Rock Products - The Leading Voice of the Aggregate Industries.

Rock Products 120th Anniversary - Part 11

26 120YEARS 400


In This Issue, We Cover The Years 1990-1999.

With little doubt, automated production became more prevalent for aggregate and cement companies of every size beginning in the 1990s. Prior to this period, companies may have had aspects of plant operation, such as loadout or billing, performed without constant employee supervision. But in the early 1990s, some companies began considering seriously the idea of total automation or something very close to it.

Such substantial automation made it easier for operations to run their plants overnight and perhaps only one employee supervising. Unmanned computerized weighing systems gained popularity in the early 1990s. The technology relied on identification equipment, including magnetic cards, radio-frequency tags, equipment for weighing and ticket printing and data communication.

38 Anniv1Early versions of hand-held computers were being used on-site at many aggregate operations in the early 1990s. The computers included built-in modems and could operate with bar code wands, laser scanners, portable printers, and input/output devices. By the middle of 1990, two models of notebook-sized computers were introduced by Compaq. Both came equipped with standard 640K memory, expandable to 1 Mb, or 2.6 Mb on more advanced models.

The associations kept things interesting. In 1992, National Stone Association (NSA) and National Aggregates Association (NAA) members agreed to enter the second phase of talks on a possible merger. The National Ready-Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA) announced that it endorsed the merger. Later in the year, NAA directors changed their minds and imposed severe restrictions on the merger. NAA board members insisted that the NRMCA be part of the merger package, placing a major roadblock in the path of a union.

In-pit crushing was gaining momentum as a preferred method of production. In 1989, Rock Products profiled a plant in Sandusky, Ohio, which used the method and, in the process, replaced six haul trucks. In another plant in Great Britain, the method cut costs 40 percent.

By the turn of the decade, the U.S. aggregate industry felt as if it were under siege by both domestic and overseas companies acquiring operations, as well as cement companies trying to expand into the aggregate industry to lock up customers in competitive areas.

Cement companies were feeling pressures also. By 1992, former cement importers began by buying cement from U.S. producers, because cement in some areas of the United States was relatively inexpensive and cement supplies from overseas had been cut by import duties and growing domestic demand in some nations.




Crushed Stone

Sand & Gravel




























Source: US Geological Survey   million short tons

Cemex acquired Empresas Tohteca, the second-largest portland cement producer in Mexico in 1989, making Cemex the largest producer in that country with 18.3 million-tpy capacity. In 1991, the company announced it would spend about $1 billion to expand some of it plants and build two new ones to increase the company’s production capacity 35 percent. In 1992, Cemex acquired two Spanish cement companies, totaling 28 percent of that country’s cement market.

At the same time the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) determined that the U.S. cement industry had been materially injured by imports of cement and clinker from Mexico. Soon after, the U.S. Department of Commerce ruled that the Mexican cement industry was selling cement in America at less than fair value. In mid-1990, American and Mexican cement producers testified before the ITC on the alleged cement dumping.

The Commerce Department also began investigating charges of dumping against Japan filed by two California cement producers. By the end of 1990, a preliminary determination was made that Japan was dumping product.

In 1991, three Florida-based cement manufacturers filed an anti-dumping and countervailing duty petition with the ITC against imports of cement into that state from Venezuela. A year later, Venezuelan cement producers signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce that eliminated the dumping of cement into Florida and the rest of the country.

On the environmental front, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed on an aggressive “no net loss” policy on wetlands in early 1990, with EPA targeting gravel producers as prime offenders. To those ends, Vulcan Materials Co.’s Sanders quarry in Warrenton, Va., became the first site in the nation to be certified by the Wildlife Habitat Enhancement Council as a sanctioned enhanced habitat for indigenous wildlife in 1990.

President Bush signed the Clean Air Act of 1990, a comprehensive updating of the original Act of 1970. The NAA sent an angry letter to the EPA in early 1991 protesting the inclusion of stone quarries and sand and gravel operations in the agency’s draft list of hazardous air pollution-producing facilities under the new act.

In addition, cement producers began to worry about impending attacks by environmentally minded lawmakers who perceived cement production to be a major source of CO2, one of the principal “greenhouse gases” thought to contribute to global warming and planet-wide climate changes. It is no wonder that many producers felt that the new “green movement” refused to work with industry to solve environmental difficulties or review scientific data.

