Breaking Down Chicago Factory

By Mike Crummy | September 28, 2010

Pretty much every business has the same general idea nowadays: Become more efficient and, in turn, become more profitable. The daunting effort or expense sometimes required to improve efficiency can make such a goal easier to conceive than accomplish. But in many cases, a company may be in dire need of an overhaul, no matter what the obstacles.

Count Chicago Tube & Iron Co. (CT&I) among those that realized operational changes were in order. Although the company has been extremely successful, with annual revenues in the neighborhood of $200 million, the configuration of its primary factory and corporate headquarters in Chicago — comprising a dozen buildings spread across several city blocks — was less than ideal.

CT&I decided to relocate and made plans to construct a 360,000-square-foot facility in Romeoville, Ill., that would bring all Chicago operations into one building. The new complex was up and running in late 2005.

The original CT&I facilities escaped annihilation for a brief period of time while ownership of the land twice changed hands, but the reprieve was short-lived. The inevitable end for the 90-year-old structures became reality when a $1.3-million demolition contract was awarded to Chicago contractor N.F. Demolition Inc., whose crews hit the site this past April.

N.F. Demolition was founded in 1988 by President Nick Fratantion, who previously worked as a heavy equipment operator and engineer for various construction and demolition contracting firms. Today the company has 36 employees, eight of whom headed to work on the first stage of the CT&I site.

"This is a two-phase project," says Fratantion. "Two of the buildings are across the street, away from the remaining structures. Our initial assignment was to take down those two buildings in about five weeks so some model homes could go into that area as soon as possible."

The rest of the buildings are scheduled to come down, once property re-zoning issues have been officially resolved by the city. Long-term plans call for the construction of a school, housing and other residential developments.

Although the structures on-site had certainly been around for awhile, taking them down wasn't going to be completely free of challenges. With some of the buildings existing for CT&I's entire nine-decade history, a few unique designs had been employed at various times to recondition the aging buildings without affecting the flow of day-to-day manufacturing operations.

"One building had a wooden buttress roof," says Fratantion. "Somebody must have recognized that it needed replacing at some point. So they actually built a second roof using some massive, steel beams that span about 150 feet. But the old roof wasn't removed. The new roof was built right over the top, probably so they wouldn't have to shut down production for a more thorough renovation."

Aside from the occasional wooden roof discovery, N.F. Demolition found that the buildings were constructed primarily of brick and steel. Among the equipment the company had on-site to demolish the structures were cranes, wheel loaders with biter buckets, and excavators with cutting shears and grapple attachments.

"A couple of the buildings are about five or six stories high, and they're supported with reinforced concrete columns that are 3 or 4 feet in diameter," says Fratantion. "We have concrete processors, but they aren't able to bite around a column that size. So instead we use our hydraulic breaker to hammer those apart."

Breaking It Down

The breaker being utilized on the CT&I job is an HB 3000 hydraulic breaker from Atlas Copco Construction Tools, an attachment N.F. Demolition purchased from local dealer Steve's Equipment Service in 2006. The 6,610-pound unit, currently mounted on a Cat 345 excavator, delivers more than 4,500 foot-pounds of impact energy.

N.F. Demolition is also using the HB 3000 to break up concrete footings, foundations, slabs, and floors on the project. "Most of the floors are about a foot thick," notes Fratantion. "The footings we've busted up were 15 to 18 inches thick and 4 feet wide. We also used the HB 3000 in the old steel mill here to break up some concrete pads and foundations that were about 4 feet wide, and it just ate them up."