Looking Back, Looking Ahead Schwing Celebrates 30 Years in the US
The “Big 3-0” means a person has reached a certain level of maturity but enjoys the vitality of youth with lots of expectations for the future. That’s exactly how Schwing America’s president, Tom Anderson views the company as it celebrates thirty years of manufacturing concrete pumps in America. “Leading the way in establishing a concrete pumping industry has been hard work but also very exciting,“ Anderson says. While a lot has changed in thirty years, a lot has stayed the same.
When parent company Schwing GmbH, Herne, West Germany decided to start a North American subsidiary in 1974, concrete pumping was in its infancy in this country even though it was established in Europe. While some enterprising contractors had embraced the concrete pumping method, many general contractors were skeptical. Providing the security of a U.S. manufacturing base went a long way to building confidence in the method and the Schwing product.
While the first plant in St. Paul, MN is a long forgotten two bay shop, the move to the northern suburbs put White Bear on the map for the pumping industry. Today more than 300,000 square feet is devoted to engineering, manufacturing, testing, parts, service, training, sales, administration and product support. More than 15,000 visitors have toured the modern plant with a positive economic effect on more than one steak house in the surrounding area.
Even though the product has changed over the past thirty years, the Schwing philosophy of product support has not. In the early days of testing the limits of concrete pumping, factory expertise was needed to help new pump owners master the method. It cost Schwing considerable time and money to help the early pumpers succeed. But the investment paid off in majority market share that the company continues to enjoy.
Bob Weatherton, owner of The Concrete Pump Store, an ACPA Board Member and a 42-year veteran of the industry, reflected on the Schwing story, “In the early days, the construction industry was trying to see if concrete pumps were for real,” he recalls, “Schwing was the first to produce a durable, reliable pump that would handle tough mixes. Schwing gave the industry credibility.”
Schwing’s market dominance in the early years with a proven, reliable product, enabled the company to invest in technical development. Better sequencing of the material cylinders through various valve types has been a Schwing quest from the beginning. Many pumpers don’t realize that the company invented the S-tube in the 60s, only to abandon it for the Gate Valve in the 70s and the Rock Valve in the 80s. “It was,” according to Gerhard Schwing, “the company’s responsibility to provide our customers with the most reliable, least costly method of pumping concrete.”
And the early owners responded to Mr. Schwing’s efforts to produce even better concrete pumps by testing them to the limit. Projects that simply could not be built without concrete pumps began making headlines throughout the country. Massive base mats were performed seamlessly in record time. High-rise pumping exceeded 1,000-feet and all-concrete buildings were now reaching record heights. Millions of dollars were saved when Schwing separate placing booms were used to efficiently place massive structures that consumed hundreds of thousands of yards of concrete. When it was time to rehab the Statue of Liberty it was a Schwing boom pump that placed the concrete. It was the star of the 6 o’clock news. Recently the media again featured a Schwing – this time the North America’s longest boom pump, the S 61 SX starring on the History Channel’s Modern Marvels series.
Performance was important but reliability was even more important to owners and general contractors unsure of the method. Schwing pumps surprised everyone by working continuously without even a hydraulic hose failure. In one case three pumps completed a 33-foot thick slab non-stop in 47 hours while averaging 135 yards per hour. The records, the marathon pours and the successful owners were ample testimony to the Schwing all-hydraulic design.
Surprising even Schwing was the American contractor’s insatiable appetite for long booms. Many thought the introduction of the 42 meter in 1980 was the limit for boom reach. Two decades later, many 42s continue to serve in long boom roles, but the longest boom is a 61 meter with nearly 200-feet of reach. And it is a Schwing.
Conventional outriggers went by the wayside when long booms needed long stroking pumps to meet the production demands of the 21st century. First the X-style telescoping outriggers met the demand, but eventually Schwing innovation conceived the Super X outriggers which curve into the chassis to allow room for twin 10-inch diameter pumping cylinders that provide smooth output through their 98-inch stroke. These Generation 3 pump and outrigger innovations continue to lead the way to new and better ways to place concrete.
Schwing’s success allowed the company to reinvest in the American market over the years. More than $40 million in spare parts is available 15 hours a day and service hours are 24 hours a day 6 days a week to keep up with the pace of the pumping industry. Schwing’s success also attracted the best and the brightest talent. More than 500 years of combined experience is represented by Schwing sales and service personnel. Training for operators and mechanics is in a dedicated classroom with a full time training staff – the first “university of concrete pumping” in the nation with the latest multi-media learning tools.
“If there was one thing I’m most proud of over the past three decades, it would be the company’s commitment to safety,” according to Anderson. Schwing devotes considerable employee time and company dollars to the pursuit of safety. Innovators in safety features, Schwing sponsors safety seminars that are conducted by the company’s trained safety personne at Schwing branches around the country. In 2003 alone, Schwing has facilitated the ACPA certification of more than 200 operators. In addition, a staff of boom inspectors travels constantly to monitor the condition of Schwing equipment.
“Schwing America and Tom Anderson have always been there to support the industry and the association. They have never been selfish and even today they help to grow the pumping industry,” Weatherton notes, “Long before many of the other manufacturers were here, Schwing made the pumping industry credible and the ACPA strong through safety programs and financial support.”
As Schwing America turns 30 a look back is really the history of modern concrete pumping. A look forward is continued growth for the company and the pumping industry, both of which are strong and full of optimistic expectations for the next 30 years.