Grinding of site debris fits well with Virginia company`s growth

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An old adage says something to the effect of: 'when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,' meaning, essentially, always try to make the best out of what's handed to you.  For a Virginia contractor, that saying is proven out almost daily as part of its wood waste grinding effort.  The lemons, in this case, were a growing volume of wood waste debris from area landclearing projects.  The lemonade has been a successful conversion of that once-troublesome waste product into a profitable add-on to the company's business and a solid revenue stream.

Half Century of Growth
Vico Construction is one of east central Virginia's most successful turnkey development contractors, specializing in everything from land clearing and development to a full range of utility work.  Started in 1959 by current CEO Emil Viola, the company has grown steadily to get to its current size, employing more than 270 people and serving customers within a 200 mile radius.  More than a decade ago, Vico decided to reevaluate the manner in which it disposed of material from its growing list of clearing projects.  According to Jerry Booker, the firm's Tub Grinder Supervisor, that re-thinking changed forever the way Vico disposed of its debris.

'About 11 years ago, with a booming development and clearing business in full swing, we started looking for alternatives to the high tipping fees area landfills were charging to take our site clearing material.  We did some research and eventually purchased a Morbark Model 1200 tub grinder (Morbark, Inc., Winn MI); as the market grew, that tub became an increasingly important piece of equipment.'

Booker says the growth of the grinding operation was helped tremendously by the increasing restrictions - and eventual bans - on the burning of clearing debris.

'With burning no longer an option in this part of the country, grinding made more sense than ever.  As word got out that we had a grinding capability, that part of the business grew to where we were getting calls to process other companies' material.  To meet that need, we added a second Morbark Model 1200 tub.'

Bringing it Home
Vico functioned in that capacity for about two years then opted to take things to the next level by establishing a wood waste collection and processing site on a lot adjacent  to its corporate offices.

'The move to set up a site of our own was based on several different schools of thought.  In most cases we found it to be faster than processing material at the jobsite.  Whether we are doing the development ourselves or grinding for someone else, the real push is to get the site cleared so development can move on to the next step - this allows that to happen.  It also opened the door for us to begin taking in material from other contractors in the area, and that's really taken off: more than 250 contractors from throughout the region currently bring material to us.'

The positive effect of Vico's grinding efforts would be nil if the firm were forced to simply grind and pay to dispose of the material.  They recognized early on that a market was needed for the mulch they were creating and, after much research, they found one.

'This area of the country has several large paper mills,' says Booker.  'Given the high price of oil, these mills are obviously looking for ways to keep energy costs down, and fueling their boilers with material like our mulch is an excellent way to do so.  We are currently sending about 700 tons a week to one mill and are working to get that up to 1,000 tons a week.  For us it beats paying to throw it in a landfill.'

Upturn in Capability
To handle the volumes which Vico currently takes in - Booker estimates it at as much as 3,000 yards a day - Vico has bolstered its grinding capabilities, upgrading its original model tub grinders to newer Model 1300s (also from Morbark) and adding a Morbark Model 6600 horizontal grinder.  He says the moves have proven sound both from an economical and production-based perspective.

'We had some high hours on each of those 1200s,' he says.  'Yet, even after ten years of grinding they still held an amazingly good resale value; that meant a lot for us in doing our upgrade.  As to the horizontal, it has become the mainstay of our yard operation.  We keep it there full time while we use the tub grinders for all of our contract grinding.  Each type of machine has its strengths, with the tubs getting a solid 700-800 yards an hour production and handling some very large stumps, and the 6600 handling better than 1,000 yards an hour at the yard.'

He adds that larger stumps encountered at the yard, generally those in the 24-inch diameter range and larger, are set aside and, when the pile is large enough, one of the Model 1300s is brought in to process them.  'On any given day, we get better than 50 trailer loads of material come through here and, because time is money, it wouldn't pay for us to deal with the stumps as they arrive.  The tub grinder does a huge pile of stumps in nothing flat; we really have the best of both worlds.'

All About the Clean
When material enters Vico's yard it is first run through the Model 6600, then screened to remove residual dirt and other impurities.  Doing so, says Booker, has won them favor with the mill which benefits from a cleaner fuel product.

'We actually make an effort to remove dirt all through the process,' he says.  'Minimizing handling of the material is actually the best way to keep the dirt levels down, but before we send it through the grinder, we will again shake it to clean it up even further and minimize unnecessary wear on the grinder.  The screening is the last step before it heads off to the mill and by then it is a nice, clean product.'

Dirt and smaller material that falls through the screen is collected and either used on Vico's own jobsites or sold as topsoil to local contractors and area landscapers.  One look around their yard tells you that Vico Construction is a strong proponent of using everything that comes through its site.  In addition to the topsoil operation, concrete debris is crushed and used as fill; and mulch that's not sent to the mill is either used on area projects, sold to contractors and area landscapers, or stockpiled at the firm's sand pit.  That pit, not surprisingly, yields nice volumes of fill sand for sale to area contractors and companies.

'We have a very simple philosophy,' says Booker: 'It's always better if we can make a useable product than have to pay to dispose of it.'

It's What's On the Ground
Production at Vico's yard is seemingly non-stop: the firm works a minimum of six days a week (rain or shine), often works seven days, and has taken on jobs in which they were required to grind material round the clock.

'We've worked hard to build up this facet of the business,' says Booker, 'and have been helped tremendously by the solid performance of our equipment.  Whether it's the tub grinders or the horizontal unit, Morbark simply has a better running machine and those grinders are backed up by a level of service that is unbeatable.  Morbark has parts warehouses set up at key locations throughout the country, so a customer is never at risk for extended downtime.  It seems that no matter what the issue, if I call in for a part, I'll have it before lunch the next day and be back up and running.'

Booker adds that he has worked on sites where a customer might have a number of different machines working alongside him and he has always outperformed them. 

'We've made a name for ourselves by being the best at what we do,' he says.  'Almost every customer who, for one reason or another, has had to use another grinding company, always comes back to us, and our grinders are a huge reason that loyalty.  I follow what's out there and see that other grinder manufacturers have added so many 'bells and whistles' to make their equipment better or easier to use that it ends up working against them.  It boils down to this: at the end of the day, if I have 5,000 yards of mulch on the ground and they have 2,000 -  there's no contest.'

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