Law and innovator

Oklahoma attorney gives Swisher the fire to launch family of machines

Article July 01, 2001
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In the midst of accusations he could’ve turned to a lawyer and said, "You’ll hear from my innovator


In the midst of accusations he could’ve turned to a lawyer and said, "You’ll hear from my innovator."


Back in the early 1960s, a contractor friend of CMI Corp. founder Bill Swisher just completed the Skelley Bypass in Tulsa. Now labeled I-44, the Skelley Bypass was the first significant urban interstate project in Oklahoma. A politically ambitious local attorney kept close tabs on the job and went as far as going out and gathering sample cores of the pavement. The cores were found to be inconsistent.


"They were getting ready to prosecute this contractor over the fact that he had supposedly been dishonest and was cheating the state by not having the proper amount of pavement in the highway section," Jim Rodriguez, vice president for corporate communications at Oklahoma City-based CMI, told ROADS & BRIDGES.


Congressional hearings testimony established the fact that the state-of-the-art in grading and paving was not sufficient to meet the demands of the interstate paving requirement.


"New technology was needed to provide the productivity to build these new highways and to build them on schedule," said Rodriguez. "This triggered a technological race among several companies to create a reliable grading machine that would accurately set the grade."


Swisher legged it out and in 1964 led the way with the CMI Autograde, a machine that launched an entire line of company products. The lawyer’s political platform quickly turned into Swisher’s ad campaign.


"He won that race. The whole family of machines was built off the same design as the Autograde," said Rodriguez.


The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, and such was the case with the Swishers. Bill and his father, George, set up shop as an Oklahoma City construction company called Wiley Stewart Machinery.


The first headline innovation to come out of the establishment was the paddle-wheel scraper. The idea centered around a drag chain in the hopper of the scraper that pulls the dirt up into the body of the machine.


"It was essentially a drag conveyor," said Rodriguez. "Bill saw a device like this in a farming application and he knew it would do quite well in grading and excavating applications. He re-engineered the device and got together with a company that made a pull, and the result was this scraper."


The Autograde soon followed, and through increased equity the Swishers were able to acquire other related companies in the construction industry that were in hot-mix asphalt production. Other deals involved purchasing the Bid-Well division and Load King, a trailer division, in the late ’60s.


The first concrete paver was developed in 1966, and CMI claims to be the first to "fully automate" the slipform paver.


"The company went along quite well until the interstate boom began to subside in the early ’70s," said Rodriguez.


Decade detonators


In search of more explosives, Bill Swisher focused his efforts on the maintenance and rehabilitation of the interstate system.


CMI came out with a dedicated pavement profiling machine in 1975, called the Roto-Mill, which mined material from existing roadways for recycling purposes.


"Before that the pavement was just ripped out and hauled away in a fairly slow, crude operation," said Rodriguez. "An instant market for recycling pavements was created by (the Roto-Mill). I think this was a significant boom to the industry."


The first profiling machine had a 7 1/2-ft cutting width, but before long CMI was producing full-lane width machines that could cut 15 ft wide and went as deep as 12 or 14 in.


Success in the ’70s also was experienced in the asphalt production market. CMI was the "first company" to market the drum mix asphalt plant, which soon replaced the batch-type plants which were "quite expensive because they were complicated and capital intensive," according to Rodriguez. With the old system, hot mix was produced in batches where the specific amount of each aggregate size was dropped into a chamber. Liquid was then added and the load was mixed and batched out. The drum mixer is a continuous mixer where the specified aggregates and liquid are fed into a rotating drum.


In 1978, CMI strengthened its presence in the recycling business with the introduction of the Roto-Cycler, which was the first drum mix asphalt plant capable of recycling old hot mix into new pavement without pollution and without sacrificing production capabilities for conventional mixes made from all new materials.


Other products offered during the decade were bridge deck concrete finishing machines, asphalt pavers and a line of trailers to serve the materials and heavy hauling requirements of road contractors and material producers. CMI would later sell its asphalt paver line to Caterpillar in 1988.


Ideas circled around road reclaimers in the mid- to late-’80s. CMI took the basic stabilizer reclaimer machines that were popular 10 years earlier and upgraded the design. The result was the creation of the Roto-Mixer, which led to in-place, deep reclamation and foamed asphalt applications.


"That particular product really helped to create the economics that drove the growth of that industry," said Rodriguez.


CMI hasn’t given up the steering wheel over the last 10 years, either. In 1992 it introduced a line of triple-drum hot mix production and recycling plants featuring a drum design with highly efficient overlapping heat transfer and mixing zones.


"During the ’90s the hot-mix industry was moving away from parallel flow plants to counter flow, and the reason for the switch was environmental because the parallel flow plant would, under some circumstances, produce a blue smoke emission," said Rodriguez. "A counter flow plant could alleviate that by separating the mixing from the drying, and the CMI triple drum has become a very popular tool."


Another new development was a multi-purpose, four-wheel-drive tractor with systems for placing concrete pavement, asphalt pavement or base materials.


A year later the company came out with a new Roto-Mill pavement profiler, the PRT-525. The half-lane-width machine featured "Compression Memory" steel impregnated rubber tires in lieu of tracks.


In 1994, CMI produced its first new automated four-track finegrading machine since the mid-’60s. The modular design of the TR-450 permits field conversion for concrete paving, placing or automated steel dowel bar inserting.


Acquisitions were developed, too. Swisher acquired the C.S. Johnson Co., Champaign, Ill., a manufacturer of large concrete paving plants, and the Ross Co., Brownwood, Texas, which is a maker of ready-mixed concrete plants.


The most significant development of 2000 was the introduction of variable width concrete paving. Meeting the task is CMI’s 2000 Series.


"We expect over the next two or three years we will have a significant impact on the residential and business park paving projects, and we also expect to take this same technology and apply it to interstate- and expressway-type paving," said Rodriguez, who predicts the launch of the next generation hot-mix asphalt plant in the near future.


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