BuildWitt Europe Trip Week Two!
From 3000’ underground in a salt mine to flying above a city via tower crane, it was a good week.
Buckle up… This week was a neat one!
As I previously explained, last week, we spent four days at the BAUMA 2022 show in Munich. After the show, we escaped the crowds to spend a few quiet days in Salzburg, Austria.
On Sunday, we returned to Munich to start our excursion with Zeppelin Cat, Europe’s largest Caterpillar dealer.
If you think of blimp when you hear Zeppelin, you’re right. Zeppelin started manufacturing airships in the early 1900s. After WW2, post-war rules barred the company from building its product, considered a military aircraft.
But Germans are resilient, and Zeppelin applied its mechanical and metal-working prowess to service trucks. After showing the trucks off, Caterpillar asked if they could service their machines in Germany.
Fast forward to today, and Zeppelin has thousands of people working in multiple countries to service billions in Caterpillar equipment annually. The scale of the business is staggering!
Zeppelin noticed our trip last April with Liebherr and asked if we’d like to visit some of their customers too. They didn’t have to twist my arm…
Day one of our Zeppelin journey brought about a tour of their HQ and Munich branch. Imagine beautiful, modern offices with a large shop and yellow machines next door—what a great work environment.
We then drove north to a small Bavarian town home to many marble quarries. While it was a holiday, the crew at the RMB Jura quarry came into work to give us a tour of how they mine marble for counters, tile, and crushed stone.
A unique aspect of the operation was that a young couple owned it. The man, already a marble expert in his 30s, grew up around the family stone-cutting business. When an opportunity arose to buy the marble mine a few years ago, he pooled everything he had to make it happen. His partner did consulting for large car companies, but she joined him in running the quarry full-time this year.
The operation featured 988 and 982 XE block-handling machines and a few 326 excavators with Wimmer drills. Each machine can drill three holes through marble simultaneously and then split the rock to form near-perfect blocks.
After identifying what grade of marble each block is, they make their way to Italy for cutting.
Later in the evening, we met another young Zeppelin customer, who runs Kellner, a German earthmoving company.
An excavator crawled toward us as we shook his hand on the dark site. As it arrived, the door popped open, and his 13-year-old daughter was in the seat. How’s that for inspiring the next generation?
There weren’t massive machines on the job, but every machine did have a unique theme. A REALLY unique theme… One featured Bumble Bee, another Megatron, and the list went on. Every machine was entirely wrapped in some movie charter. Why? He said he wants to be different from everyone else!
We awoke early on day two to visit the K+S salt mine. Upon our arrival, they ushered us into changing rooms with white canvas pants and a jacket. After donning our uniforms and watching a safety video on deploying a life-saving oxygen mask, we walked to a small elevator.
The metal door shut behind us, and we plunged into total darkness at an alarming speed. We descended nearly 3000’ in only 90 seconds, five times faster than a standard elevator.
After mining salt for nearly 120 years in the same place, the footprint of the mine is the same size as Munich. Tunnels and roads formed an enormous subterranean maze, all in total darkness.
Hundreds of workers use diesel and electric machines to extract salt and haul it to the surface for processing fertilizer for food production.
Speaking of equipment, the machines we specifically came to see were NOT low-profile underground machines but 992 mining loaders...
On the weekend, production mining shuts down, but the plant above needs salt 24/7. The mine bought two 992s to feed the plant from large stockpiles when production mining is at a halt.
How’d they get them underground? In pieces… Zeppelin technicians spent four weeks disassembling each machine, mine workers lowered each piece down the shaft by crane, and technicians spent another two weeks reassembling them.
This was one of the wildest experiences I’ve ever had!
We started our final day at Zeppelin’s branch near Cologne and met up with someone who may or may not have toured us around the world’s largest earthmoving machine. I can’t say anymore… Maybe one day I can…
In the afternoon, we visited another Zeppelin customer performing demolition within the city.
Upon arrival, a worker motioned us to climb into a small steel basket attached to a tower crane above. Once we crammed in, the worker hit a button on the remote control around his shoulder, and the crane hoisted us into the air.
After a terrifying few minutes, he lowered us onto the top level of a highrise they were demolishing from the top down. Due to the height and asbestos outside the building, they couldn’t use a conventional high-reach demolition machine with a processor. Instead, they cut up each floor with saws, then lowered the pieces to the ground below.
We flew back to the rental car, then visited a few more demolition sites to finish our day.
What an unforgettable trip… And yes, we’re already planning the next Europe visit! Stay tuned for vlogs on everything I discussed!
This week on Dirt Talk, I talked to Aric Smith, who was my first foreman when I started in construction at eighteen years old. We talked about his career, my time with him on the big drainage project in Phoenix, and what he’s up to now!
Have you ever wondered what it takes to produce the paper you use daily? There’s a vlog for that… We visited Bellwether Forest Products to explain southern logging in-depth. Enjoy!