A Change in Direction

Story by Carl Molesworth | September 28, 2010

Most every construction site is going to require deliveries of aggregate or other materials sooner or later — usually sooner. Traditionally, the materials have arrived in a dump truck for stockpiling on the job site until they were needed. Then a loader would carry them to their final destination for placement.

But times are changing in the construction industry, and the delivery of materials is changing, too, as owners and contractors search out ways to complete projects more efficiently. On more and more construction sites throughout Western Washington, materials are arriving in conveyor trucks such as the big blue Macks operated by Sunrise Material Placing Inc. of Snohomish, Wash.

In September 2007, Sunrise was contracted to deliver 250 tons of pipe bedding material for the 507 Northgate project in the busy Northgate neighborhood of Seattle. With the Rafn Co. as general contractor, Wallace Properties is developing 507 Northgate as a mixed-use building with 55,000 square feet of retail space, 163 rental apartments and a three-story parking garage.

At the project site, directly across the street from Northgate Mall, subcontractor Fruhling Inc. was in the latter stage of site excavation, and the foundation of the building was taking shape. While construction equipment competed for operating room in the confined excavation space, traffic passed on three sides of the property while the blank wall of a neighboring building stood to the south. Laydown space? What laydown space?

With such a confined situation, 507 Northgate was a prime candidate for aggregate delivery by conveyor truck.

"On a tight job site like this, you have no place to store material," noted Joe Summers, sales representative for Sunrise Material Placing. "Even if you could dump it on the site, you would still have to handle it again."

The rehandling of materials is a big deal, Summers added, because it's typical to lose 6 percent of a load when it's dumped on the ground.

But with a conveyor truck, the aggregates can be placed directly where they are needed. On this foggy morning, Sunrise driver Jason Syria pulled his truck to a stop next to the gate leading into the job site. He got out of the cab holding a remote control transmitter, walked to the rear of the truck and through the gate, and then he proceeded to back the truck into position for the delivery via remote control.

The big Mack — one of seven operated by Sunrise — is equipped with a Can American Soil King Plus XL19 stone spreader bed. Though the maximum capacity of the XL19 is 24 tons, the truck usually carries a load of 12 tons to 18 tons due to weight restrictions on the roads, Summers said.

Syria unfolded the 19-foot throw conveyor apparatus stored alongside the bed of the truck and directed it toward a quadrant of the excavation below him. When he cranked up the conveyor, aggregate began shooting off the end of it in a stream, much like water out of a garden hose, directly into the quadrant. Again using his remote control, Syria aimed the conveyor to place the material in a neat pile. In about eight minutes, he had emptied the truck and was on his way back to Glacier Northwest's Kenmore, Wash., plant for another load.

A New Niche

Allen Eddleman is the owner of Sunrise Material Placing, and like many in the construction industry his business has evolved over the years. In 1985, after 10 years working in construction, Eddleman decided to go into business for himself and formed Sunrise Concrete Pump Services. The business was successful, but by the late 1990s Eddleman could see the industry changing and started looking for a new niche.

After two years of study, Eddleman's business became Sunrise Material Placing in 2001.

"It was grow or die in the concrete business, so we got into this," Summers recalled. "It was a great decision for us."

Since making the switch to material placement, the Sunrise fleet has grown to seven trucks. The company services the entire state of Washington, but most of its current work is one the west side of the Cascades, Summers said. The company's goal is to grow to 10 trucks by this spring, which will allow Sunrise to take on more business in the eastern part of the state.

That's likely to happen, because the conveyor trucks are ideal for spreading a wide range of materials. From gravel to sand, topsoil to wood chips or sawdust, they can carry materials up to 4-inch minus. The Soil-King conveyors can lift 12 feet high and place up to 100 feet away, depending on the material, according to the manufacturer, Canada-based Can American Stone Spreader Sales Ltd.

The power of the conveyors gives the trucks the capability to place over fences and walls, between buildings, inside existing ones, on soft ground and under trees. They also can back fill retaining walls and pools, and they can fill basements or foundations.

The Soil-King has been designed and built as a single-operator machine. Can American's patented metering beam design allows the conveyor to do its job with no additional effort on the part of the operator. In addition, the safety hazard of having a man shoveling in the bed to help material down to the belt has been eliminated.

With the demand for aggregates continuing strong and the advantages of conveyor deliveries obvious, don't be surprised if you see more of those blue Sunrise conveyor trucks on their way to construction sites in Washington in the near future.