New Equipment and New Product Revive an Aging Batch Plant


An old, rusted hulk of a batch plant turning out a nearly obsolete product. That was the situation confronting Harford Venture Group when it purchased Suscon Products (previously known as Suscon Stacks) near Baltimore. The new owners saw potential, but could the dilapidated plant that once supplied concrete smoke stacks up and down the East Coast rise from the rust?

“The company was pouring high heat stacks, but they weren’t environmentally acceptable, and the power industry was turning away from them,” said Alan Trebes, chief operating officer of Suscon. “When we first acquired the property, we just wanted to keep the store open.”

The broken-down batching and mixing equipment was long past its prime, however.

“We completely mothballed it,” said Miguel Lambert, Harford principal. “It was over 30 years old and in the center of the building, an unsuitable location for rebuilding.”

To stay productive Suscon devised a workaround, bypassing the ancient mixer and silos with ready-mix trucks driven into the plant to pour concrete in the product forms. Coordinating just-in-time arrival of the trucks was a constant challenge, though, and Suscon needed a better long-term solution. It was especially urgent as the company had set its sights on expanding production of concrete block for the profitable retaining wall market.

Suscon contacted Mixer Systems, Inc. (MSI), in Pewaukee, Wis., to renovate the plant. “We started by determining if the old equipment could be made operational again, but it was completely worn out,” said Jonathan Jaruseski, eastern US and Canada regional manager. “Instead, we proposed several different concepts for supplying new batching and mix-ing equipment to be installed where the existing equipment was.”

The costs for removing the old equipment and then doing an upgrade were prohibitive, however, sending MSI back to the drawing board.

“We quoted a completely new batch plant at the far end of the existing building that would not require demolition of the old equipment,” Jaruseski said.

The proposal included a plant in two modular sections: a mixer section and an aggregate section. Both were substantially wired and plumbed at the factory prior to shipment to reduce assembly time and start operation sooner.

“What I was most impressed with Mixer Systems was their initial engineering to help us design the flow of the plant,” Lambert said. “They looked at the products we wanted to manufacture and said, ‘Here’s a way for you to maximize production and minimize construction,’ and that was really helpful.”

Suscon had two stipulations: that the plan not make extensive modifications to the existing building and that Mixer Systems partner with a company to complete a turnkey erection.

MSI chose Concrete Plants, Inc., a contractor with which it had collaborated on other projects.

“Very, very few batch plants are identical and the Suscon site was unique,” said Denny Holmes, Concrete Plants area manager. “The mixer section was designed so it could be lowered into the building with no modifications. The customer was concerned about cutting the roof open and the clearance was tight—about a foot around. But we had no problem at all, and it went together perfectly.”

The entire installation was completed in about two weeks. The plant was built around Mixer System’s legendary Turbin mixer, with a capacity of 72 cu. ft. or 7,200 lbs. Other components included three aggregate storage bins, each with a 40-ton capacity, and two cement silos. Additionally, Concrete Plants, Inc. fabricated stairs and walkways for the facility.

Currently, Suscon operates one shift at the plant producing blocks for the Redi-Rock system of engineered retaining walls, shipped to Amazon warehouses, large contractors, and commercial developers. The smallest weighs about 700 lbs. and the largest just under 5,000 lbs.

“We’ve heard these called rather large, adult-size Lego blocks,” said Joshua Edwards, production manager at Suscon. “They’re able to be stacked into retaining walls as high as 15 feet without tiebacks using the system Redi-Rock has developed.”

From pouring the concrete mix to pulling the finished blocks from the forms takes about 16 hours. Crews begin the day breaking apart forms from the previous day’s production, then pour about 40 new blocks to be dried overnight.

“The mixer is at the back end of the plant on an elevated platform about 15-feet high,” said Edwards. “When the material is ready and the gates open, it flows into large ladles, or hoppers, and then is carried over the forms by a 10-ton crane.”

The forms have rubber molds on the bottom to create a natural, stone-like appearance. Once poured, the top of the blocks is troweled to a smooth finish. In all, Suscon mixes 30-35 batches a day, with some of the larger blocks requiring two-and-one-half batches and the smaller ones one-quarter batch. Each batch takes about five minutes, and the Turbin mixer typically runs two-and-one-half to three hours a day.

Suscon is unique in using recycled aggregate and sand in the mix from Repurpose Aggregates, an allied company located on the same site. Though the material is repurposed, the finished product must meet the same standards as virgin material. Suscon has an in-house test lab to check quality.

“Redi-Rock requires a target strength of 4,000 psi after 28 days, and we are actually at 4,500 psi,” said Edwards. “Overall, they’re looking for quality.”

With a dependable batch plant now thriving, Suscon is thinking ahead. “What we’d like to do is continue to increase production at our current facility and learn from this design-and-build,” Lambert said. “If we expand to another facility, we think Mixer Systems would be a great partner, even helping us evaluate an existing plant.”