One of New Zealand's newest quarrying and aggregates companies has just opened a new quarry close to the centre of Christchurch, giving it the capability to supply a full range of product for the region's post-earthquake reconstruction program as well as other major infrastructure projects.SOL Quarries Ltd's Yaldhurst Quarry, located behind Christchurch Airport, began selling product in June 2016 following a two-year consent application and development process.
It hit the headlines straight away with the announcement that recently retired New Zealand All Black legend Richie McCaw was a shareholder who along with high-profile entrepreneur and philanthropist Michael Watt had joined company founders, schoolmates Simon Apperley and Ben Dormer.
Simon and Ben had started in the aggregates and quarrying business in 2011, with the establishment of SOL Shingle Ltd, supplying aggregates in North Canterbury.
They founded the company after both returned from working and studying overseas; Simon in the US construction industry, and Ben studying at Cambridge and playing rugby.
"We came back to Christchurch post-earthquake, and were looking for business opportunities," said Ben.
"My brother Pete runs Dormer Construction in the region, and I didn't want to step on his toes, so Simon and I looked for a business that would be complementary to that."
They purchased a number of consents in the North Canterbury region, and through SOL Shingle have access to around 2.5 million tonnes of material, supplying sand and aggregates to councils, contractors and builders in the region.
They also quickly established a relationship with Komatsu NZ as Ben puts it "almost accidentally" after picking up a couple of Komatsu machines as part of the resource consent purchases.
"There was a Komatsu machine that came with one of these consents, but it didn't really suit our needs, so we spoke to Wayne Hawtin at Komatsu NZ in Christchurch about disposing of it," said Ben.
"As a result of that conversation, we purchased a WA380-6 loader for tailing out and stockpiling at our North Canterbury operations and the relationship developed from there."
Three years later, Simon and Ben established SOL Screening & Crushing (SSC) to cater for significant industry demand for mobile screening and crushing services throughout North and South Canterbury.
In setting up SSC, they also purchased Paul Smith Earthworks' mobile operations, and with that the rights to produce all aggregates for Downer's nine-year South Canterbury maintenance contract.
As part of this purchase, Ben and Simon picked up a Komatsu BR380JG-1 jaw crusher.
"We've found this to be a very flexible and versatile machine," said Ben. "We are using it at Yaldhurst, as well as in our mobile operations, and also for crushing concrete on demolition sites around Christchurch."
SSC also operates soil and sand screening operations throughout Canterbury, along with carrying out concrete crushing.
Since that first Komatsu WA380-6 purchase, the SOL Group has standardised on Komatsu loaders across its operations, with a fleet that includes four WA470-6 loaders purchased as low-hour used units out of Komatsu's Australian used equipment division.
Two of these units are used in its mobile SSC operations in North and South Canterbury, with the other two used in the new Christchurch quarry at Yaldhurst.
They also recently have been joined by two brand-new WA480-6 purchased for Yaldhurst.
With its Komatsu fleet, SOL Group has all servicing carried out by Komatsu NZ.
"We wanted to standardise our maintenance activities as much as we could; we find that's a good way to keep everything as simple as possible, and all under control," said Ben. "Their servicing and support has been very good.
"We also find the online KOMTRAX remote monitoring system is very helpful to our operations; we can easily view equipment hours, we always know exactly where each item of plant is, and when the next service is due.
"It's just a matter of logging in whenever we want, and it's all very user-friendly."
The SOL Group of companies' latest venture, the SOL Quarries operation, has access to around six million tonnes of material giving a projected life of 10-15 years, depending on demand.
"The chance to develop this operation was a real opportunity for us, considering the predicted demand for aggregates, gravel and sand for the Christchurch rebuild, along with some major local road projects," said Ben.
"Having said that, it's a fairly contested market, plus we operate under a number of environmental constraints including a requirement that we can't dig deeper than a metre above the water table, and a need to return its quarry area to its original condition using clean fill once the resource is exhausted."
Ben said Canterbury's existing consented quarries would be "stretched over the next 15 years" and the shortage would be compounded by these tight rules for gravel extraction from the Waimakariri and other Canterbury rivers.
"Our resource is a good mix of alluvial rock from the former course of the Waimakariri River, plus pit material, all sized at 130 mm and under, which gives us an excellent blend that allows us to meet most requirements," he said.
"We started production here in mid-June 2016, basically producing our core products: AP65, AP40, AP20, M4, along with raw materials from our pit run, such as sand and soil. We can also take clean fill and turn that around as clean fill dump material.
"Our clients include local civil and roading contractors, developers, local councils and the like.
"Christchurch's post-earthquake rebuilding program, plus those couple of major Transit NZ infrastructure projects coming up, mean there is a very high demand in the region for quality material.
"That upcoming work and the demand for material was a key factor in us deciding to establish this quarry," Ben said.
"Our intention is to build up the SOL group of companies as another alternative supplier of aggregates, sand and gravel in the Canterbury region.
"We are very much the new kids on the block, and our aim is to produce good quality products, look after our clients and work in with the local construction industry," he said.
And how did an All Black great become involved in the quarrying business?
"I've known Ben since we played together in a Canterbury Crusaders Colts team 15 years ago," said Richie McCaw.
"I've taken a 10% stake in the business as a way to get more hands-on business experience in my post-rugby career.
"Joining SOL is a chance to learn about running a business, and seeing the very rigorous resource consent process that we've gone through over the past couple of years has been quite an eye-opener for me," he said
Pictured left: Richie McCaw retired New Zealand All Black legend (SOL Quarries Ltd's Yaldhurst Quarry Shareholder)
Pictured above from left: Richie McCaw and Ben Dormer (SOL Quarries Ltd's Yaldhurst Quarry Director)