An increasing number of silos, mixers, pumps and delivery systems designed to simplify the process of getting mortar and grout from powder to placed are popping up on masonry job sites. From residential homes to massive commercial projects, these systems offer time, money and labor savings and provide a glimpse into masonry's future.
"I strongly feel that the future of the mason industry will have a stronger focus on ergonomically designed equipment to help combat labor-related injuries and continue to improve efficiency on the masonry job site," said Damian Lang, president of EZ Grout Corporation and Lang Masonry in Waterford, Ohio.
EZ Grout recently introduced new mixing and delivery systems.
"I've been a mason for most of my life, and I know firsthand how hard it is; it can age you fast," Lang said. "With that in mind, I've focused on innovations that will help make a mason's work a little easier and to help improve the masonry industry as a whole."
He recommends investing in quality equipment and checking out the features being purchased.
"According to the studies on equipment purchases, only 30 percent of the cost of a piece of equipment is incurred the day it is purchased. The other 70 percent is incurred during the usage and life of the equipment," he said. "In other words, you get what you pay for."
Bulk Materials with Silo Systems
Silo systems offer two advantages: They eliminate labor, and they make sure each batch of grout or mortar is mixed precisely the same.
"The benefits of silos are labor savings and increased productivity," said Nick Blohowiak, regional manager for Mendota Heights, Minn.-based SPEC MIX Inc. "The goal of the industry is to reduce labor. The major benefit of the silo systems is the tremendous labor savings. Nobody is breaking bags and shoveling sand. You reduce and eliminate labor by utilizing the system, which is the most expensive cost on the job. All the contractor has to do is place the desired amount of water into the mixer, pull a handle and the material drops into their batch mixer."
Silos are designed to hold up to 10 super sack 3,000-pound bulk bags of masonry mortar or grout and can be used with augers.
"[Augers] deliver the dry, pre-blended mix. It eliminates the labor the backbreaking labor of mixing," said Jeff Leonard, vice president of bulk materials for Atlanta-based The QUIKRETE Companies. "We're making the labor more efficient."
And since there's very little downtime with silos, masons aren't waiting for more grout or mortar, making them more productive.
"The only time a contractor makes any money is when he's setting units on the wall. Any time he's not doing that, he's not making money," Blohowiak said. "These silo systems get the mortar to the wall and help masons make money by eliminating wait times."
Contractors usually won't need a worker dedicated to just running a silo, unless there are about 40 masons working on a wall and need a lot of mortar and grout, he said.
"If there's a guy standing there by the silo, he needs to be doing something else or he'll be doing a lot of standing around," Blohowiak said.
Bulk materials have a precisely proportioned mixture of additives, so all the mason contractor's crew has to do is add water. Laborers don't have to count shovelfuls of materials as they mix them, Leonard explained. With the bulk products, masons are ensured of getting the exact same mix every time.
"It adds a level of quality control. You're taking a human element out of it," he said, noting that when laborers mix batches, the amount of sand per batch can change. Those changes can be the result of putting different amounts of material on the shovel each time, the worker's energy level, or even the worker losing count of shovelfuls. "The mixture content of that sand proportion will change when done by the [laborer]. There are too many elements that can affect the mixture."
Using Silo Systems Efficiently
Buddy Equipment in Jacksonville, Fla., has Mix-N-Master silos systems (starting at $22,500) that cut down on dust and offer consistent mortar and grout, said company President Jim Swisher.
"The consistency that you get with this system is fabulous," Swisher said. "These men like consistent mixtures because they can get into a rhythm. The masonry contractor stays in this rhythm. He never has to take his guys off the wall and move them."
Some contractors put two systems side by side; one for grout and one for mortar, he said, adding that mason contractors can save up to 50 percent by mixing the mortar and grout themselves.
"There's no waste. You never have to throw anything away because of 'hot grout,'" Swisher said. "It puts more money in their pockets, which is what's driving this thing. Believe me, it is a money maker for the contractors."
Silos used to be thought of as geared only toward large commercial masonry jobs, but they can be used for smaller residential projects as long as the contractor has the equipment to load the silo, such as a telehandler or large skid steer, Blohowiak said. SPEC MIX offers its silos for free when mason contractors buy bulk bags.
"A lot of people thought the silo was designed for the big jobs, but over time, it filtered down to the smaller jobs," he said. "The contractors found the efficiencies of the silos could be used on any job."
