Brannan Sand & Gravel Company builds on legacy of loyalty and quality
If you travel the Colorado Front Range, chances are you are driving on asphalt that was placed or produced by Denver-based Brannan Sand & Gravel Company. With its newest facility off Lipan Street in northern Denver, added in 2013, Brannan has become one of the largest asphalt producers in the state.
“We have 450 employees working across three divisions: asphalt and aggregates, ready-mix concrete and tunneling and boring utilities, with asphalt being the largest part of our business,” says Theran Olsen, division manager.
Brannan’s paving customers and asphalt mix buyers are concentrated within a 50-mile radius of the Mile High City, and are held to an abbreviated paving season that doesn’t kick into high gear until June and can hit a hard stop in early November. However, demand is at an all-time high, thanks to an economy that’s on the upswing. Colorado is currently ranked number four in the nation for employment growth according to Bloomberg data, with residential and commercial infrastructure keeping pace.
One might assume that the growth of Brannan is a result of favorable circumstances. But the company has long followed a lean mindset that squeezes the highest quality and productivity from their operations.
“Here in the Denver area, sustaining volume is the challenge – just keeping ahead of production demands while making sure that what we put into and pull out of the plant is quality,” says Jon Joesten, quality control manager with Brannan. “When you are taking out thousands of tons of asphalt per day, every pound of that is going somewhere. So staying ahead of the game in regards to production and consistent quality is a big deal.”
This focus on meeting demand is how Brannan has stayed true to its heritage. In 1906, J.W. Brannan chanced upon a sand and gravel deposit and began peddling the materials to foundries in downtown Denver. The aggregates business proved increasingly profitable as dirt roads transitioned to paved highways and asphalt was added to the product portfolio in 1943. The company expanded over three generations and today is led by J. C. “Curt” Marvel Jr., whose father worked for the Brannan family.
Brannan Sand & Gravel has repeatedly been named one of Colorado’s Top 50 Family-Owned Businesses by Colorado Biz magazine. It’s a high-caliber corporation but without the pretentiousness that can accompany being the top-seeded player in town. Brannan is a contractor for all budgets, Theran says, from resurfacing grandma’s driveway, to paving the streets of downtown Denver, to meeting exacting smoothness standards for the Denver Grand Prix course – a project that received the Excellence in Construction - Landmark Project award by Associated Builders & Contractors Inc.
During the summer of 2015, Brannan was contracted to pave a new 60-acre airport parking lot at Denver International Airport. The lot includes 10 acres of covered parking for added traveler convenience. The entire project was paved using a Volvo P7110 tracked paver that placed 65,000 tons of mix in two lifts of 4-inch and 2-inch thicknesses.
Concurrently to the DIA project, Brannan was awarded a contract in adjacent Aurora to resurface the city’s residential and arterial streets, laying 60,000 tons of hot mix asphalt (HMA) and 40,000 tons of stone matrix asphalt (SMA) in one lift, ranging from 2-inches to 3-inches in thickness. The HMA was placed with a Volvo PF6110 tracked paver while the SMA was placed on high-traffic thoroughfares using the Volvo P7110 paver.
A trusted name
Loyalty runs thick through Brannan’s employees, many of whom have made a career with the company. That fidelity also carries over to the equipment they rely upon day in and day out. In fact, the number of brands in Brannan’s fleet can be counted on one hand.
Running lean puts high demands on equipment uptime. The paving division operates a stable of five Volvo PF6110 and one Volvo P7110 tracked pavers.
“We find a brand we like and we stick with it,” Theran says. “If we don’t like the equipment or the level of support we receive from our dealer, we won’t continue to buy it. If we have issues, we will make a change. That’s just what we do.”
When general paving superintendent Abraham “Abe” Perez started with Brannan as a laborer in 1975, the crew ran Blaw-Knox pavers. It was a trusted brand supported by Denver dealer, Faris Machinery. After Volvo acquired Blaw-Knox as part of the Ingersoll-Rand purchase in 2007, Brannan ordered the new 6000 Series pavers when they hit the market two years later. However, those early Volvo pavers were not without some faults.
“We have longevity with Faris Machinery, so they understand our business,” division manager Chuck Irsik says. “The difference for us is how a vendor handles a problem. That is often the most important factor in determining what equipment we buy. Am I customer number one or am I customer number 27?”
