Family traditions set in stone at Nels Ostero

Nels Ostero’s fleet helps the company tackle winter, as well as reduce downtime

British Columbia’s Peace River region is often known for its agricultural landscape, thanks to a mix of fertile land and moderate temperatures. 

However, there is also plenty of money to be made just below the soil, and aggregate producers recognized this in the mid-1960s and decided to take action.  

In 1966, Nels Ostero, namesake of Nels Ostero Ltd., established a sand and gravel operation in the Peace River Region. 

Since then, the company has grown significantly, but has remained humble and family oriented. 

Today, Nels Ostero’s son Tom Ostero runs the plant, and in 2007, his grandson Nilson Ostero assumed the manager position — where he remains today. 

The plant, which resides on 1.3 square kilometres of land, provides sand and gravel for residential and commercial needs in the Peace River Regional District. 

The company’s products are used in concrete applications, asphalt plants, oil fields and highways. With a capacity of more than 1 million tons per year, the equipment onsite plays a huge role in the plant’s success. 

The Ostero fleet

To ensure supply meets demand for sand and gravel, the quarry requires top-performing machinery. At the site, Nels Ostero has 11 vibrating screens, two crushers and dozens of loaders, trucks and excavators, all of which need to perform efficiently. 

Haver & Boecker Niagara, has been delivering dependable equipment to Nels Ostero Ltd. for decades. In fact, the Canadian-based screening company has been their go-to since the the manufacturer was known as W.S. Tyler. 

“My father chose the company because of the reliability of the equipment,” Nilson Ostero said. 

The first piece of Haver & Boecker Niagara equipment the company purchased was a Ty-Rock (now the F-Class vibrating screen) installed in 1966. Since then, they have added a number of technologies from the manufacturer.

Most recently, Nilson Ostero replaced his two 2.1 metre by 4.8-metre machines, which were situated at the finishing end of the operation. 

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Running since the 1980s, the equipment was outdated, inefficient and required more maintenance than the value they offered. 

Haver & Boecker Niagara evaluated his operation and recommended implementing two Niagara T-Class machines. The new machines have proven themselves a good fit, increasing capacity and requiring little to no maintenance. 

“The T-Class machines are on their third season with us, and we haven’t had a single issue,” Nilson Ostero said. “They allow us 20 per cent more capacity than our old screens, but more importantly they are stronger and more reliable.” 

Winter ready

In Peace River, temperatures in winter averages about 4 C, but can dip as low as -40 C. While some screening plants shut down their whole operation in the winter, Nilson Ostero’s equipment allows him to perform crushing and screening year-round. When temperatures remain steadily below -3 C, they pause aggregate washing. However, even with a portion of the operation’s process shut down, they are still able to produce more than an operation that has to completely shut down for several months. 

“The colder it gets outside, the stickier the material becomes,” Nilson Ostero said. “The extra moisture can lead to blinding and pegging, resulting in downtime for maintenance to clear out the material. That doesn’t happen with the T-Class machines.” 

For Ostero, hiring and retaining high-quality employees also ensures the operation runs smoothly. 

“At the end of the day, if the guys are working with good equipment, they are happier and perform better,” Nilson Ostero said. “Safety is obviously a big deal, but another thing is providing efficient, top-notch machines that don’t require unnecessary maintenance.”

Equipment is only one part of the equation, and he quickly found how impactful the screen media would be, especially when it comes to downtime and maintenance.

Cut corners are lost profits 

Maintenance is a necessity, but unexpected maintenance and subsequent shutdowns can equal to a significant loss of money for any company. Scheduled maintenance activities are only possible with thorough analysis and planning, as well as quality equipment and screen media. Nilson Ostero consistently found that any attempt to cut corners only resulted in lost profits. Each time he experimented with lower-cost screen media, he would watch as unexpected downtime and lost revenue increased. 

“The cost-saving was attractive, but it was never worth it,” he said. “Cutting corners always meant a sacrifice of some kind, and it inevitably ended up costing me more money.”

Ostero has implemented the Haver & Boecker PROdeck method. PROdeck evaluates the screening process to blend screen media for the highest production with the least amount of unscheduled downtime. 

Markus Kopper, general manager of Haver & Boecker Niagara Rocky Mountains, and Dave Warden, Haver & Boecker Niagara sales manager, worked with the company to determine the optimal screen media combination for the operation. This included a combination of Ty-Max, Ty-Wire and traditional woven wire, as well as Major’s Flex-Mat.

“Haver & Boecker Niagara partners with each customer and thoroughly evaluates an operation before making recommendations,” Kopper said. “For Nels Ostero Ltd., they were able to achieve a 70 per cent increase in wear life with our PROdeck approach.”

Ty-Rail System

Nilson Ostero also consulted with Haver & Boecker Niagara to determine if upgradingr his vibrating screens could reduce the time required for maintenance and screen change-outs. He found a time saver in the company’s Ty-Rail quick-tensioning system. The new T-Class machines are equipped with the system, which combines the tension rail and all hardware together in one assembly. Ty-Rail simplifies the process, saving his team at least three hours each time a change-out is needed, as well as helping to eliminate losing nuts and bolts into the hoppers below. 

“A complete screen change-out, on one screen, would have normally taken us five or six hours,” he said. “But with Ty-Rail, we can do it in as few as three hours. And guys aren’t dropping bolts every 15 seconds, so that’s an added bonus.”

The three-hour time savings, coupled with increased throughput, resulted in an overall production increase in the first year. As well, it saved about eight to 10 days of downtime per season.

The Ty-Rail wasn’t the only time-saving option. After years of frequently replacing worn out cross beams, he opted to add Zip-Guard to his T-Class machines. 

The 125 mm-thick polyurethane liner is designed to reduce the impact of passing material by protecting the cross beams from wear. This results in increased equipment longevity and minimized downtime for maintenance.

Pulse check

All tech on site is supported by an ongoing service program. Haver & Boecker Niagara begins every service visit with its signature Pulse vibration analysis. The advanced vibration analysis technology is designed to help customers examine the health of their vibrating screen. Haver & Boecker Niagara technicians use the technology and analysis to help detect irregularities that could translate into diminished performance, decreased efficiency, increased operating costs and imminent breakdowns.

“Markus and his team used Pulse to help me spot issues that our team wouldn’t have normally been able to find,” Nilson Ostero said. “Haver & Boecker Niagara first ran it on my machines right after they installed them, and now they run it once a year. It has caught problems that may have cost me money down the road, including a twisted frame on one of my screens. We knew there was a problem with the unit, but with Pulse, Haver & Boecker Niagara’s service technician determined exactly what was wrong.”

Since the company’s inception, Nels Ostero Ltd. has now grown to one of the largest sand and gravel producers in the area — employing more than 30 people, several of whom have been with the company for more than 15 years. With a constant focus on relationships and quality, the Ostero family built a longstanding business on enduring whatever the economy throws at them, all while maintaining their reputation for providing a quality product that meets the demands of their customers. 

Looking ahead, Nilson Ostero hopes to continue to grow the business. He hopes to increase output year-over-year, continue retaining and adding employees, and keeping the business in the family — one day passing it on to his children to continue the family tradition.