Mar 18, 2014

Komatsu wheel loaders “last so long and are very reliable”

Many companies in the Red River Valley shut down and avoid the harsh winter conditions. But, it’s the peak production season for Transystems, which last year marked its 30th anniversary of serving customers in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota.

“Transystems focuses on commodity transportation, and in this area the emphasis is on sugar beets,” said Vice President/ General Manager Troy Carl. “Weather plays an important role, so our season typically begins around September first and runs through the first of June. The beets are harvested when root temperatures are between freezing and 55 degrees. It’s ideal for long-term storage.”

At harvest, farmers bring their sugar beets to one of more than 30 receiving stations in the Valley where they are dumped into large piles and categorized as “non-ventilated” or “ventilated.” Transystems splits the larger non-ventilated piles into two “shoulders.”

“Beets in these shoulders freeze naturally due to ambient air temperatures,” explained Carl. “The non-ventilated beets are used first, so this is a great way to keep them from spoiling. Beets in the ventilated piles are for longer storage. Air is pumped into these piles, which causes the beets to freeze rock-hard and last for months. Having both non-ventilated and ventilated beets ensures the factories will have a constant supply.”

Transystems contracts with American Crystal Sugar to split the piles as well as haul the beets from the receiving stations to five American Crystal factories in Hillsboro and Drayton, North Dakota, and East Grand Forks, Moorehead and Crookston, Minnesota. Its Red River Valley operations are headquartered in Grand Forks.

“It’s a high-demand business,” said Carl. “Each factory has its own production rates, and we’re responsible to provide the beets to meet those rates. We have 100 trucks hauling 24/7 in all types of conditions to make it happen. A safety issue would be the only reason we would shut down.”

Komatsu, General keep production high

Transystems uses Komatsu wheel loaders to split the piles into shoulders. Recently, it traded older models for 17 new Tier 4 Interim WA470-7s, working with General Equipment & Supplies Territory Manager Wayne Slinger on the acquisition. It kept, and still uses, a WA500-6.

“Being an around-the-clock operation puts a high number of hours on our machinery, and most of those hours are placed in some fairly cold and nasty weather conditions,” said Vice President of IT and Revenue Equipment Dan Brennan. “We’re a lean operation, so we don’t have surplus equipment. We began buying Komatsu loaders about 20 years ago, and have continued to use them because they last so long and are very reliable. We ran some of our older loaders up to 25,000 hours without any major issues, which says a lot about Komatsu’s quality.

“The new Dash-7 loaders built on that quality reputation, and offer some significant improvements that take them to a new level,” he added. “They’re still productive, quick and agile, but have better fuel efficiency. They also have some nice features like LED lighting and built-in cameras that help operators see better around the entire machine. Additionally, the new cabs really stand out. They’re roomier and have bigger glass, so visibility is improved.”

Transystems partnered with General Equipment & Supplies to modify the loaders with items such as added guarding, additional lighting, heaters, automatic greasers, custom wiring harnesses and seats and specialty nine-yard GEM buckets designed to reduce spills and damage to the beets. Transystems also uses a specialty claw on its Komatsu PC300 excavators and new PC360LC-10, which it uses during “tear down” when factories begin using the rock-hard ventilated beets.

“Our previous Territory Manager Dale Hatfield, and General as a company, took the time to get to know our business and what machines would best suit us, and Wayne did an excellent job working with us on the new machines,” said Brennan. “General has been very responsive to our needs over the years and has made sure the machines have met our stringent specifications.

“Komatsu builds good machines and is genuinely interested in how we use and maintain our equipment,” he added. “Offering features such as KOMTRAX, which lets us monitor the machines for hours and idle time, allows us to get the most out of each piece of equipment. I was also quite impressed with Komatsu’s campaign to bring greater awareness to idle time and how to reduce it.”

Part of a larger whole

Transystems Red River Valley operations are part of the larger Transystems company that was established in 1942 and is headquartered in Great Falls, Montana. Founder John Rice started the company in Great Falls with a single water truck, then began adding bulk commodities, including fuel, crude oil and other products. His son Mike eventually took over the business and led the company for many years before passing away in 2001.

Several of John’s descendants have management roles in the still family-owned business, including Chairman Dan Rice, Secretary Pat Rice and Vice President of Marketing Errol Rice. In addition to Carl and Brennan, key non-family management personnel include President/COO Scott Lind and Vice President of Safety Rich Carl.

Sugar beet operations began in the late 1960s during Mike’s tenure. Until that time, beets were mainly shipped by rail, but he convinced a sugar company that trucking would be less expensive and more efficient. The obvious benefit to Transystems was keeping busy throughout the year.

Transporting sugar beets began in Great Falls and spread to the Red River Valley. For more than 50 years, the two operations have processed and hauled hundreds of millions of tons of beets, making it the largest commodity Transystems handles. Carl estimates it makes up as much as 70 percent of the company’s total business. Hauling aggregates, asphalt, bulk sugar, coal and other products make up the balance.

“During peak season in the Valley, we have about 400 employees,” said Carl, noting that companywide, Transystems employs about 1,500 people. “Many have been here a long time and have worked their way up through the company. That’s something we’re very proud of. We’re extremely fortunate to have a dedicated group of people that focus on the company’s success.”

Renewing contracts

Transystems dedication to providing customers with the best value has helped it garner longstanding relationships with customers such as American Crystal Sugar. The two companies recently agreed on a new five-year contract allowing Transystems to continue splitting and hauling their sugar beets.

“Our customers know we’ll honor our commitments. Transystems has been in the Valley for 30 years and even longer in our other sugar beet operations,” said Carl. “The fact that our customers continue to renew contracts with us speaks volumes to the trust they put in us. Our culture embraces safety, respect and results. We’re confident that as long as we continue to focus on those attributes, the relationships we’ve built with our customers will continue for a long time to come.”