Pumped concrete has become an essential part of today’s construction: around 35% of ready-mixed concrete is placed by concrete boom pumps, according to Tom O’Malley, Senior Vice President Sales and Marketing at Schwing America. And towable pumps are also used to place a lot of concrete. Since Schwing pumps were introduced into the U.S.in the early 1970s, the company has been a leader in concrete pumping and recent developments have reinforced that.
“Our backlog was strong on March 1,” says O’Malley, “but as the virus became more widespread in the U.S., our backlog decreased accordingly. June was a turnaround month. Most of our customers had reported drop-offs of 20% to 30% with some markets, like Northern California and New York, being hit harder. But some customers reported being as busy as ever, since construction was deemed essential in most states. In some cases, residential work couldn’t move ahead because the building inspectors wouldn’t come to the job site. Now they have started doing inspections via Skype or FaceTime.”
Schwing’s manufacturing did cut back over the past few months with most employees working reduced hours. “Minnesota has a state program that pays employees partial unemployment benefits while working reduced hours – provided we don’t lay anyone off,” says O’Malley. “We cut some employees back to 24 to 32 hours but then they also got the $600 per week federal unemployment, which in some cases made it difficult to call workers back for a 40-hour week.”
As with much of the construction equipment industry, the concrete pump business is international; Schwing America is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Schwing Group based in Germany. Schwing’s boom pumps are made in Germany and shipped to the manufacturing plant in White Bear, Minnesota, then placed onto U.S.-manufactured truck bodies. All Schwing’s trailer line pumps and conveyor products, however, are manufactured in Minnesota from raw steel and shipped all over the world.
Schwing has a variety of customers. “The pumping companies are mostly small and medium size,” O’Malley says, “except for a few like Brundage Bone which has 650 boom pumps in the US. But in most of the U.S., concrete pumping is a local business with fleets averaging closer to 10 to 15 booms. And most operate locally—it doesn’t really pay to go farther than one hour, maybe two for a larger project. A lot of concrete foundation contractors own a pump or two; for them it’s just another tool to get their work done more efficiently.”
An exciting development that is coming to boom pumps is telematics. With this, the equipment manager in the office can tell exactly what’s going on with the pump on the job site. They can tell how much concrete has been pumped and how much remains to be pumped. They know the pump pressure and maintenance details on the pump in real time. “With this data it’s easy to know when maintenance needs to be done on a pump and exactly what the problems are before the pump is even in the shop. They can even tell the driver the best way to get to the job site.”
“Mix designs continue to create issues with concrete pumps and placing systems,” O’Malley notes. “As mix designs rely more on chemicals, pumping pressures are increasing. We understand that the industry wants us to provide equipment that can pump any mix, but it all comes at a cost. The risks become greater when the mix needs such high pressures but no one wants to pay more for that and it puts a lot of stress on the pump and wears out parts much more quickly. Of course, safety is always our number-one priority, and Schwing is very active with the American Concrete Pumping Association – which sponsors safety seminars and operator certifications across North America.”