale, who himself has a long history in the civil construction industry, says Astec Australia has always maintained close relationships with its customers, supporting them and frequently drawing inspiration from their feedback.
An example of this, he recalls, was Astec’s redesign of its portable asphalt plants specifically for Australia.
“When we introduced our portable plants to Australia some thirty years ago, transport requirements weren’t as stringent. With increasing focus on regulations over the years, customers needed mobile plants that were more transportable.
“So we worked with our factory design engineers to re-work the length, width, axle positioning and spacing of our plant trailers and came up with a mobile plant that aligned with Australia’s national heavy vehicle regulations,” Smale explains.
Astec’s innovations also extend to its asphalt mixing plants, with the company being one of the first in the world to introduce asphalt plants with a high capacity for recycled content.
The company’s range of asphalt mixing plants features the unique Astec Double Barrel. The dryer/drum mixer combines the functions of a dryer, continuous- process mixer and recycling. The result is a continuous-process mixer in one compact and efficient system. Since its introduction, Astec’s Double Barrel range has expanded to include the Double Barrel with Rotary Mixer and V Pack System for even greater recycling capability and superior productivity.
The company’s BG Batch Plant Series is a completely new range of modular batch plants. Designed to be cost-effectively shipped and installed, BG Batch Plants are easily relocated. The series’ multiple drying and recycling options include a unique, new double-barrel dryer.
In terms of its range of asphalt laying equipment, Smale notes that Astec has always been hands-on in introducing or modifying products to increase productivity and to make them safer and more ergonomically comfortable for operators. The company has recently delivered the SB- 3000 Shuttle Buggy, an updated design that includes significant improvements in energy efficiency, operator comfort, field of vision and safety.
Another example of Astec innovation is the new Prosizer 3100-2514MF, a mobile, road-registered, self-powered recycling facility. Transported on a single trailer, the Prosizer 3100-2514MF is well suited to the asphalt, quarrying and building industries.
“Within the road industry, for example, Astec’s Prosizer 3100-2514MF can be used to fractionate RAP stockpiles for producing hot mix asphalt. In designing this powerful recycling system, we have again considered component sizes to facilitate easy road transport. The feeder, rotor and screen have all been designed to fit within one trailer, so the Prosizer can be easily shipped around,” Smale explains.
A new model for innovation
So how does a global company like Astec, with such a comprehensive product portfolio, remain connected to its roots, to its commitment to keep innovating and solving problems for the industry? Smale believes the answer lies in the company’s purpose statement: Built to Connect.
“There are so many ways of reading that,” he says. “We are built to connect with our customers and communities, built to connect quarries to plants to roads, built to connect customers to customers. I think that’s what we do best, connect with our customers. We truly listen to them. Many of our team members come from the industry so we readily relate to our customers’ problems and understand their priorities – and we respond with urgency.”
In the new business structure, Smale explains, Astec has decided that having seven global regions is the ideal framework to provide proximity of manufacturing and delivery to customers.
“Our responsibility in the regions is to connect with our customers, to ensure our equipment meet their specific needs. In other words, that our Astec products are built to meet the market’s specifications and our customers’ expectations,” says Smale.
“We want to change the perception that we are an American company manufacturing in North America and selling to the world. We have factories in South Africa, Brazil, Ireland, as well as a factory currently being developed in India. So, while some products will still be manufactured in North America, we are being more competitive by bringing a lot of the manufacturing closer to the destination markets.”
The centralised business model also includes Astec’s dealership network. Smale says the change has enabled Astec’s dealers and customers to have a central point of contact through Astec Australia.
“Previously, our product dealers had to work directly with factories located in North America or Europe. Now, we are providing all those services, including customer support, training and parts, through a single Astec Australia portal. Based on feedback we have received, this has already proven to be a better model, both for our dealers and customers,” Smale says.
“When you’re a company that’s almost 50 years old, implementing change within your own organisation can be very challenging. I’m delighted with how quickly we have transitioned to Astec’s new business model,” Smale adds.
“We are committed to connecting people, processes and products, advancing innovative solutions from rock to road. We are ‘built to connect’, and Barry’s leadership and OneASTEC help us to achieve our purpose.”
This article was originally published in the February edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.