The phrase: “If you build it, they will come,” from the movie “Field of Dreams,” has become another way of expressing unbridled optimism.
Columbia, S.C., might want to consider paraphrasing that to: “We’re building it . . . and they keep on coming,” as the Palmetto State’s capital city enjoys a boom the likes of which it has never seen.
In fact, the greater Columbia area’s current population, already at 583,000, is projected to reach 648,000 by 2010 and 1 million by 2025. That kind of growth is fueling a robust economy and construction is seemingly everywhere, putting pressure on aggregate suppliers to keep inventories up. For B&T Sand Co., one of the area’s largest producers of sand and related products, meeting the ever-growing demand has been a challenge that has called for an unprecedented level of performance, particularly from its screening equipment — a challenge that has been met at every turn.
Removing an Obstacle
B&T’s roots actually precede the sand production operation at which it currently excels. According to B&T President Bill Barrier, trucking was the company’s main thrust at its outset nearly 80 years ago.
“My great-grandfather started a trucking company called L.A. Barrier & Son Inc. and a good part of that business involved contracts to deliver sand,” he said. “Unfortunately, as is often the case, they found themselves at the mercy of local sand plant operators. If a plant was backed up, or opened late, or for some other reason fell behind, we were delayed and had to answer to our customers. So he bought a piece of land not far from where we are now, started producing his own sand, and removed that element of uncertainty from the business. It was the best move they could have made.”
Today, B&T employs 24 people, operates a pair of 300-acre (121 ha) pits and is in discussions with the State of South Carolina to acquire a third site of the same size. At present, Barrier said, it is only mining approximately 25 percent of each site yet still generating better than 4,000 tons (3,600 t) of material a day.
“It’s amazing, but we are producing those massive volumes at both sites and yet we often find ourselves nearly running out of sand at the end of the day. The growth in this area has just been unbelievable. However, we’ve set up what we feel is a top-rate operation with the best performing equipment available” he said. “That’s really what’s helped us rise to the top.”
Screened for Success
B&T’s choice for sand washing equipment taps into a broad range of available manufacturers, technologies and products. The primary wash plant located at the upper part of the main pit consists of a classifier, screw and conveyors, each from a different manufacturer. At the same site, a standalone plant from a single major manufacturer handles the washing chores at the pit’s base.
“The only real constant in our operation is our choice of screening plants to handle the primary separation,” Barrier said. “We have eight CEC Roadrunner Screen-It plants — three rubber-tired trailer units and five more that are track-mounted. They are all 5 X 12 dual-deck units with a one-inch top deck dropping material onto a 5 mm screen below.”
An excavator pulls material from the active area of the pit then loads it directly into any of the CEC units located on the pit floor. There, kaolin and other material larger than 5 mm is screened out and the sand is passed along — either by truck or via a series of five, continuous, “piggy-back” conveyors — to one of the wash plants. Though B&T’s supply of kaolin vein is limited, Barrier said enough material can be recovered to occasionally sell it to an interested customer.
“Right now we are stockpiling the kaolin for a customer who’s using it in a dam construction project in Lexington,” he said. “We also sold 80,000 yds. last year to a landfill operator who used it to line the landfill and protect the area’s groundwater. So the screens serve a multi-purpose function for us: getting us the sand we need — at the production rates we need — and creating several alternative products, which also helps our bottom line.”
Cleaning Up’s a Snap
As is the case in any sand operation, small but steady amounts of material reach the ground after screening at B&T, making periodic clean up necessary. In the distant past, before adding the Screen-It Track Mobile units, that cleanup was a time-consuming effort. Today, said Barrier, it’s become a snap.
“The track-mounted units really take the headache out of the cleanup process. When material gets too high under the machine, we simply lift the legs on the screens, move each unit out of the way and clean up. With the track machines, it’s about a five minute process. The rubber-tired units take a slight bit longer but they, on the other hand, have advantages the track units don’t. In a situation in which machines need to be moved from pit to pit on a regular basis, for example, a trailer unit has the edge for speed and ease of movement. So they each have their benefits.”
While there is an understandable price differential between the track screens and the rubber-tired units, Barrier said that difference can be easily justified in time savings from cleanup alone.
“Time is money and the quicker I can get the unit aside, do the cleanup and have it back in position and generating product, the better our overall production will be. Plain and simple: it’s well-worth the extra cost.”
Great Place to Live
The current boom in the Columbia area has been further fueled by the city recently being ranked 17th in the nation for business climate by Forbes magazine, and second in the Most Livable City (mid-sized) rankings put forth by the non-profit organization, Partners for Livable Communities. Barrier said the growth has prompted a push for virtually every product they generate.
“Our full product offering includes masonry sand, an ASTM-certified C-33 concrete sand, clay, topsoil and fill dirt. This area is growing so quickly that all the prime building sites have already been taken. The only sites remaining, it seems, are those that need to be filled in prior to construction, so fill dirt has become a valuable commodity in this area. As to the masonry material, we’ve already removed over 30 feet of masonry sand at one site and are into the concrete sand, so all the masonry-ready material now comes from the second pit. And we are also screening material to create a topsoil product for sale to area homebuilders and individuals. The screens are something of a mainstay of our operation, putting out better than 1.2 million tons between the two sites. They are extremely reliable and are actually outperforming what their sales literatures says they will do. In today’s climate of over-promising, that’s a nice surprise — we couldn’t be more pleased.”