How Bituminous Products is moving with the times

Australian material supply company Bituminous Products has implemented a major quality improvement program that has seen significant enhancements across its national operation.For nearly 50 years, Bituminous Products has manufactured core road-based materials and products, from polymer modified binders (PMBs), crack sealants, precoats, adhesion agents to cutbacks and primers, and everything inbetween.

The Australia-owned business, established in 1968 in Revesby, New South Wales, has grown steadily to a major supplier to the national market.

In 2006, it became a part of the Transpacific group of companies. Six years later, however, the company, which had seen a significant growth since its inception, would face a new phase in its evolution.

In 2012, Transpacific made the decision to divest a number of non-core businesses, including Bituminous Products.

This decision gave the management team at Bituminous Products the opportunity to acquire the business and reinvigorate the brand and its nationwide assets, most notably its manufacturing facilities and operations in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.

That reinvigoration is well underway and proving successful, but it hasn’t been an easy road to take.

Neil Morcombe, Bituminous Products Managing Director, says the change of hands opened up the potential for the company to improve its business operations and better cater to the market, but first it had to gain an understanding of what needed to be done. It then embarked on a strategic customer feedback program.

Product consistency and the capability to supply larger volumes of material were identified as barriers to complete customer engagement in some areas, although it would be no easy task to fix for the short term.

“The concerns in the market around volume and supply capability were really the major challenges the business had to face. It meant a heavy financial commitment into the repair and maintenance of existing assets and the addition of new plant and equipment – all of which typically have new investors feeling a little uncomfortable,” explains Mr. Morcombe.

Bituminous Products identified that the business needed to move with the times.

“Gone are the days where asphalt plants produced at 80-100 tonnes per hour. Gone are the days where spray crews simply emptied one tanker per day,” states Mr. Morcombe. “All of our clients are achieving unprecedented daily volumes in the contracting space – it is now commonplace for asphalt crews to be laying 2000-plus tonnes per day and spray seal crews to be spraying 500,000 litres a week.” In short, Bituminous Products needed to have the right plant, equipment, processes and people in place to meet rising customer demands.

Armed with this information, the business embarked on a strict quality improvement program, which included a review of all product formulations, national manufacturing practices, raw materials and an investment in the recruitment and retention of key personnel.

Bituminous Products’ manufacturing facility at Pinkenba in southeast Queensland was the pilot site for the program, and established some key lessons that helped in implementing the quality improvement program across the firm’s national operations.

The improvements to Pinkenba commenced in the winter of 2015, with the second stage of the upgrade completed at the end of 2016. The project was designed, scoped and managed by Andrew Thomson -– National Key Account and Pinkenba Business Manager.

“There were some new angles about how we did things as a business. Being able to provide products on demand, pre-blending products and forecasting supply volumes were some considerations we needed to take on board,” says Mr. Thomson.

The upgrade included the addition of multiple storage tanks and new production capabilities that allow the site to produce different products back-to-back, providing greater flexibility and more consistent supply.

“Everything we did at Pinkenba was really to provide a wider range of products and supply when the customer wanted it.”

The inclusion of a new purpose-built crumb rubber tank at its Pinkenba site has given Bituminous Products the ability to produce another high-quality product.

“The fact is that crumb rubber has proved quite successful for us and the purpose-built tank means we are able to significantly reduce segregation during the production and storage phase. Pinkenba was the pilot for crumb rubber tanks for us, and we’ve been able to leverage some work from that,” says Mr. Thomson. “Through our quality focus program, asset upgrades and investments, we are striving to achieve a business model which is 100 per cent focused on the customers’ needs and demands.”

Re-entering the WA market

Part of Bituminous Products’ improvement program also involved the reinvigoration of its WA assets. In the winter of 2014, a few years after separating from Transpacific, the company re-entered the polymer modified bitumen (PMB) market in WA.

“It was a new, small-scale setup for us, but it has helped us get our foot back into the market has proved quite successful over the years. Our presence back in the WA market was well received by a number of key contractors and reaffirmed our commitment to this state, which we have been a part of for over 20 years,” says Mr. Thomson.

“To complement our fixed units, our mobile plants remain active in the state, providing support to remote projects and if and when an increase in output is needed.”

Eastern expansions

Melbourne was another sector where the company identified some opportunities.

“There was an increase in market demand in Victoria and we jumped on that to take advantages of those opportunities at the time,” explains Mr. Thomson. Its established facility in Dandenong underwent a midsize upgrade over the past nine months, which included significant remodelling of the site. “It became a matter of consolidating and rearranging what we already had,” he states.

The layout of the plant was adjusted to simplify processes and improve site access.

“We basically eliminated 95 per cent of material handling risks on site, and made it easier for customers and tankers,” Mr. Thomson says. “The improvements will allow for more efficient movements of materials to and from the site, as well as an increased output of precoats, adhesion agents and PMBs. Particular focus has been placed on safety improvements, manufacturing practices and environmental controls.”

The upgrades to Bituminous Products’ Melbourne site were completed in summer this year, and the current focus is now on its Revesby plant in New South Wales.

“Stage 1 of the Revesby plant upgrade is a very exciting time for the business,” states Mr. Thomson. “Not only is the current plant in need of a little tender love and care, through investment there is an opportunity to better service the diverse product mix often required at times of peak demand.

“Removing bottlenecks and improving efficiency and flexibility will enable the business to take advantage of the record levels of infrastructure investment planned by the NSW government over the coming four to five years.”

This includes improvements in tanker movements and handling, additional holding tanks and dual high flow despatch gantries, which will see the site’s peak supply capability increase by as much as 40 per cent over the coming year. “This will enable the Revesby site to supply some of the largest projects across the state.”

Mr. Thomson says with the four fully equipped laboratories, all sites have seen a dramatic reduction in product variability and is pleased to see the program delivering positive results. “We are well positioned geographically to meet the demands of the road network and our national customer base. Current volumes are up and product variability is down, so we are on track.”

Industry and Bituminous Products’ clients have welcomed the improvements to the company’s respective operations, and Mr. Thomson says the roll-out of the program has certainly been no easy task.

“Internally, the upgrades have been a major challenge, especially being able to provide regular supply and services during peak seasons while going through that improvement program process,” he says.

“Everything we’ve done is all around a client perspective – yes, we needed to upgrade to increase our volume, but we included a lot of improvements around blending and quality. This provides reassurance and confidence to our customers that everything produced and despatched is specification compliant and fit for purpose.”

The quality improvement program is ongoing and still a primary focus for the business. “Our customer service and support remains a key focus area on our day-to-day operations. We want our customers to feel that doing business with us is simple and reliable – an ease of trade partnership, you might say.”

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