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P&Q Profile: Rohr-Idreco’s Richard Crowe

Richard Crowe

Posted on February 20, 2024

What’s driving projects in the dredging universe these days? P&Q caught up with Rohr-Idreco Americas’ Richard Crowe to find out.

You’ve been with Rohr-Idreco for several years across a couple of stints. How did you ultimately get your start in the industry?

I’ve been in operations for the better part of my career. I spent 20 years with Hanson, now Heidelberg [Materials], and had a brief stint with Martin Marietta. While I was the operations manager for Hanson, I was part of the group that bought the first Idreco dredge in the U.S. It was so different than anything else out there. The performance of the dredge was great. You always have problems when you start up serial No. 1, but that dredge is still in place and performing well.

Here we are in 2024, and it’s another big election year. From our vantage point, it seems like producers are more cautious with their spending every four years. Is that what you’re seeing right now?

Photo: Rohr-Idreco

Photo: Rohr-Idreco

It seems the anticipated election has slowed some decision-making, but I don’t think it’s stopped anything. We’re still getting lots of leads. There are a handful of projects that could go for us in Q1 or early Q2, but I think the election is causing some hesitation.

I’m no prognosticator, but to me it’s less about who’s in office and if they’re going to stop things but rather their impact on the process. If you’re trying to build a greenfield site, for example, the permitting process is very different under a Republican leadership than it is under Democrat leadership.

Our usual sales timeline on these sorts of [dredge] projects is 18 to 24 months. We don’t get a lot of leads that turn into deals in just a few months. The delivery clock starts at nine months, and it can run as long as three years.

With those kinds of timelines, capital planning teams must bear in mind the governmental hurdles to clear, and those change based on who controls the government.

What’s the nature of today’s dredge projects that are fueling activity for your company?

You’ve still got dredges that were built in the 1940s and 1950s, so there’s a good opportunity to turn those over with new machinery. Also, permitting for additional depth is easier today than new commercial real estate or expanding footprints.

Usually, there a couple of levers that get pulled, and depth is certainly a big one. But the other is just from a staffing and manpower standpoint. If you replace an excavator and four dump trucks with a dredge, you go from five operators to one. If you go to an electric dredge, you replaced 100 gallons an hour of fuel with high-voltage line power. [That’s] a significant cost savings.

How is technology shaping dredging operations now and for the future?

Automation continues to be big. Automation first came in for efficiency’s sake. Now, you’re seeing automation come in so you can either eliminate an operator or have a single operator run multiple machines. In fact, we’re going to be delivering two machines this spring that are going to be remote operated from a couple hundred miles away.

We’re seeing this across the industry. Once you realize a repetitive action, it makes it a candidate for automation.

We’ve had autonomous modes on our dredges in the U.S. for 10 to 11 years, but you still had to have an operator on them to move them. They just dug autonomously.
The next phase is giving the operator remote control of the dredge, controlling it from the scale house so they can weigh trucks at the same time or the plant operator station. We’re headed down a path not only of remote operating, but remote monitoring for performance improvement and predictive maintenance.


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