A Milwaukee-based group builds an aftermarket service company for mining-class crushers
By Steve Fiscor, Editor-in-Chief
Wisconsin no longer has much mining activity, but a number of mining suppliers call Milwaukee home. The city draws its engineering skills from a rich manufacturing heritage. While famous brands, such as Bucyrus, P&H and Nordberg, have been folded into other companies, some new companies have emerged. One of those is Optimum Crush.
Optimum Crush was founded in 2013 by Jerrod Dulmes, who had gained considerable experience working with the Raptor line of cone crushers. Dulmes and the team at Excel Crusher Technologies designed, built and installed the first Raptor 900, 1100 and 2000 series of cone crushers.
A mechanical engineer, Dulmes became fascinated with cone crushers and mining, and his training and experience at Excel allowed him, the team and their customers to push the limits of secondary crushing. Mining companies asked for larger, higher-horsepower cone crushers and they would build them. Both sides were taking chances developing new equipment and they accepted those risks knowing the rewards, being able to crush massive volumes of ore, would be well worth it.
Over the years, FLSmidth acquired a lot of brands. The company established a large corporate campus in Salt Lake City and began to consolidate those brands in one location. Dulmes along with everyone else in Milwaukee was offered a position in Salt Lake City. Some made the move, but Dulmes opted out.
Those who have experienced success in the mining business know it’s hard to leave. The mining business has long tentacles that pull talented people back into the game. His former customers reached out for help and Dulmes started an engineering consultancy that has now earned its stripes as one of the best aftermarket service providers for mining-class cone crushers.
The Learning Curve
Dulmes’ journey began with an apprenticeship at a machine shop where he learned basic machining, milling and CNC work. Working on projects, he began to work with others to revise designs in addition to making parts. That’s when he decided to pursue an engineering path. While earning a mechanical engineering degree he accepted internships with two famous local names, Harley-Davidson and Kohler. “That wasn’t design engineering, it was manufacturing based engineering,” Dulmes said. Prior to his senior year, he was looking for exposure to something different, a company where he could practice design engineering. He found Excel Crusher Technologies.
“The executives at this company were talking to me about cone crushers, mining and aggregates production,” he said. All of these terms where unfamiliar to him, so after the interview he went home and Googled them and discovered the world of comminution.
Excel Crushing Technologies turned out to be five guys in an office in Milwaukee, but he accepted the position anyway and so began his relationship with crushing in general and cone crushers in particular. Upon graduation, the company extended an offer for a full-time position and he accepted.
At the time, Excel was wrapping up the design for its 400-horsepower (hp) cone crusher. The company was owned by Excel Foundry & Machine and some of the guys in the Milwaukee office were past Nordberg executives or experts who were somehow associated with cone crushers. They assigned design engineering tasks to Dulmes and he got to work.
FFE Minerals acquired a 51% stake in Excel Crusher Technologies. They asked the company to design and build mining-duty cone crushers and provided the capital to do it. “They wanted something to rival the Metso MP 1000,” Dulmes said. “FFE had to buy MP 1000s from Metso for the various mining projects they were building and they wanted to build the crushers themselves. In less than a year, we designed and built our first mining-class cone crusher.” Eight of them were installed at the Cloud Break iron ore mine in Western Australia.
“These orders came with a ton of work,” Dulmes said. “Beyond developing a new product line with new larger sizes of cone crushers, these orders had extensive contracts. The Excel team was building small crushers and had limited man-power to dedicate to these intricate contracts and the engineering work.”
The group, which had now grown to 20, was swamped. After making the Cloud Break sale, FFE quickly realized the value of owning their own crusher line and they purchased the other 49% of Excel Crusher Technologies and bought 100% of Excel Foundry & Machine. “They invested more capital, said build more crushers and develop a full product line,” Dulmes said. “They wanted a 900-hp cone crusher, which would become the Raptor 900.”
Business was brisk and each new person hired had less crusher experience than Dulmes. He was asked to lead the development of the Raptor 900. At the time, he was a young engineer working in a mature market where new models of cone crushers were launched every seven or eight years.
“There were not many cone crushers in those size ranges, primarily the Sandvik H8000 and the Metso HP800,” Dulmes said. “It was a tremendous opportunity and experience — to develop a crusher in a year, sell it and commission it.”
