Business feature: Isaac Construction

Business feature: Isaac Construction Business feature: Isaac Construction
Business feature: Isaac Construction Business feature: Isaac Construction
Business feature: Isaac Construction Business feature: Isaac Construction

Isaac Construction has been a long-standing supplier of construction materials to the Christchurch region for many years with much of the company’s quarry product consumed in concrete and asphaltic concrete production.

Isaac Construction is one of the companies that took on the challenge of meeting the demand to rebuild Christchurch. Initially, the company achieved the additional aggregate volume required through a lot of hard work, driving its production staff and existing equipment to their limits. However, it soon became apparent that the need to expand the company’s quarry production facilities was inevitable to ensure its ability to reliably meet customer’s expectations.

Established by Isaac’s family in 1957, Isaac Construction’s McLean’s Island quarry is one of the oldest established quarries in Christchurch. The quarry converts its raw material feed of hard, ancient river gravel into a coarse natural concrete aggregate, blended sand (natural and Barmac dust), sealing chip for roads and aggregates for asphaltic concrete.

Located just 18km from the centre of Christchurch, the quarry is ideally placed to efficiently supply its products for the city’s reconstruction work.

Caring for the interests of the community and environment has long been part of Isaac Construction’s business approach. The company’s slogan ‘Combining Construction with Conservation’ is proudly demonstrated through the work of The Isaac Conservation and Wildlife Trust that was established by Sir Neil and Lady Diana Isaac in 1977.

The trust focuses on three areas: flora, fauna, and historic building conservation. In addition to the trust’s conservation of rare plant species, its captive breeding programme rears for release a wide variety of New Zealand’s most endangered birds and reptiles. An important source of funding for these visionary conservation projects is derived from the profits made in the quarrying business.

Today, the trust’s facilities consist of a Heritage Village, the Isaac Conservation Park, Peacock Springs Conservation area and farmland, which are all co-located with the quarry on 1100 hectares of land at McLean’s Island.

Upgrading to meet market demands

After the 2011 earthquakes, Isaac Construction ramped up production and was eventually running double shifts to meet the increased demand for concrete production and road building materials. However, the plant’s production capacity and reliability started to become a major issue.

This sometimes resulted in the need to buy in products to satisfy supply obligations. So towards the end of 2011, the company’s management team agreed that an upgrade was required and boldly decided to treble the quarry’s production capacity from 100 to 300 tonnes per hour.

A tender process was initiated in February 2012 and after months of detailed bid reviews, Isaac Construction awarded a $NZ11m contract to MIMICO—Metso’s exclusive distributor in New Zealand.

The contract included the design, supply, installation, and commission of a new plant based on Metso’s crushing and screening equipment as well as its wear protection system.

The plant was designed, fabricated, and installed by QMI Engineering, a fully-owned subsidiary of MIMICO. Commissioning was undertaken by MIMICO’s in-house service team.

The upgrade was completed in three stages. Work on the primary and secondary sections started in early 2013 and was completed in September 2014. The tertiary section was started in November 2014 and was completed by May 2015.

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Financial prudence and unique payment terms

This project represented a significant investment for Isaac Construction and so flexibility around the payment terms was a high priority for the company’s management.

Rex Davies, MIMICO’s managing director explains, "As part of the project conditions, we offered Isaac Construction a monthly payment arrangement.

"This was a great result for Isaac’s, as quite uniquely, the arrangement allowed them to make all of their payments from cash flow. I am quite certain that our payment package was an important factor in the decision to award us the contract." Stu Cameron, Isaac Construction’s maintenance supervisor, explains from his perspective why choosing MIMICO as the supplier of the new plant was a good move.

"A big factor was the confidence we had in the working relationship. All the key people on the project from QMI Engineering and MIMICO knew our plant and company," he says. "In particular, Colin and Scott Welsh have been involved in maintenance and plant improvements here for many years prior to the start of the project.