Cement producers who wanted to use waste fuel were running into their own problems. In 1990, Ash Grove Cement Co. developed an environmentally sound energy-recovery system from solid hazardous waste-derived fuel. The method involved introducing waste fuel directly into the middle of a long kiln, where gas temperatures are sufficiently high to assure complete destruction.

By the end of 1990, a Washington, D.C., court forced the EPA to finalize regulations on the use of hazardous waste-based fuel in cement kilns and other industrial furnaces. Finally, in 1992, the EPA said it had no data indicating emissions from hazardous waste burning in cement kilns posed a threat to human health or the environment.

In 1992, technology was made available that allowed the use of whole tires as a low-cost source for kiln energy for long kilns. Tires were bundled and introduced into the calcining tone of the kiln. The same year, a bulk tire feeder was constructed for cement kilns that was controlled by a programmable logic controller.

To handle and sometimes combat the seemingly endless number of government-related attacks the cement industry had to endure, the Portland Cement Association (PCA) approved a dramatic restructuring that included merging with the American Cement Alliance and American Concrete Paving Association, developing an aggressive lobbying effort; increasing membership dues; and expanding its research and technical services group.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued its final rule for identifying mines with a “pattern of violations” in 1989. Once such a notice is issued, any inspection within 90 days that revealed another significant violation resulted in an order to withdraw all persons from the affected area of operation until the violation was abated.

39 AnnivAlso in 1989, the chairman of the Senate Environmental Protection Subcommittee reintroduced a tougher waste minimization and control bill, which would mandate recycling and destruction of waste material as the best method of dealing with waste. The bill also ordered the EPA to develop guidelines for disposal of solid waste.

Recycling concrete and asphalt by crushed stone producers increased drastically by 1992 amid some fears that recycled material diminish sales of virgin aggregate. A major testing ground for recyclers in California came after the 1989 earthquake that struck the San Francisco Bay area, causing 59 deaths and massive property damage. Additional concrete destruction was caused by hurricane damage on the east coast in the same year and in 1992.

New equipment developments in the period included:

A new type of secondary breaker that exerted 1,000 tons of crushing force in a pinching movement was introduced at 1989’s Hillhead exhibition in England. The Rock Cracker would rotate 90 degrees left and 15 degrees right. Also at Hillhead, an enclosed belt conveyor that could carry material around 90-degree bends and up 35-degree inclines was unveiled.

In 1990, the world’s largest mineral sand mining dredge was built for an Australian operation. The bucket-wheel dredge had a maximum digging depth of 82 ft..; a 24-in. dredge pump with 2,000-hp suction and discharge diameter of 24 in.; and was 195-ft. long, 52 ft.-wide, and nearly 10-ft. deep.

Also in that year, Cedarapids developed the largest totally self-contained mobile primary in the world with a 5460 jaw crusher, 62-in., x 24 ½-ft. vibrating grizzly feeder, 60-in. undercrusher conveyor, and a 50-ft. elevating radial front delivery conveyor. The 630,000-lb. unit was capable of 1,000- to 1,400-tph capacities.

Although not entirely new, a French-designed line of vertical shaft impact crushers was introduced to the outside quarry industry at Hillhead in 1991, marking the first display of such a product on a grand scale.

Based on the controls used on video games, joystick controls were introduced on VME and Caterpillar wheel loaders in 1992.

According to a speaker at 1990’s Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference, 41 percent of U.S. bridges were deficient; more than 1 million miles of highway needed resurfacing by 2000; bringing highways up to speed would cost $60 billion per year; airports needed $24 billion for expansion and development over the next 10 years; and more than 28 million Americans were not served by modern sewage treatment facilities.

Looking to boost sagging business in the construction industry, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) was passed in 1992, with the support of Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton, who went onto win the election that year. ISTEA increased highway funding and paved the way for a boost in the aggregate business in the years to follow.


Severe flooding in the Midwest caused damage to many aggregate plants in 1993. Many of the plants were at the forefront of helping save communities during the worst of the floods by donating sand bagging equipment and materials, as well as materials to support levers under attack by the Mississippi River.

The EPA, under the direction of Clinton-appointed Carol Browner, spent much of 1993 attacking both industries. The agency considered limiting transportation-related construction, including highway building, if the activity was found to have a negative effect on air quality in polluted regions. At the same time, President Clinton established a new White House Office of Environmental Policy.