When a manufacturer produces a product with serial No.1, there are bound to be issues. So, in addition to developing the new line, Excel sent Dulmes into the field to provide engineering support for the new machines they had recently commissioned. He had become a busy man and a cone crushing expert on the rise.
Going for the Gold
FFE never took its foot off the gas. They decided they wanted to build something bigger, Dulmes explained, something that would blow the doors off the Raptor 1100 and the MP1000. “That’s how the Raptor 2000 came to be,” Dulmes said. “It’s actually a 2,500-hp cone crusher, marketed as a 2000. Excel thought the 2,500-hp rating would scare the market.”
FFE turned to Dulmes to lead the development of the Raptor 2000. It would easily be the highest throughput crusher on the market. “This was a very exciting project not just from a development perspective, but from a manufacturing standpoint as well,” he said. “There was a 10-ft Symons machine on the market, but nothing that could compete with this new machine. The components would be huge.” Dulmes joked that they would be so big they would need lifting eyes for the lifting eyes.
During this time, Excel’s chief engineer moved on and Dulmes was asked to fulfill that role for the product line, in conjunction with developing the Raptor 2000. He was managing the entire project and many people were Involved.
“I was blessed to work with a great group of people that worked well with each other and supported one another,” Dulmes said. “We had a great mix of veteran leadership and youth that were willing to work hard. Everyone that worked on that project has something to be very proud of.”
The first Raptor 2000 was commissioned at the Canadian Malartic gold mine in Quebec. “There were some challenges,” he said. “It was different from anything that had ever been done before. We pushed the mechanical abilities of these machines as far as internal kinetics of the crusher would allow. Canadian Malartic knew this was serial No.1 and they also wanted something bold and bigger that had not been done before.” Together, they reshaped the cone crushing market.
One Door Closes and Another Opens
During the development of the Raptor 2000, FLSmidth acquired FFE along with many other well-known brands. They decided to consolidate those brands into one large corporate center in Salt Lake City. Many of the satellite offices were closed, which included the Milwaukee cone crusher office. “Sales was the first to go, followed by project management and finally engineering,” Dulmes said. “Everyone was offered a job in Salt Lake City.”
His personal life was more important, his roots were in Milwaukee and Dulmes said no thank you to the move. He was the last one to leave. He shut the lights out and handed the keys for the Milwaukee office to the landlord.
Even during his last days at FLSmidth, he was not sure what he was gong to do on the following Monday. He found a small crusher repair shop in the area that needed some engineering assistance and soon his mobile phone began to ring. It was customers with whom he had worked in a technical support role. He became an independent consultant and the core of Optimum Crush’s business began to form with those phone calls.
Soon he was at a mine site in Canada training people how to operate and service crushers and helping them troubleshoot issues. The OEM that supplied the crusher could no longer support them and the mine needed to train their staff. Dulmes would spend two weeks on and two weeks off, explaining to miners how the crushers worked and how to maintain them.
During these sessions, the miners would discuss various issues like this mainframe liner doesn’t fit well. They would ask: What can we do differently? Or they would mention that a hydraulic cylinder is always leaking. The counterweight guard wears too quickly. Dulmes would perform a walk-through inspection during breaks and make notes. Back in the session, they would brainstorm on solutions.
In the evenings, Dulmes would design a solution and then subcontract it to a local machine shop, foundry or hydraulic shop. They would direct ship the components to the mine. The miners would install it and provide feedback. Yes, that mainframe liner fit much better and it only took four hours to install instead of six. The material upgrade helped. Instead of lasting three months, it’s now lasting a year.
His business grew by word-of-mouth and mine referrals. The miners would talk and ask: Who’s supporting you on those Raptors? “We were not getting the same support we used to and we called this guy. Word spread quickly.”
Cone crushers have been around for 100 years, but the Raptor product line has only been around for less than 10 years at the time… Some of the issues with the machine’s design might not surface for a few years into operations and they did.
“It started with service and support for three or four mines,” Dulmes said. “We would teach preventive maintenance and provide solutions to problems.” The workload grew and he hired more people to support this niche need.
