Independence Excavating started out digging basements in Ohio. Sixty years later, the secondary aggregates producer, located in the Cleveland suburb of Independence, Ohio, now takes on multistate jobs that range in size from a few thousand tons of processing and crushing concrete to several million tons of limestone or granite crushing on large quarrying projects.

While the company’s capabilities have grown over the years, so too have its crushing and screening operations.

Ron Brocco, operations manager for the family-owned firm, says the company’s fleet of equipment is “vast and versatile,” helping Independence Excavating to better serve the projects it completes. The company oversees major commercial, industrial and highway projects, as well as performs foundation excavation, site preparation, concrete crushing, and construction, demolition and environmental work. The firm operates recycling yards in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, including Independence Recycling of Florida, a subsidiary to Independence Excavating, based in Punta Gorda, Florida.

Independence Excavating was the highest ranked performer on Construction & Demolition Recycling’s 2015 list of the 20 Largest Recycled Aggregates Producers. The company reported it processed for recycling 4 million tons of aggregates in 2014, a 14 percent increase from its reported volume of half a million tons in 2012.

DOING MORE WITH LESS

“We’re doing more today with less equipment,” Brocco says. “Diversifying our fleet so that we can take advantage of all the different types of work out there has allowed us to do that kind of tonnage.”

He continues, “We have a lot of equipment, and what we use depends on the size of the project. If there are 10,000 cubic yards to be recycled, obviously we bring different equipment to that job site than to the one where half a million tons of debris needs recycled.”

Independence Excavating’s crushing, screening and processing equipment has production capabilities ranging from 100 tons per hour (tph) to 750 tph. The company’s 12 portable crushing plants can handle 150 tph to 500 tph while several secondary crushing and screening plants work with the company’s primary plants to produce smaller aggregates. Independence uses portable Hazemag crushers in addition to jaw cone plants.

When an abundance of steel is present, Brocco says workers use a track- mounted portable jaw crusher by Terex Corp.’s Powerscreen. This was true during the recent demolition of Metro Health’s North Coast Behavioral Health Building in Cleveland. Built around 1922, the building was constructed of steel framing with concrete casing and finished with a brick exterior façade, according to Independence.

When demolition of the entire structure was completed, the company says it crushed nearly 35,000 tons of building materials into a blended hard fill, which was used for backfill and general site restoration. Nearly 225,000 square feet of the health care building was demolished in its entirety.

Brocco explains how a number of projects Independence completes create a closed-loop cycle by organizing an on-site collection area to crush materials “so you eliminate those disposal obstacles but also the import of new material.”

This is typically the case for fast-tracked developments, such as airports and military bases, Brocco notes.

TIME IS MONEY

As a production-oriented company, Brocco says Independence Excavating must stay busy. “We get paid for every ton we produce, so when we’re not producing, we’re not making money,” he says.

To tackle such a range of projects—from quarry mining and landmark demolition to construction of a residual waste landfill and demolition at General Motors’ plants—requires good equipment. “Doing what you say you’re going to do when you get there means you’re going to have really good equipment,” Brocco says. That calls for a good relationship with equipment suppliers, he says.

Independence has historically partnered with Grasan Equipment Co. Inc., Mansfield, Ohio, to build large recycling systems for the firm. The company has purchased much of its Powerscreen track mounted machines from Aggcorp Equipment Systems Inc., Cleveland. Aggcorp also has helped when Independence needs to rent equipment, Brocco says. Independence Excavating also has reached out to nearby Irock Crushers, a Valley View, Ohio-based screening and crushing equipment manufacturer, for rentals. Renting equipment, says Brocco, is a “very viable option” for the company.

“If we have the opportunity to take on more work and it doesn’t justify buying something, then we rent,” he says.

Besides, the cost of the equipment is “very, very expensive,” Brocco admits. “In order to justify the investment in equipment, you have to keep it really busy. That in of itself is an obstacle.”

Beyond finding additional end markets for aggregates, Brocco says the biggest challenge concrete recyclers face today is the price of equipment. In some instances, he says, the price has doubled.

According to Brocco, Independence has changed its philosophy over the years as to what it considers worth investing in regarding new crushing equipment.

“A lot of that has evolved into getting better at what you’re doing, making good equipment decisions and utilizing your resources,” he says. “We’re very careful about what we purchase and have a detailed plan of how we’re going to utilize it. This stuff doesn’t sit around. The price of equipment has really gone up a lot over the last 15 years, and the rate at which we can charge for the services hasn’t.”

FAST FACT: Independence Excavating ranked highest on Construction & Demolition Recycling’s 2015 list of 20 Largest Recycled Aggregates Producers, reporting 4 million tons of aggregates processed for recycling in 2014.

Independence Excavating made a conscious effort to remove any equipment that was not being used to its potential. Difficult-to-move or unproductive equipment didn’t make the cut.

“There was a lot of emphasis on, ‘OK, when this job is done where is this equipment going next?’ so you’re not stuck with this white elephant,” Brocco explains.

MOBILITY MATTERS

Moving equipment around adds to the company’s success in its Florida operations. Greg Moro, general manager of Independence Recycling of Florida, says alternating the location of its two portable Hazemag crushers is part of the company’s business model.

Rather than each of Independence Recycling of Florida’s six recycling yards having its own crusher, a crew travels with the crushers for about six weeks at a time, moving from Punta Gorda to Lakeland to Tampa.

“Instead of each yard having a crusher and a crew, we have that crew and crusher moving around the state,” Moro says. “A lot of our competition has one yard and one crusher. If they’re not keeping that thing busy all the time, it’s hard to make ends meet. It helps to have multiple locations with less crushers.”

Moro says more than 90 percent of the crushing work performed by Independence Recycling of Florida is done in its own recycling yards. The Florida operations make six recycled aggregate products, including crushed concrete and asphalt.

At the end of 2014, the Orlando facility shut down for about eight months while the entire facility was renovated. Moro describes it as a state-of-the-art operation, which includes a newly converted plant that is now all-electric rather than running on a diesel generator. In Orlando, the overhaul consisted of total rebuilds on several major components, such as the primary impactor and secondary cone and screen plant. Additional magnetic separation equipment was added along with air separation equipment to enhance the quality of the end products. The complete plant also was stripped down to the bare metal and painted while all electrical-controlled equipment was updated for safety and operational efficiency.

Rebuilding crushing and screening equipment is a valuable trait of Independence, Moro says. Some of the company’s Hazemag crushers are 20 years old or older, he says. “If you have a good quality crusher, there’s no need to replace it in the short term,” Moro says.

Brocco agrees. “We have equipment that is 20 years old that still seems new because once we have a certain utilization out of a plant, we rebuild a lot of the plants.”

He continues, “If you do the regular maintenance and take care of things when they need to be taken care of, you can keep plants alive for a long time.”

DAILY CHECKLISTS

Maintenance matters, Brocco says. For every 40 hours Independence’s crushers run, they get an additional day of maintenance and “catching up on stuff,” Brocco says. This includes changing oils and keeping greased areas greased.

“Crushing is a very violent process so the equipment does get abused just by the nature of what it does,” Brocco explains, adding, “You have to do everything you can to keep equipment running properly.”

Moro says for the family-owned business it all comes down to the equipment. Workers go through a daily checklist for safety and performance. Every piece of equipment has its own maintenance and service schedule, Moro says.

“Downtime is huge with us, and keeping equipment functioning takes a lot of work,” Brocco says. “We pride ourselves on having a first-rate fleet of equipment, and you can’t do it without having first-rate people.”

The author is associate editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be reached at mworkman@gie.net.