Later in the year, Browner imposed a freeze on permitting waste incinerators and industrial furnaces, including cement kilns, stating that the agency would take “a series of immediate additional actions to permanently enhance the hazardous waste prevention and combustion program.”

40 AnnivImmediately, the Cement Kiln Recycling Coalition (CKRC) took on the EPA concerning the agency’s restrictions on permitting. Eventually, CKRC sued the EPA, challenging the legality of the ban on new permits.

The winds of change swept through Washington again after the 1994 Congressional election, which brought with it a new Republican majority that was expected to be decidedly more familiar with – and friendlier to – the business community.

In early 1995, the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure wanted to put legislation to designate the National Highway System (NHS) on a fast track. By early 1996, $5.3 billion in NHS funds began being distributed by the Department of Transportation for repairs and improvements to 160,000 miles of the country’s most heavily used roads and bridges. California, Texas, New York and Florida were the top fund-getters.

The department also released $2 billion in new transportation grants in 1996 to 22 states as part of its “Partnership for Transportation Investment.”

To help finance a nearly-$1 billion, 159-mile highway construction project, the Ohio Turnpike Commission approved in 1995 an 80 percent increase in toll rates over a 2 ½-year period.

With increased highway and housing construction fueled by an improving economy, low mortgage rates, government construction fueled by an improving economy, low mortgage rates government construction, and disaster relief, the aggregate industry saw modest growth from 1993 to 1996.

Representatives of the mining and construction industries sued the Clinton Administration in 1991 over a piece of its program to revamp wetlands regulation, which they said illegally broadened the scope of wetlands regulation, pulling in excavation activities not previously captured by the Clean Water Act.

In July 1995, the House Appropriations Committee considered a funding proposal that would abolish the U.S. Bureau of Mines because of FY1996 budgeting limits approved by the House and Senate. The House approved a bill that would have killed the Bureau, slashed the EPA’s budget by one-third, and froze enforcement of key provisions of the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act and put on hold the EPA’s combustion strategy. A ray of hope appeared when the Senate approved a bill that would have not only preserved the Bureau but also given it $128 million for 1996.

However, in late 1995, despite protests of the mining industry and the Clinton administration, House and Senate negotiators abolished the Bureau of Mines, keeping some of its functions alive and scattered to other cabinet headings while eliminating others altogether.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) kept relatively quiet in the 1990s, despite talks of a possible merger with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. MSHA did, however, in 1995, warn mine operators and its inspectors about potential failures of emergency-stop pull-cord systems along conveyors due to spillage around the switch, broken cords, excessive slack, failed electrical switches, control circuits incorrectly wired, and frozen pivot bearings.

ConExpo organizers decided in 1993 to move from a six-year schedule to a three-year plan, thus conflicting with the Con/Agg show in 1996. In early 1994, organizers announced that the ConExpo and Con/Agg shows would, for the first time, be combined in 1996. In 1995, organizers agreed in principal to continue their joint venture exhibition through 2008.

Rock Products co-sponsored with the U.S. Bureau of Mines the first Construction Materials Recycling Seminar in Chicago in 1993. By the end of that year, Rock Products began publishing two new magazines focused on specific markets frequently covered in its pages: Rock Products Cement Edition and C&D Debris Recycling.

Despite a record demand for construction aggregates in the mid-1990s, real prices remained level or declined, putting the pinch on profit margins for producers. Many aggregate companies cut costs by: reducing labor and incorporating automation; increasing acquisitions and divestitures to take advantage of geographic strengths; expanding markets through rail, barge, and freighter shipments to distribution yards; and establishing specialized markets.


As the 20th Century came to a close, the aggregates industry was on a roll. The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) was signed into law by President Clinton in June 1998. The six-year bill increased federal highway spending 44 percent, and initiated an economic golden era for aggregates operations, as production began to top itself year after year.

As the century came to an end, the National Stone Association also saw a dramatic change of leadership, as Robert Bartlett retired and was replaced by Jennifer Joy Wilson, who ushered in an era where the association took on a much stronger role in lobbying, and playing an active part in looking out for the industry’s interests on Capitol Hill.

In the December 1999 issue of Rock Products, Editor Bob Drake penned a feature called 2020 Vision, which updated readers on emerging and enabling technologies, and predicted how these technologies would benefit aggregates producers in the future.

Next Month: 2000-2009: Production soars ever higher.