Downtime – it’s an ugly word. Regardless of the business type, downtime is one of the most detrimental and negative things a company can experience. Whether it’s unexpected downtime due to equipment failure or labor shortage, or planned downtime for routine practices such as equipment maintenance and repair, the key to minimizing its damaging effects of downtime is simple – limit it as much as possible.
Perhaps no one understands this concept better than Kirby Sternfels. As the owner of K&G Industrial Services, Sternfels’ and his company’s mission is getting others back in business. Located just outside Mobile, AL in the small town of Theodore, K&G provides refractory demolition and installation to a variety of industries.
Refractory, which is high-temperature, heat-resistant material such as fire-brick, shotcrete or gunite, is essential for operation in facilities including cement production plants, paper mills and chemical plants. Refractory material is used as a lining in furnaces, incinerators, kilns and reactors, and is a necessary component for structures that are exposed to environments above 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s applied to the interior of the surface using a high-pressure pumping machine that sprays on the material. Depending on how much production a plant experiences and how hard its equipment has been worked, clients typically require K&G’s services one to three times a year.
K&G is a fairly large company, employing anywhere from 45 to 200 people at a time, depending on how many jobs are ongoing at once. It services clients in 20 states, from as far southwest as Texas, up to the New York area. Although the company was only recently formed in October of 2008, K&G has made quite a name for itself in the industry – much of the success stemming from the fact that Sternfels is an experienced veteran in the refractory industry. Prior to starting his own company, he worked for nearly ten years at a company that provides similar services as K&G. Before that, he was employed by a refractory equipment manufacturer. One could say he’s been eating, sleeping and breathing refractory for most of his adult life. And those close to this industry know that experience matters, as refractory installation isn’t a common, well-known practice.
K&G has managed to grow and keep current clients coming back with knowledge, professionalism and quality work. But most importantly, what really matters to these companies is urgency. Regardless of the type of facility it’s servicing, K&G knows efficiency is the name of the game to all its clients. When Sternfels and his crew are performing their services, they’re stopping that plant’s work – and money-making opportunity. Again, Sternfels’ industry experience is priceless, as he understands the importance of getting these companies back up and running as quickly as possible. And he makes that his number one priority.
“Even though most plants typically only require maintenance to be performed once or twice a year, any amount of downtime is hampering to their productivity and profitability,” Sternfels said. “These companies, they can’t afford to be held up a long time, waiting for us to finish. After all, time is money!”
For this reason, it’s crucial for K&G to be able to get in, perform its service quickly and effectively, and get out. Seems like a simple enough philosophy, but Sternfels needs more than values and a hard-working team to ensure the work gets done quickly. He’s found a major key to the success of his company is the equipment his crew utilizes on each job.
Refractory installation equipment isn’t something sold off the shelf in a local big box retailer. It’s very technologically advanced, sophisticated and powerful equipment. It needs to do just one job, but must do it exceptionally well. So when he first started his company, Sternfels wanted to work with an equipment manufacturer that had reliable, quality equipment and also provided top-notch service and support. After all, in order for his crew to help its customers minimize downtime, his company would need to avoid it altogether – equipment failure was not an option. He knew just the manufacturer to call.
“I had previously worked with a manufacturer out of Anniston [Alabama] called Blastcrete Equipment Company,” Sternfels said. The company, which manufactures a variety of shotcrete and gunite mixers and pumps, was already familiar to Sternfels, as was its reputation for providing remarkable service and support. Top that off with the fact Blastcrete is located just a few hours away from K&G’s headquarters in Theodore, and Sternfels was sold.
He also recognized the value of working with a company that specializes in refractory installation equipment and has plenty of experience close to the industry. Blastcrete was previously a division of Southeast Refractories until 1999, when Southeast was sold and Blastcrete became a stand-alone company. With years of manufacturing knowledge under its belt, Blastcrete had developed a variety of refractory equipment including high-pressure mixer/pumps and dry gunite machines. Beyond refractory, the company offers mixers and pumps for a variety of other industries, including commercial and residential construction, masonry, mining, underground and building system such as ICF and SCIP.
Tripp Farrell, sales manager for Blastcrete, was eager to help out and pleased to be working with Sternfels again. “We already had a great relationship with Kirby [Sternfels], working with him at his previous company, and I knew we’d be able to provide the right equipment and the support he’d need,” he said. “Because we’re very in tune with the refractory industry, we know how crucial time and efficiency is to K&G’s clients. We do everything we can to give them, not just the equipment they need, but the service and support as well.”
