Customers in Action

Knopik Crushing


February 01, 2016

“I still demo other brands, but Komatsu always wins.”

Mike Knopik has always had a connection with the screening/crushing/recycling industry. He started in his father’s environmental company 30 years ago, screening contaminated soils across the southeast U.S. When Mike and his wife, Lisa, decided it was time to start a family, he returned to Minnesota and got into the screening and crushing business. After nearly 20 years in the industry, Mike decided it was again time for a change. So in 2007, he set out on his own and founded Knopik Crushing Inc., focusing solely on crushing and recycling.

“I always knew I wanted to work for myself – live the dream, I guess,” said Mike. “I really enjoy crushing. It’s an industry where you can always make a good living if you’re putting in the hours. Also, weather isn’t as much of a factor in our work, which is nice.”

When it came time to find employees for his new venture, Mike turned to his family. Lisa and his brother Steve joined right away. Steve runs equipment along with Mike, and Lisa manages the financial side of the business. Mike’s sons, Joe and William, have also become involved, in addition to Tyler Johnson – who started with the company in 2014.

“It all kind of worked itself out,” recalled Mike. “I ran equipment, and Lisa took care of the books. Steve was with another contractor and would work with us in the winter when he was laid off. Eventually, he came on full time. Joe started here four years ago, and William is in college, studying construction management, but works with us in the summers. We consider Tyler our ‘new guy,’ and he does a great job, too.”

Mike prefers being a small company.

“We’re a tight-knit group and have a family atmosphere,” he said. “We aren’t big on titles. No one has a specialized job – we rotate positions and duties on projects. Everyone is willing and able to help if something comes up on a jobsite. All of these guys are really good at what they do.”

Today, the Inver Grove, Minnesota-based company typically does 12 to 15 jobs a year, producing roughly 600,000 tons of material. Mike says almost 70 percent of his jobs are recycling, with the other 30 percent dealing with virgin materials. The bulk of Knopik Crushing’s work occurs in the Twin Cities area, but the company has done jobs throughout Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota.

“We have a lot of repeat customers with contracts to come in once or twice a year and crush material,” said Mike. “We can produce anything from three-quarter minus to eight-inch rock. Whatever spec the customer wants, we deliver. We produce the material and leave it on-site for the owners.”

Carving out a niche

Mike immediately found the ideal focus for his new crushing business – small projects. That turned out to play a larger role in the company’s success than he thought it would. When the Great Recession hit, it negatively affected larger companies with big, multiple-machine spreads and trucking operations.

“I started with a small impact plant because that’s what I could afford, but it also allowed me to fill what I believed was a void in the market,” said Mike. “Being small and nimble was a distinct advantage. When the economy crashed, it took a toll on a lot of the larger companies because they weren’t set up to do the type of work we did. We focused on 2,000- to 3,000-ton projects that involved crushing material on-site and leaving it there, which became more prominent when the recession hit. We were able to get in and out quickly because of our spread, and we didn’t have trucking costs. Customers appreciated our work, and we built from that foundation.”

Eventually, his small spread could not keep up with production, and Mike had to grow. Timing was on his side. The economy was beginning to rebound, and the company had created strong bonds with customers.

“That smaller set up worked for a couple of years, but we decided that we had to get stronger and more productive,” said Mike. “We upgraded to a larger spread, and it has paid off. What we lost in mobility, we made up for by doubling production. Today, we average about 300 to 350 tons of product an hour when we are recycling. If we are working with virgin materials, we can average about 500 tons an hour.”

With timing, luck and a heavy dose of hard work, Knopik Crushing has enjoyed steady growth throughout its eight years in operation.

“The crushing industry is pretty strong in central Minnesota right now,” said Mike. “We’re extremely busy, and we don’t even advertise. We’ve been fortunate, but we also provide a great service, produce quality products and make sure a site looks better when we leave than it did when we got there. Our customers really appreciate that.”

Komatsu, KPI-JCI equipment from RMS

Even before Mike started his company, he knew Komatsu would be in his fleet.

“I’ve always run Komatsu equipment, and I push it to everybody,” he said. “Every time I need a new loader, I still demo other brands, but Komatsu always wins. I can run circles around the competition in a Komatsu.”

Knopik Crushing also relies on Road Machinery & Supplies and Territory Manager Gordon Johnson. Recently, Knopik purchased a Komatsu WA500 wheel loader with a Hensley six-and-a-half-yard, spade-nosed rock bucket. The loader came with KOMTRAX, Komatsu’s machine-monitoring system, and Komatsu CARE, through which RMS provides complimentary service for the first 2,000 hours or three years.

“The machine is excellent; it has more than enough power. The bucket is great for tearing into piles of material, and it’s the right size for us with our spread,” said Mike. “We put 1,600 hours on it in eight months. In recycling, we are pretty much running into a pile, filling the bucket, dumping it and doing it all over again as many times as we have to. We haven’t had any problems. The WA500 is a tank.

“The services that RMS provides have been excellent, too,” he added. “Having someone come out every 500 hours to do maintenance through Komatsu CARE is a great plan. We used to do our own maintenance, but this is better. RMS also helped us lower our idle time significantly, which isn’t easy to do in recycling. We got our idle time down to 23 percent with KOMTRAX, and we were one of six companies to win an award for the reduction, so that was exciting.”

RMS was also there when Knopik Crushing needed to upgrade its equipment to increase production four years ago. The company’s set up now features a KPI 3055 Vanguard jaw crusher and a JCI K300 cone plant. As with the Komatsu loader, RMS is on-hand to perform maintenance on the crushing spread.

“RMS has been great about helping us, especially with parts and manganese changes,” said Mike. “Everyone at RMS goes the extra mile to do what they can to help us out.”

Efficiency was a top priority for Mike when picking the machines. He made sure that everything matched, and believes he now has one of the best spreads in the market.

“When you’re crushing, its all about balance,” he said. “We wanted to avoid bottlenecks. That starts with the bucket on the loader and continues through the stacker. There are a lot of moving parts involved, but our downtime has been minimal with the KPI-JCI equipment. Also, having good employees monitoring the process is important. It all works together.”

Future growth

At 51, Mike has no intention of slowing down – just the opposite, in fact. After eight years of growth and an increasing market for crushing and recycling, Mike plans on going even stronger during the next few years.

“We hope to add another spread and crew next year,” he said. “We are very busy right now, and I think it’s only going to get busier going forward. I’m confident we can grow and continue to be successful.”

Mike isn’t limiting his growth to the near future, either.

“In five to 10 years, I could see us with three spreads and a rock quarry or gravel pit. It’s just a matter of finding the right fit for us. It’s a challenge to find pits with good aggregate in a good location, but they’re out there,” he said. “Hopefully Joe and William can take over the business and continue to grow. It’ll be exciting to see where it goes.”