When some manufacturers were stumped by the declining economy, Michigan-based Bandit Industries diversified its activities and, in turn, its customer base. David Soyka reports on how this market-leading land-clearing equipment producer stays chipper.
The housing market decline had a ripple effect throughout the American economy. For instance, it impacted companies attached to construction activities, such as Bandit Industries.
Headquartered in Remus, Mich., Bandit Industries is a market-leading manufacturer of more than 35 unique chippers, stumpers and waste-reduction units designed to clear land. But if houses aren’t being built, land isn’t being cleared. The definite decline in construction business over the past two years directly affected Bandit Industries, notes Jason Morey, the company’s marketing manager. But there was a silver lining in this dark economic cloud: a growing bio-energy market. What does this mean for Bandit? “We’ve dedicated our resources full-time to address emerging opportunities,” Morey says.
How? “We provide machines that convert biomass into a form usable for energy conversion,” answers Morey.
Take wood, for example – when properly burned, it’s a clean fuel that emits almost no sulphur and little CO2, making it a carbon-neutral energy source. Also, its cost is about a third of natural gas, propane or oil. Further, it represents an alternative to starch-based food crops, such as the corn typically used to make ethanol. Conversion of woody biomass into ethanol doesn’t compete with food sources, nor does it need to be sustained by soil-nutrient depletion. The implication is clear: Existing wood waste from municipalities, storm damage and housing demolition could be easily used to produce alcohol-based fuel at virtually no cost.
UNLEASHING A “BEAST”
That’s why Bandit set loose a “Beast” upon the marketplace. Its fame Beast Recycler – introduced in 1997 to process bulk materials such as whole trees, telephone poles, wet leaves, asphalt, shingles and whole refrigerators – is ideal for bio-energy applications. It grinds unwanted pallets or other bulk waste wood for use in fuel production.
Traditionally, chipping has been the most economical way of converting wood waste into fuel products. With recent advancements, Bandit’s patented Beast cuttermill technology converts the company’s horizontal grinder into a high-capacity whole tree chipper. As long as the material is relatively clean, users are assured that chipping with the Beast will produce a ton of wood fuel at a much lower cost than a typical grinder. This new system was developed to cater to the exponentially growing European fuel markets.
Such growth is also fueled by the increasing use of cellulose other than wood for biomass conversion. That means that both diesel- and electric-powered Beast recyclers can turn grass, straw, wheat, barley and hay bales into biomass fuel.
This has made the technology particularly popular in Poland. Recently, a 700-horsepower Model 3680 Beast has supplied grasses for a cellulose paper plant in Swiecie, Poland. The plant uses grounded grassy material to fire a boiler that supplies steam and electricity to the plant. The higher horsepower machine results in lower fuel consumption per cubic meter of ground material. Although the round bales are larger than the opening into the Beast, the top feed wheel extends over the top of the bales of material and rolls the bales into the cutter mill for easy processing. Because of the long infeed bed, bales can continuously be set into the machine, which ensures steady production. The end product provides the ideal size for boiler fuel.
Foreign interest in Bandit chippers for biomass conversion is strong. Indeed, it proved a major contributing factor in the company’s 200-percent growth in international sales volume during 2009. The achievement compelled the West Michigan World Trade Association to name Bandit the 2010 World Trader of the Year.
But Europe has always been way ahead of the United States when it comes to adapting biomass as an alternative energy source, reveals Morey. “But we are starting to catch up,” he adds. “We expect the U.S. market for bio-energy applications to grow. As biomass assumes greater significance in meeting worldwide energy needs, Beast Recyclers will play an increasingly large role in processing grassy materials into a burnable fuel.”
Founded in 1983 by Mike Morey Sr. and Dave Forquer, the company started out in a 6,000-square-foot converted repair shop staffed by six employees. (A picture of a raccoon – an animal always considered nature’s bandit, thanks to the natural black mask that extends across its eyes – inspired the company name. Morey liked the imagery.) Now, almost 30 years later, with the increase of business from the bio-energy industry, the company has substantially increased its physical dimensions. Bandit recently added an 80,000-square-foot facility to complement 11 buildings on the Remus site, which now totals 240,000 square feet. The company employs 275 people directly, and sells product through a global network of 180 dealers.
While the chipper industry in general produces commodity products, Bandit customizes machines. “We are known in the industry for making machines per customer request and specifications, to meet their demands and needs,” Morey notes. “A majority of the machines we build are customized. We do not make cookie-cutter machines.”
And even though many machines are custom built, most orders are delivered within 60 days.
Much of the manufacturing process is automated, but two-person teams conduct the final assembly. “Our approach ensures that customer specifications are satisfied at the highest possible quality levels,” Morey says.
Case in point is a new line of forestry mowers and stump grinders developed in response to customer requests. “These feature fully-enclosed air-conditioned and heated cabs with joystick controlled operation,” Morey explains. “What really sets these machines apart are the extremely powerful high-capacity hydrostatic hydraulic systems featuring large pumps and hydraulic motors to power the forestry mower or stump grinder attachments. These combinations allow for greater torque and power for clearing and grinding larger diameter material.”
He adds: “The forestry mower attachment can mow over trees up eight inches in diameter. If both attachments are used, each can be changed over in around 10 minutes.”
The machines are ideal for clearing right of ways for the utility industry, as well as general forest maintenance. There are two models. The 3500 carrier is offered with a Caterpillar C6.6, 250 horsepower engine, while the model 4000 is offered with engine horsepower options ranging from 325 to 600. Each features carbide splitter type teeth that are ideal for grinding both brush and trees and are extremely tolerant against rock and dirt.
Another new product line is the Model 990XP, a 12-inch capacity drum-style chipper with a 24-inch diameter drum and dual horizontal feed system. “It’s ideal for tree services that need a high-quality chipper for situations where maneuverability and ease-of-use – without sacrificing power and output – is a primary consideration,” Morey says.
By listening to customers and coming up with such innovations, Bandit has been able to “steal” success over the course of its history. While its whimsical corporate symbol is a raccoon, which in folk tales is often portrayed as a trickster, the company outsmarts its competition not with gimmicks, but solid products that meet unique customer needs.