"Another important factor was the reliability of our existing Metso crushers. In our old plant, we had a Metso HP100 and an HP200. Both machines were close to 20 years old and were still running strong."

Colin Welsh founded QMI in 1989 and has been personally involved with Isaac Construction since 2000.

He says, "When we first started doing work for Isaac Construction, it was just maintenance over their Christmas shutdown period. Over the years, this grew into doing refurbishments and small upgrades to improve production rates or to add the capability to produce different products. There is no doubt that our long-term relationship played a big part in us being awarded the contract."

Project challenges

The feedstock from McLean’s Island quarry is infamous for its hardness. This factor alone made designing an optimal plant complex. Contributing to this complexity was shifting market demands both in terms of volume and variety of product. This forced Isaac Construction to change the required project specifications. While changes such as this are understandably unpopular with contractors, David McCaffrey, MIMICO’s process equipment engineer believes that his company’s ability to quickly interpret changes, adapt process models, and select suitable equipment helped them to win the project.

David elaborates, "BRUNO is Metso’s easy-to-use software tool for planning and simulating the crushing process. It helps us to quickly explore various machine combinations for different applications. We use it extensively. On this project, I created many alternative models in BRUNO before proposing our overall design.

"When Isaac advised us about expected increases in sales production volumes for various products, I quickly made changes to input and output parameters and within minutes was able to assess the performance of the various models I had previously built. This allowed me to quickly understand what changes we needed to make our offer. We also excelled in addressing the uncertainty of Isaac’s feedstock hardness, as we have our own laboratory which conducted extensive crush tests for us. The combination of using accurate crushability data and presenting BRUNO process models gave the management at Isaac Construction a high degree of confidence in the reliability of our design," he says.

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A strong focus on safety

Talking about the project and its outcomes, Stu says, "Overall, things went really well, so it is hard to try to single out anything that stands out. I would say though, that the advanced safety levels in the new plant have really impressed me.

"Based on what I have seen, I think it has possibly worked out cheaper to install a new plant than to try to get the existing plant up to the same safety standards required to comply with New Zealand’s latest safety rules."

Mike Higgins, Isaac Constructions industries manager is responsible for the running of all of the company’s production facilities. Mike believes that the high level of safety provided by the new plant has ignited a wave of safety awareness. He says, "Suddenly, we all started looking at things differently and have become proactive in increasing our safety performance."

Plant efficiency and flexibility delivers a competitive advantage

The project delivered numerous optimisations, cost savings, and process efficiencies for Isaac Construction. Rex says, "An example of how the new plant has reduced costs is the elimination of the load and carry an aspect of the process. Previously, the plant consisted of three sections, and so at any one time, there would be four or five wheel loaders moving product between sections for the next stage of processing, doing up to 120 km a day. Not only did this mean high fuel and maintenance costs but it was also a big capital outlay. The new plant has a network of conveyors, removing this requirement completely."

For Mike , the flexibility of the new plant is what impresses him most. "We have a fairly unique situation in this region. At times, it is a real challenge to produce what the market needs from the feed gravel we have available to us. The gravel is very hard, and this makes it expensive to produce large volumes of fine crushed material.

"Thanks to this project, we have been able to optimise our costs far better than other quarries.

"It is a credit to David McCaffrey and the MIMICO team that they were able to build in additional flexibility to accommodate a wide variety of product specifications; a variety that even increased during the course of the project," he says.

Colin talks fondly of his involvement in the project and QMI Engineering’s work at McLean’s Island quarry.

"It is 15 years of history for me. If I look back, there were three different plants each dedicated to making a specific product. Today, I see a single plant that takes its feedstock on the one end and produces multiple products in multiple stockpiles.

"Thanks to the high degree of automation and advanced SCADA user interface, deciding and changing what product gets made and where it is stockpiled is a matter of keystrokes in the control room rather than hours of work out in the field. What this project has delivered to our long-term customer is certainly a distinction in my career."

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