Paving his own way

The construction industry has an interesting way of keeping things in the family. It?s practically the norm for contractors to pass company ownership down to sons, daughters or other relatives who?ve been actively involved with the business. And in most cases, it?s not a forced inheritance ? the next generation is usually ready, willing and enthusiastic to accept the responsibility of running the company for years to come.

Other stories also involve individuals who remain in the industry, but who do so by choosing an independent path. Like many others, Kirk Braun grew up around construction, having spent many childhood summers working for and learning about his family?s business.

He continued his employment with the company for a few years after receiving his college degree in civil engineering, until an opportunity came along for Braun to pave his own way ? literally.

?Asphalt wasn?t the focus of my family?s company,? says Braun. ?We were mainly involved with grading, excavating, utility construction and that sort of work. But in this industry you can?t help but notice what everyone else is doing. I can remember observing paving operations in our area, and I think somewhere in the back of my mind, I always thought I might be involved with that aspect of construction. So when I had a chance to get into asphalt paving, it just felt right. And I?ve been doing my best to grow and improve my business ever since.?

It was 1992 when Braun purchased Asphalt Paving Inc., a small paving company in Garrett, IN. The acquisition included a crew of 15 workers, paving equipment and a 1959 Stansteel 4,000-pound batch plant.

Five of those original employees have remained for the long haul, playing a big part in the success the company has enjoyed throughout the years. Today, as president of API Construction Corp. in Fort Wayne, IN, Braun oversees a staff of 50 employees and operates two asphalt plants from Asphalt Drum Mixers Inc.

?In the early years we purchased parts for our old Stansteel plant from ADM,? says Braun. ?Admittedly, we were rather inexperienced at the time, but I felt extremely comfortable with the service and support relationship we had developed with them. I thought they could provide us with some solid direction and assistance as far as what was happening with plant technology, so naturally we talked to them about our plans for a new asphalt plant.?

New plants for a blossoming operation

What API needed was a plant that could adequately supply asphalt to its own crews, which handle the full gamut of paving projects ? from highways to municipal and residential streets, all the way to industrial and commercial parking lots. The company was also looking to produce enough to support a side business of selling asphalt to outside contractors.

API got the solution it was looking for when it upgraded from its Stansteel plant to an ADM Milemaker 250 asphalt plant in 1996. ?ADM was very good at sitting down and listening to our needs and understanding what we wanted to accomplish,? says Braun. ?They had some great ideas to complement ours, and we wound up with a customized plant that suited our situation.?

As the company grew over the years, Braun recognized that his business had an opportunity to branch out geographically and made the decision to add a second asphalt plant in 2007.

API again turned to ADM, this time buying a Milemaker 200 asphalt plant and locating it 35 miles north of Fort Wayne in neighboring Angola, IN.

?ADM helped guide us since we bought the first Milemaker plant,? says Braun. ?They certainly were a big part of us growing to what we?ve become today, so buying another ADM plant was really a no-brainer for us.?

The Milemaker in action

While API certainly has appreciated the support and knowledge they?ve received from ADM, the actual plants themselves ? and their dual-drum, counterflow technology systems ? have been ideally suited to drive the company?s success.

?When purchasing our first Milemaker, I really liked the idea of the dual drums and the ability to separate the heating and drying from the asphalt injection process,? says Braun. ?In 1996, we were adding fiber to some of our asphalt mixes, and the separate mixing drum made this very easy. The second drum allows longer drying times and better moisture removal from the aggregate. Essentially the dual drums help us increase production while making a better product.?

API?s Fort Wayne plant produces approximately 125,000 tons of asphalt per year, while the new Angola plant makes 50,000 tons. The vast majority is produced for use by API?s own paving crews, while between 10 and 20 percent is sold to outside contractors, counties and municipalities.

?The plants offer the flexibility to make hundreds of different mixes,? says Braun. ?For our purposes we try to limit it to three or four that are based on Indiana DOT spec. Given that most of the supply is going to our own crews, that?s the most efficient and productive way for us to operate.?

By using counterflow technology with separate drying and mixing zones, the Milemaker is engineered to be as environmentally friendly as it is productive. Heat transfer and fuel efficiency are maximized to virtually eliminate unsafe hydrocarbon emissions. To control emissions even further, the system is designed to reintroduce residual gases back to the drum?s combustion zone.

?It?s the 21st century,? says Braun. ?With all the environmental legislation out there, emissions can be a significant concern. ADM has done a nice job of lowering emissions by keeping the flame separate from the asphalt injection. And whatever emissions are produced are exhausted back to the burner to be incinerated.?

The Milemaker plants can also handle large percentages of RAP without reducing the temperature or producing blue smoke. ?To be competitive in our market today, you have to produce quality mix and you have to run high RAP,? says Braun. ?The fact that we?ve been able to recycle old materials and still manufacture asphalt with consistent quality has been a tremendous advantage.?

Braun noted that the ADM Milemaker plants have also been extremely economical, allowing API to keep down its cost-per-ton to compete with other plants in its home area, a situation the company would obviously like to duplicate with its newest plant.

?The economics is one of the biggest benefits I can point to,? says Braun. ?We were able to customize our plants to what we needed. And that?s been a big key in allowing us to stay efficient and economical over the years. The other convenience that stands out to me is how simple the plants are to operate. We have two operators at each location, and they were able to learn the system and become proficient at using it rather quickly.?

Personal attention

No one is about to confuse API with some of the biggest asphalt producers in the country, and that?s just fine with Braun. From venturing out to start his own business to acquiring customized equipment to make it a success, Braun has certainly demonstrated an independent spirit in his professional career. ADM can relate ? battling against the traditional ?bigger is better? philosophy, the company carved a niche in the small- to medium-size asphalt plant market.

?Some of ADM?s competitors keep their focus on making really big plants and selling big plants,? says Braun. ?The nice thing about ADM is that you aren?t just another number. Whether I?m looking for technical advice or need some help with equipment operation, I can pick up the phone and talk to Mike Devine, the president, or Mark Simmons, the vice president. They continue to be a wealth of information, and I know I can always get the help I need.

?They?ve given us a lot of personal attention.?

Braun has ensured that API operates in a similar manner, routinely going the extra mile to accommodate requests from small paving companies who need asphalt on very short notice.

?We do our very best to schedule them in, and usually it all works out,? says Braun. ?From a business standpoint, it only makes sense to do everything you can to satisfy your customers. And that?s certainly a philosophy that we and ADM share.?

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