Three years ago, Western Materials, a leading concrete block producer in Yakima, Washington, was facing several major challenges concerning the way it worked with pigment. Western had been looking for a company that could help it through not only a change from powder to granular pigment, but also a switch from hand-fed mixing to a fully-automated system. A phone call from a Canadian pigment manufacturer, Interstar, changed everything.
Interstar is an international company headquartered in Sherbrooke, Quebec. They manufacture, sell and maintain automated pigment dispensing systems as well as its own line of pigments, admixtures and fibers.
An Interstar sales representative suggested a complete solution to Troy Brown, block plant superintendent of Western Materials, which included Interstar granular pigments and the GranaSTAR 416 dispensing system.
Brown was only willing to switch pigment suppliers if he could be sure Western would reap considerable gains. He was not disappointed. Nor were Western Materials' President, Stan Martinkus and Contractor
Sales Person, Don Grubenhoff, who went ahead with a system overhaul after being extremely impressed by Interstar's initial presentation.
After Interstar made its introductory presentation, it asked Western Materials to provide samples of cement, basic aggregates and final product. In return, Interstar performed color matching tests and provided Western the formula to mix colors for themselves, and a detailed report on how to get everything running.
"Start-up was so quick; they had us running in a couple days. The system takes up less room than most other systems out there. And it was so easy to install," Brown says.
"They matched all our colors accurately the first time around, so we saved thousands on test batches," says Brown. Interstar also sent a technician who stayed throughout the process to make sure everything went off without a hitch. The GranaSTAR pigment was chosen by Western Materials mainly because of the color consistency it provided and the cost savings it offered.
"Not only do we save in the cost-per-pound of color, we also use 15 to 20 percent less color to match the colors we produced before with powder! That is profit," Brown says.
Western Materials was established in 1917 and has grown under current owners, Bill Douglas and Stan Martinkus who took over in 1983. Western is a producer and retailer of concrete and architectural masonry units and other building materials. It specializes in architectural blocks and boasts a wide range of colors. Western advertises being able to meet a client's request for a specific colored block.
The company currently employs over 139 people and runs stores out of Yakima, Wenatchee and Pasco and Walla Walla, Washington. Because it sells just about everything you would need to build a house or building, Western Materials' primary customers are masons, contractors and others trades.
Since the GranaSTAR system was installed, Western Materials, which operates with a Besser V312 (three blocks at a time), has enjoyed the many advantages offered by Interstar's automated system. The GranaSTAR has greatly changed operations - the dispensing process is smoother now because everything is programmed. Pigments can be changed faster and with less spillage. Western is a high change-over plant - it often changes colors five to seven times a day and these change-overs once were quite a feat and very physically demanding. As a result of this switch, there are fewer concerns with labor. Waste has been greatly reduced too.
Western has seen another advantage to using this automated system: its ability to produce higher quality products because of more accurate and flexible mixing. Pigments are weighed with an accuracy of plus or minus 0.2 oz. Also, Brown is thrilled with the range of colors available because of the blending possibilities.