And as far as the equipment goes, it’s among the most technologically-advanced in the industry. Thanks to years of research, development and simply listening to customer’s requests, Blastcrete evolved its machines to be technologically advanced, yet easy to operate and maintain. “The machines offer high performance, but also user-friendly features to enhance operation and reduce cleaning and maintenance efforts,” Sternfels said.
K&G’s fleet consists of two Blastcrete MX-10 mixer/pumps and twelve AA 020 Genuine Piccola gunite machines. The MX-10 is an ultra high-pressure swing-tube style mixer/pump used for wet shotcrete applications. Featuring a simple, one-bolt clamping system, the AA 020 Piccola machine is ideal for dry shotcrete, or gunite, installations. K&G stocks more Piccola units, as the company typically prefers to do dry shotcrete installation. However, some customers specify a wet shotcrete must be applied; in those cases, K&G has the MX-10 units ready to go.
“The company doesn’t offer just one model of equipment. There are several to choose from,” Sternfels said. “So that’s great for us because it allows us to accommodate each client’s request. And it takes our customer service up a notch.” Blastcrete even goes so far as to customize pieces to customer’s exact specifications, an option Sternfels says he’s considered.
Sternfels was also pleased that Blastcrete was able to get him several pieces for his fleet. He anticipated K&G would have multiple jobs going on at the same time, so he wanted to have several pieces of equipment on hand so he’d never have one job waiting on another.
“Sometimes we’ll have a few different jobs in different parts of the country,” Sternfels said. “We can’t hold up a job in Texas because we’re waiting on the piece of equipment to arrive from a completed job in New York. That just wouldn’t be efficient and it wouldn’t work for our customers.”
Another factor Sternfels can’t tolerate – broken equipment. “We can’t afford for the equipment to break down and be in need of frequent repairs,” he said. “That’s one thing I really like about the Blastcrete machines. They just don’t break.”
And on the off-chance anything would go wrong, Sternfels has peace of mind knowing Blastcrete will be there to provide service and support, not just because the company is nearby in Alabama, but because it’s such a customer service-focused company.
“From day one, we made it our mission to provide the best customer service,” Farrell said. “Now, customers have high expectations, and we strive to live up to those expectations any way we can.”
Speaking of expectations – another Blastcrete not only meets but exceeds is the expectation to manufacture equipment that’s easy to own and maintain. As far as the routine maintenance and cleaning, K&G takes care of it all, right at its shop in Theodore. Both the MX-10 and Piccola machines, along with all of Blastcrete’s equipment, are designed to be very easy to maintain, including a simplified cleaning process. To equipment owners in other industries, that might sound like more of a detail. But Blastcrete knows how important it is in the refractory business.
“Let’s face it, with any piece of equipment, routine maintenance and cleaning is often neglected when companies get busy,” Farrell said. “But with any type of refractory installation equipment, you absolutely cannot afford to skip these steps. They have to be done every day.”
Farrell explains the machine’s performance will suffer, and it can become severely damaged without proper care. It’s common knowledge that concrete material will harden over time. So if the material isn’t cleaned every day, it will harden, and eventually build up and damage the equipment. Recognizing that companies don’t have an hour to spend on cleaning and maintenance every day, Blastcrete designed its machines to make the process as quick and easy as possible.
“Everything from the swing-out hopper designs to the way we positioned the platform and engine on the MX-10 model was purposeful and planned. It’s all been strategically and carefully designed for best results and to reduce the amount of time spent on cleaning and maintenance,” Farrell said.
Sternfels notes that the cleaning and maintenance process is quick and simple. And while he’s quick to point out that it isn’t difficult, he does recognize that it must be done regularly. “We can just handle it here at the shop and have the piece ready to go out on the next job,” he said.
And indeed it does go, almost instantly, to the next job because K&G remains a busy company that is growing and adding customers. In fact, the company recently added a second facility in Texas to better serve customers in the area.
Sternfels certainly has a lot of pride in his company. Despite all the growth and success K&G has experienced, he’s remained very humble.
“We simply keep our word to customers,” he said. “There’s no magical business model I’ve discovered, no cutting-edge, new way of doing things that I try to brag about. We just do what we say we will, and do it well.” Bottom line: K&G makes sure its clients get back to work as quickly as possible – keeping downtime to a minimum.
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K&G Industrial Services provides fast, quality refractory installation with help from Blastcrete equipment