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Armstrong Contractors ’Goes Green’

In the new millennium, construction companies are increasingly realizing the merit — and potential profits — of being environmentally responsible.

Tue April 28, 2015 - Southeast Edition
Eric Olson

In the new millennium, construction companies are increasingly realizing the merit — and potential profits — of being environmentally responsible.

No matter what business owners personally think about the impact of humans on the environment, most now certainly see how lucrative it can be to “go green.” Not only do these endeavors fill their coffers, but they are also a proven way to boost a firm’s cost savings

A good example of a company successfully adding green efforts to its business model is Columbia-based Armstrong Contractors, a full service site-work outfit that has been operating from the South Carolina capital since 1961.

The firm is run by three brothers, Michael, Robert and Thomas Armstrong, who represent the second generation in their family to do so.

Their father, David Armstrong, and two partners started the company 54 years ago as an asphalt paving and grading business.

“Today, primarily, we do commercial paving, grading and utilities — that is 90 percent of our operation — but we are also now recycling concrete and asphalt,” said Michael Armstrong, who serves as company president.

With that in mind, Armstrong Contractors recently purchased Powerscreen equipment that allows it to run a portable crushing operation. At its yard, it recycles concrete and asphalt products into reusable material for parking areas, as well as for road projects in a 100-mi. (160 km) radius of its office.

The business currently maintains about 45,000 tons (40,823.3 t) of concrete and 25,000 tons (22,679 t) of asphalt at its 44-acre yard. That material comes from various demolition projects in the area that Armstrong has worked on over the years.

Recycled Material Equals Big Savings

Instead of hauling this material to a landfill, as was done in the past, it now gets a second life.

And, it is actually a savings to Armstrong Contractors to reuse the asphalt and concrete rather than paying a tipping or dumping fee.

“Certainly, by recycling, every bit of this material has a use — nothing is left over,” said Thomas Armstrong, who serves as his firm’s secretary and treasurer. “It costs $21 per ton to dump this material into a construction and demolition landfill in the Columbia area. However, we can bring it back here and turn it into a usable product by running it through the crushing machine, screening it and segregating it into different reusable products.

“Our costs to bring it here are practically zero beyond the hauling and fuel costs. That is a tremendous savings for us.”

Powerscreen Has What It Takes

The portable recycling machines Armstrong just purchased came from Powerscreen Mid-Atlantic, a regional dealer for Powerscreen equipment. Armstrong bought a Premiertrak R400 jaw crusher with a hydraulic release that feeds old asphalt into a Trakpactor 250 horizontal shaft impactor for refining the stone prior to its feed into a Warrior 800 dry screener.

According to Ian Williamson, Powerscreen Mid-Atlantic’s sales manager, the jaw crusher reduces the old asphalt and concrete into a minus 6-in. (15.24 cm) product, then the impactor turns it into a minus 2-in. (5.08 cm) stone and the screen removes the oversize.

The finished product that comes from using the Powerscreen equipment is then sold to a variety of different companies and individuals, Michael Armstrong said.

“For instance, a lot of it goes to trucking companies that will re-market it, and logging companies will use it to make temporary logging roads,” he said. “Also, landfills use it to build access in and out of their dumps during wet weather and a lot of asphalt is recycled for use in long, rural driveways.”

He went on to say that the Premiertrak R400 employs a magnetic belt that separates rebar wire from old concrete that can then be sent to scrap yards for recycling, thereby keeping it out of the landfills, too.

Armstrong has been very happy about the service he has received from Powerscreen Mid-Atlantic over the last five years.

“Both Ian and our local salesman, Jeff Hunter, have been with us whenever we have needed them,” he said. “If we need help, it just takes one phone call to Ian because he has the solution. We looked at a lot of machines and we know we made the right decision to go with Powerscreen. It is an outstanding product and they stand behind it 100 percent.”

Armstrong Contractors got started in the crushing business in 2010 when the company contacted Powerscreen Mid-Atlantic about renting a crusher for work at a project that involved removing an old shopping center.

An agreement was worked out between Armstrong Contractors and its client stipulating that all of the on-site material that was recyclable would be reused on the project. To that end, Armstrong rented a Powerscreen impact crusher and screener in order to recycle all the footings, concrete slabs and other material for reuse on the parking areas and underground retention ponds.

More equipment rentals followed, Michael Armstrong said, and before long, the Armstrong brothers were completely sold on using Powerscreen equipment and, subsequently, their recycling business took off.

“We are much more committed to the crusher business, pursuing it not only with our construction operations, but also doing strictly crushing jobs if we need to,” he added.

In order to increase production, Michael Armstrong said, the company decided late last year to upgrade to a larger, R400-size machine.

“We found that as fast as we can make this material we can sell it and if not, we can use it for our own projects,” he said. “We are also looking at possibly crushing brick and other material to make decorative landscaping products.”

A Team Effort

Michael Armstrong said that he and his brothers work very well together and each brings a specific talent to the successful operation of Armstrong Contractors.

What have been the keys to their rapid growth over the last several years?

“For one, we have held firm in not taking on cheap work,” he said. “And, of course, the other factor has been our venture into recycling. I really feel that if we had not saved money with the recycling operation it would have cost this company so much more and we would not have become as commercial as we are today.”

Thomas Armstrong added he was very proud of the fact that, “the amount of material that we keep from going into a landfill is substantial. Our machines are capable of cranking out 1,800 to 2,000 tons per day, five days a week, so we are turning out a lot of reusable product rather than having it go straight into the ground.”

Serving as vice president of Armstrong Contractors is Robert Armstrong, who is instrumental in making decisions on equipment purchases. He said that all three brothers realized years ago that recycling would be critical to their company’s continued viability.

“In addition, recycled product like this is the biggest value we can give a general contractor or property owner on a project,” he said.

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