In the case of the Volvo 6000 pavers, Volvo owned up to the issues and worked through Faris Machinery to make it right. “All of those early problems were solved and Volvo continued to make improvements to their pavers by listening to customers like us. It shows their commitment to the road machinery line,” he says.
“Working with Faris Machinery and Dave Barthel has been a really good partnership, and that is what it is — a partnership,” says Theran. “They aren’t just selling equipment. They’re performing paver rebuilds and service, as well as training, and have been doing so for many, many years.”
Brannan’s pavers are on a five-year replacement schedule. That timetable coincided with the launch of the Volvo P7000 series paver that recovered the Blaw-Knox reputation for reliability and embraced design changes that appealed to operators — taking into account the feedback of heavyweight users like Brannan.
For example, the new paver’s low profile frame was the first change noticed by the crew, says Irsik. “They like the visibility the new pavers provide. When we transitioned to the PF6110 from the (Blaw-Knox) PF5510, it appeared to be a larger paver due to the operating platform. That was somewhat intimidating to the operators. With this new 7110, even though you sit lower it has 360-degree visibility and the operator seats extend out beyond the platform so you have a full line of sight if you are pulling a string line or matching curbs. You can see the entire flow of material. It’s easy to use and it is also very quiet.”
Continuing the lean philosophy, Brannan uses just-in-time delivery for its paving operations. The Volvo 7110 keeps pace with consistent material flow matched to the paver’s speed. “We want to keep our paving train moving consistently at around 25-30 feet per minute because that is what we need to maintain quality,” Theran says. “With the paver’s meter gauges we can easily see our speed and know if we need to make any adjustments back at the plant or with our trucks so we have perfect timing.”
Quality in the mix
The capability to develop, test and manufacture aggregate products in-house gives Brannan Companies a tight handle on quality control. Of Brannan’s four asphalt plants, three are situated within a three-mile radius along the I-76 artery and produce hot and cold mix asphalt, LEED-certified porous asphalt and polymer enhanced asphalt. The lion’s share of Brannan’s binder comes from the Albert Frei & Sons granite quarry, 25 minutes west in Idaho Springs, the last greenfield quarry in the Denver area.
All four of Brannan’s asphalt plants— Lipan Street, I-76, Rock Creek and 62nd Avenue — have earned the National Asphalt Paving Association’s Diamond Achievement Award for Environmental Excellence. “In 2013, the opportunity arose for us to utilize 30 acres at Lipan Street to build a new plant and relocate operations offices,” says Josh.
Brannan took this blank slate of land and designed a progressive plant with efficiencies to improve asphalt throughput and quality. The plant is divided into five areas: cold feed/RAP/RAS bins; tank farm; dryer, burner and baghouse; mix silos; and load out and control house.
Features of the Lipan Street plant include:
• Gencor Industries Ultradrum 500 tons per hour dryer
• Gencor Ultra II-135 high-efficiency gas-fired burner with 10 hp blue smoke top capture system that recirculates gas produced during loading to the top of the batcher
• Custom-built control house
• Gen III blending control system to control individual aggregate feed to the burner
The plant also incorporates a Gencor 500 ton per hour lime pugmill and 900 bbl lime silo that adds 1 percent lime to all hot mix to strengthen the binding properties of the aggregate to prevent stripping and ultimately extend road life. Additionally, the Lipan plant has a mineral filler silo and fiber machine so SMA mix can be produced.
Six Gencor deluxe hot mix storage silos with safety gates are fed by a Gencor 500 ton per hour, 92-foot drag slat conveyor. John adds, “Because of the short paving season, everyone wants to load early so it was common to see long lines of tri-axles waiting before dawn for the plant to open. We installed two truck scales to accommodate truck traffic and more efficiently load out.”
The I-76 location features a Gencor Ultrafoam GX green machine system that allows the AC and water to be introduced at widely different flow rates and temperatures for the production of warm mix.
Says Theran, “Every year we look back and reflect on the previous season to determine what we can improve upon over the winter months, whether it be in the field or internally. We also conduct a lot of employee training to keep everyone updated on the latest changes. We want to be prepared for new opportunities and smart growth. If we take care of those things, who knows what will happen in the next five years, but Brannan will be ready for it.”
Web site: www.brannan1.com