We All Have to Make Tough Decisions at Times and Sometimes We are Lucky Enough to Get a Little Push in the Right Direction

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.

Western Materials has many colors to work with, and is now able to produce a brighter, cleaner red than its previous product colored with powdered pigment. Western currently uses a yellow, two very distinct reds and a black granular pigment. The GranaSTAR Dispensing System can create a wide range of colored concrete products from only four basic colors.

Cost reduction and smoother operations were not the only motivating factors in the Western switch. Interstar president, Zachary Gillman, prides the company on its ability to provide clients with solutions, not just products. "We actually come in and suggest different ways to solve the problem - we are concrete experts."

Interstar's automated system affords its users an additional feature-it stores all the color formulation in a database. This allows users to go back years later and reproduce a color to an exact match. This is unparalleled technology.

Interstar's pigments are made from inorganic iron oxides and contain no chemical additives except the coating which holds the pigment in its bead shape. The color is permanent and not at all affected by the sun. What's more, these pigments can be used in any type of concrete mixer, and due to their quick dissolve properties the mixing cycle is shortened.

Other manufacturers aren't able to match this type of granular pigment. "What sets Interstar above the competition is our service, price and quality," says Interstar's Gillman.

Interstar offers a unique purchasing program based on the volume of GranaSTAR pigments purchased annually and on the length of the leasing period. There is a nominal or lowmonthly charge to rent the dispenser, depending on the amount of pigment purchased.

Brown explains that you can't lose if you go with the GranaSTAR: "Even if you do rent the dispensing system, you'll pay less than you would on hand-weighed product." Interestingly, the purchase of pigment actually costs less than competitors' prices.

Interstar remains the owner of all GranaSTAR machines, so Western absorbs none of the cost associated with the upkeep of the equipment. At one point, Brown needed to replace one small part of the GranaSTAR and was able to find it at a local outlet. Interstar even reimbursed him.

In the space of three years, Brown has had only one hitch with the system. He mentioned this to Brett Fiorini, Interstar's sales representative, and within 24 hours there was a new part on Brown's desk. True peace of mind is part of what you get with a GranaSTAR dispensing system.

Troy Brown was not only impressed with Interstar's performance on these points, but also with its system's improved safety, which helped influence the company's decision to switch. "We used to mix colors by hand and now there's no risk of someone being injured."

Brown found the Interstar team very professional and emphasized that Brett Fiorini makes himself available at all times to handle any concerns. "Each day I leave work and know everything is taken care of," says Troy Brown.

He reports that Western is extremely satisfied with Interstar and looks forward to a mutually profitable business relationship well into the future.

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