VOL 22 ISSUE #1

Providing heavy highway, site work, and mix services for more than eight decades, Fred Smith Company is well known among asphalt customers in North Carolina’s Raleigh/Durham area. The company currently has four Astec asphalt plants, all producing the sought-after “Super Pave” mixes as overseen by the State Department of Transportation. All combined, the plants provide about 800,000 tons (725,747 tonnes) of asphalt annually, with the Westgate plant producing 200,000 tons (181,436 tonnes). The company has grown from a $95 million-a-year operation to $220 million.

Fred Smith Company has doubled in size within the past four years. To keep pace with demand yet still meet the standard of quality expected of its customers, Fred Smith Company chose to update its control systems at its vital Westgate plant to keep production running smoothly. 

OUT WITH THE OLD

In 2015, Fred Smith Company assessed it was time to invest in their plants and give them the best advantages the current technology could provide. Bringing the controls up to speed would begin by examining where the current systems were meeting the standard and where their limits where being stretched by customer demand.

“At the time, we were running PM-96 controls in the Westgate asphalt plant, but they were deteriorating throughout the site,” recalled Bailey Watkins, asphalt plant manager for Fred Smith Company. 

The Westgate, North Carolina, asphalt plant is responsible for producing 200,000 tons (181,436 tonnes) of Fred Smith Company’s annual output.
The Westgate, North Carolina, asphalt plant is responsible for producing 200,000 tons (181,436 tonnes) of Fred Smith Company’s annual output.
Astec’s TCII-U - cutting edge of asphalt plant control system
Today, operators at the Fred Smith Company Westgate asphalt plant enjoy the cutting edge of asphalt plant control systems with Astec’s TCII-U.

IN WITH THE NEW

Replacing the Westgate plant’s control system would not be a simple matter. As the plant’s demand grew, numerous iterations of small upgrades had been made to help the older system keep pace. Now, with the promise of serious capital expenditures at his disposal, Watkins set out to build the control system the plant truly needed—from the ground up, and the right way. 

“Our crew here at the plant gutted the entire electrical wiring to make way for the new controls,” Watkins said. “We put in not just a new control system but also a motor control house and ran all new wiring.”

After consulting with Floyd Cheek, Astec sales representative, Fred Smith Company chose to install Astec’s TCII-U control system, the newest and most powerful PC-based system ever designed to control hot-mix asphalt plants, which offers plant operators centralized controls for instant and accurate control of all facility operations. At the time of its installation, the Westgate asphalt plant received only the third TCII-U system operating in the world, making it the leading edge in asphalt plant control.

“Making the switch from the PM-96 to the TCII-U was like trading in an old Pinto and getting to drive off the lot with a new Cadillac,” boasted Watkins. 

LIVING THE GOOD LIFE

With the new TCII-U installed, Fred Smith Company’s Westgate asphalt plant saw immediate benefits. Not only did the plant operators have access to the latest technology, but the system proved incredibly intuitive and easy to use.

“With the TCII-U, an operator sits in front of three computer monitors. Two of the screens are for the control system and the third is for the load-out system,” continued Watkins. “On the two control screens, the operator can see pictures of everything working, what all the temperatures are, and pretty much anything else one would want to know about running an asphalt plant—and anything you’re doing wrong!”

The new system also reduces the learning curve—no matter their experience level. After an Astec technician instructed the plant’s foreman on the TCII-U’s features, an unexpected student proved just how user friendly the control system really is.

“I have never sat down and run a plant,” Watkins confided, “but once we had the TCII-U in place, I was curious to see just how easy it was. Our foreman walked me through the process and had me running mix in under 10 minutes.”

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

Despite the cutting-edge technology that makes up the heart of the TCII-U control system, the main benefit is as simple as it is old fashioned: knowledge. The TCII-U’s user-friendly controls and dynamic display provide operators with a wealth of information about how an asphalt plant is running hour by hour, minute by minute.

“The TCII-U provides us with precise measurements of the plant’s mixes in real time,” offered Watkins. “Each operation has different timing mechanisms that will tell an operator when the mix is ready to send up the drag, what your different wave ridge statuses are, what your asphalt content status is. It’s just a much more user-friendly control system than we’ve ever had.”

This level of insight into the plant’s operation provides Watkins and Fred Smith Company with a great deal of peace of mind. On an average day, a plant operator is fielding phone calls, helping truck drivers, and all manner of tasks in addition to running the plant. Having the TCII-U there to pick up the slack helps the entire plant run more efficiently, safely, and profitably. 

“Knowing that the control system is going to run effectively all day, every day is a big relief for all of us,” Watkins affirmed. “It’s crucial that we can rely on this control system to maintain the level of service both we and our customers expect coming out of the Westgate plant.”

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