Supporting a Niche Need
Dulmes’s workload began to snowball and he rehired people he worked with in the past to support his new business, Optimum Crush. The senior designer for the Raptor product line now works for Optimum Crush. “Our operations manager was originally the purchasing manager for the Raptor product line,” Dulmes said. “We have a service manager who was involved with commissioning dozens of Raptors around the world. We have been able to add skilled staff that came directly from mines and from other heavy-industrial backgrounds that have helped us become more well-rounded. We have a really talented group.”
Optimum Crush specializes in cone crushers. “Even though we are frequently asked, we do not deviate from cone crushers,” Dulmes said. “We want to be really good at one thing rather than pretty good at a lot of things. As these companies acquire and consolidate brands, they sometimes dilute the technical expertise that made these brands great.”
Today, Optimum Crush has five full time employees and six part-time employees. They also have some active and retired industry experts that support them as-needed. “It’s a great group of part time consultants who specialize in crushing,” Dulmes said.
During the first few years, they were growing at a rate that was not normal by any means. Business grew by as much as 300% to 400% year-on-year. Their initial customers were primarily gold miners who were flush with cash and wanted problems solved.
“If you can prove to them that you will save them money, they are willing to take a chance,” Dulmes said. “That was our approach to mantles and bowl liners, the wear parts inside the cone crusher. We were able to extend life by 30%-50%, which reduces the number of shutdowns by the same amount.” Optimum Crush claims they now supply 100% of the bowl liners for the entire installed base of Raptor 2000s worldwide.
“We have developed a design that the OEM has not been able to match,” Dulmes said. “It has more to do with design than materials, such as manganese steels, but it’s a little of both.
What has given them a leg up? “We design the entire machine, not just the mantle and the bowl liner,” Dulmes said. “We design everything. When we make a change, we can determine the effects of the change throughout the machine. We understand how the components fit together. To date, we have matched or beaten the competition 100% of the time. That’s our benchmark and a core part of our business. We have a nice track record and can share actual data with customers.”
Something that sets Optimum Crush apart from others is its commitment to the local community. “We have invested in dozens of youth sports programs,” Dulmes said. “We sponsor little league teams, youth football, men’s and women’s softball teams, junior hockey, lacrosse teams and even synchronized skating. We have also sponsored hunter safety programs, 4H and churches.”
Why? Dulmes said it’s the right thing to do. “We are building relationships with the mine and the community,” he said. “We want to help them balance their relationship with communities by contributing. We love kids. It’s not a marketing gimmick. We work directly with municipalities, not the mines. It’s anything from T-shirt sponsorships to erecting buildings for non-profit programs.”
Optimum Crush’s community outreach program is a tithed commitment, meaning they donate a percentage of their profits to the community. “It’s becoming more difficult to keep up the pace,” Dulmes said. “We’re actively searching for non-profit programs surrounding the mines to contribute to.” Applications are available on the Optimum Crush website.
“We were blessed with a niche skill set and we want to give back,” Dulmes said.
“For the first couple of years, we were just trying to catch up and, when we eventually did, COVID-19 hit,” Dulmes said. “Most of our business is outside the United States, so we had to pivot.”
Like everyone else, they adapted with video conferencing. They moved from in-person classroom training to written documentation supported with video conferencing. “The OEM manuals do not provide the details miners need,” Dulmes said. “We now have a whole library of detailed documentation. We have taken portions of that, refined it and now we email it to the client and follow up with a video conference.”
A maintenance manager in a copper mine now includes Optimum Crush in a group Whatsap chat with his crew. One guy can ask a question during his shift and they can answer it and train the entire staff at the same time.
Optimum Crush is also implementing an ERP program, which will reduce the complexity of supporting customers in other countries.
During the past 12 months, they have focused on building a foundation to take the company to the next level, Dulmes explained. “We have connected with many mines in the U.S. and Canada and now we’re looking to connect with miners in Chile, Peru, Australia and other regions,” he added.
Yes, cone crusher OEMs are losing aftermarket sales to them, but Optimum Crush is also making the products they sell and install work better and longer. Not every mine has a crushing expert. However, they might have a mechanical engineer that Dulmes and his crew can support. That engineer can lean on the Optimum Crush team as an extension of the mine’s engineering department.