Silos are portable and easy to move around the job site, so the silos and material pallets can be placed near the point of use, Blohowiak said. "Contractors absolutely love it in the city because the silos don't need a lot of room and can be used in tight areas," he said.
When using the silo system, contractors need to give materials proper mixing time. The systems are fast and efficient, but mortar and grout still need three to five minutes of mixing time to allow the aggregate to rehydrate, Blohowiak said.
The Next Generation of Mixers and Pumps
New refractory mixers from EZ Grout, like the RMHE 29 ($26,000), have a high torque that enables them to mix low slump material, Lang said. The "Big Mixer" has a 2,000-pound refractory capacity, a three-phase electric motor, and a 60-gallon hydraulic reserve.
"The Mud Hog Refractory/Precast Mixer was built with a hydraulic drive and dump with an adjustable height that can be adapted to load below the waist and to dump high into a delivery system," he said. "Six rubber blades are used to provide longer wear as well as to decrease batch time, making it great for bulk bags. The fork pockets are accessible on all sides for easier portability."
He said the mixers are perfect for small batches and very low slump mixes. EZ Grout's new hydraulic mixing station, the MH12 ($5,995), also has an ergonomic design, Lang said. "It loads below the waist and has the capability of dumping high, which lessens labor fatigue and backaches," he said.
Honeoye, N.Y.-based Stone Construction Equipment, Inc., offers 11 Champion mortar mixers with up to a 16-cubic-foot mixing capacity (prices vary). The HM1290 12-cubic-foot hydraulic mixer with a 13-horsepower Honda engine costs $6,822.
"We've got any size mortar mixer that anyone would want," said Ed Varel, engineering project manager for the company. "With our variety, we have an answer to meet contractors' needs."
The hydraulic dump model is virtually maintenance free and is adjustable to make discharging easier, Varel said.
For pumping materials, the GP-6 Grout Pump ($795) from Kenrich Products Inc. in Portland, Ore., offers a solution for pumping at low pressure. "If you want a small, gallon pump with high delivery, we're the king," said Rick Rountree, company owner. "This is a low-tech, unsophisticated product and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to use."
At only 32 pounds, the hand-operated pump is light enough for a single person to carry. It can pump most types of cementitious grout.
"The most common applications are filling voids accidentally left in the walls, grouting metal door frames in place and under bed plates, and filling CMU block," Rountree said. The new GP-8A ($1,845), an automated version of the GP-6, will be coming out soon.
Delivery Systems with Big Payoffs
Some delivery systems, like EZ Grout's Grout Hog Delivery System and Push Button Masonry's Mix-N-Place mixer, offer labor savings by requiring only two people to use one to operate the forklift and the other to dispense the grout or mortar. The systems deliver the material precisely where it's needed.
"If the project calls for low lift grouting, a Grout Hog is almost a must-have to be competitive," Lang said. "Two guys can come through and grout while the masons are striking up and building leads; this allows your crew to continue up the wall without moving from run to run to grout."
The gas-powered model with crane bail (GPHC75; $9,995) works great on taller buildings because operators can swing the grout in with a crane, he said. The model also works great on piers, columns, step pans and elevated steps.
"Any size project can see a savings by using the Grout Hog," Lang said. "Box-type retail construction will see the largest savings due to the high production on these jobs."
The company's new Uphill Grout Hog has an upward protruding snout that saves a significant amount of reach on the forklift, and the unique swivel base allows grouting from all angles while eliminating extra forklift moves, Lang said.
"Also, the Uphill Grout Hog makes grouting over the scaffold easier due to the longer auger tube. This keeps the hopper back on the scaffold more and down lower," he said. "With the hopper pivoting on the base and the auger tube pivoting in the middle, it makes cleanup a breeze."
The Mix-N-Place ($14,400) mixes mortar or grout, then a forklift carries the entire mixer to the wall where the mortar or grout is dispensed, said Tom Cummer, co-owner of Push Button Masonry and president of Cummer Masonry Inc. in Sherrill, Iowa.
"It's a self-contained system with a Honda gas motor that runs the hydraulics. You can mix and dispense out of the same machine," he said. "It really eliminates a lot of labor and forklift time because there are so many less trips to the mixing site."
Masons can leave their tubs on the scaffolding and have them filled in place so there's no down time, Cummer said.
"It's just so much easier to go to the tubs instead of bringing the tubs to the mixer," he said. "You just go with your mixer and hit the mortar tubs. This way, you always, always have mortar."
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