25 years of modular integration

Roeslein & Associates is this year celebrating its 25th Anniversary. CanTech editor Richard Piper travelled to Saint Louis, Missouri, to uncover just what makes this long serving integrator tick.

From the outset, founder Rudi Roeslein had a vision of what he wanted to achieve. It may have taken some years to get things nicely in a row, but once he puts his mind to something, you can bet he’s going to achieve it.

Rudi studied at Saint Louis University, where he was a centre back in a soccer team that won several national championships. “Of course, I thought I was going to be a pro soccer player at that point,” he says, “but I ended up working part time as my parents couldn’t afford to send me through college and I didn’t have a full scholarship.”

His first venture into the working world, the company made fibre cans and designed and built its own machinery. Throughout his time at college Rudi worked for this company and when he left education they made him a great offer. “I could make 75 dollars a game playing soccer, or 18 thousand a year as an engineer – so it didn’t take long to do the math and I went down the engineering route,” Rudi says.

The process of building in-house machinery would take him and fellow engineers at the firm out into the field with equipment that had not previously been tested. After installation, it would take weeks to effectively have the machinery operating at capacity. Realising this and being on the frontline dealing with issues is when Rudi approached his boss with a better solution.

“I explained that we should build these whole systems at our base in Missouri. We should run them and we should make cans. We should demonstrate that they work and then take them and put them in as systems. His boss said, ‘well I think that means we have to do it three times – once to build it, once to take it apart and once to put it back in’.”

This is of course true, but while Rudi acknowledged this fact, he envisioned that by keeping 60-70 per cent of the components together after the first build, you wouldn’t have to take it completely apart – and from there came the concept of modularisation.

The beginning of something big

Rudi later partnered with Fritz Dickmann and used his experience with modularisation to form Roeslein & Associates, Inc in 1990. The company was built on the principles of engineering, fabrication, and construction. Those principles carry through to today with Roeslein’s worldwide engineering and integration capabilities, in-house fabrication facilities and construction division.

With these tools, Roeslein tackled the weak spots of the industry in terms of conveyance, line accumulation, efficiency and managing can line down time.

Historically, as the can industry changed and can speeds increased, most of that increase was accomplished by expanding the footprint of the can lines, the machines, the accumulation systems. Early on, the idea was never stopping front end production. This meant that palletiser/depalletisers were used for bright cans, which resulted in 4-5 per cent production waste. Roeslein used another approach to solve the problem.

“I said that’s not a good solution, as what you’re doing is avoiding what’s happening downstream. I said let’s understand the mean time between failure and the mean time to repair of those components and why they’re stopping and lets fix it” said Rudi. Roeslein studied the can line and determined that by increasing can accumulation capacity directly in conveyance between process machines would minimise overall line down time and reduce waste to two per cent.

The next steps

Rudi then started looking at which elements of building a can plant could be improved. Historically, companies would manage the construction of the building themselves or have the work subcontracted. Many times, with Roeslein’s modular integration process reducing the production time on a can system from over two years to less than 12 months, the systems would be finished before the building was complete. This lead Rudi to start looking into solving that problem internally.

“In fact, one of the biggest challenges we face now is that we finish and send the system and the building’s not ready” says Rudi. “So I’ve challenged our guys now to take on the building. How often do our customers build a building – once every five or 10 years? That’s not often enough, and so we need to help them build buildings. We’re taking that on as a responsibility, again as professional engineers, managing it the way professional engineers and construction managers manage a building, so that when our systems are done, the building is done and we don’t have these long, protracted delays – I think that’s our next challenge.”

Roeslein can perform 85-90 per cent of all fabrication activities at their facility in Red Bud, Illinois, and once they start taking on the buildings themselves, the process will be more streamlined.

Can systems are becoming increasingly complex and Roeslein is able to offer a wide range of solutions to setbacks largely because of their approach to total systems integration and project experience that ranges from line improvements to Greenfield facilities. They draw on 25+ years of industry experience to offer consulting to their clients before the project is off the ground and from there, their team of engineers designs the entire system with the client’s future need in mind.

“We don’t want to just build you a can plant that will only produce 700 million cans a year. Our customers will always want to make more cans, so we need to plan for that at the beginning of the project process,” says Tom Reichart, general manager of Roeslein’s Modular Fabrication facility.

Diversity is of the essence

In addition to Roeslein’s innovations of a series of products, analytical modelling and data management systems to support the can industry, energy is another thing Roeslein is working hard on. With the creation of a Process & Energy division to serve the Oil & Gas market and with another separate company Rudi’s started – Roeslein Alternative Energy – which focuses on using anaerobic digestion to produce methane for fuel.

“I don’t want to be totally reliant on the can industry as you never know if we will see another dip like back in 2001. We were one of the few in our sector to come through it, and that was due in large part to our ability to cut expenses and at the same time keep as many people as possible by using my retained earnings and our managers taking a 30 per cent reduction in wages. So getting into another industry relates to this modular concept. I thought, can we use this concept in the Oil and Gas industry? And the answer was yes. We are pretty good in the can industry, but if it takes a dip, what are we going to do with these 350 people? The answer is to diversify, and that’s what we’re doing.”

With Roeslein Alternative Energy, Rudi is focused on methane gas capture, gas cleaning and compression technologies and to create opportunities to sell that gas.

“We’ve been able to sell our gas from the project I’m currently working on, and ultimately I see that this concept can be moved around the world to support the can plants. If you look at a can plant in Nigeria, or other parts of Africa for example, we’re talking about 3,500-5,000 megawatts of power, and often this is run by diesel or it’s run by propane and often the utility grid isn’t good enough – so by taking the nearby waste products in countries like these, these could be turned into gas to energise these can plants and then maybe around those areas you start building a whole infrastructure of agriculture waste supporting food packaging and now you can rely on a distributive form of energy instead of a centralised form of energy.”

You’re only as good as your people

Rudi is very proud of the accomplishments of his people and the fact that he has not moved away or waivered from the original modularisation concept. Even through the tough times, the philosophy has been – ‘this is what we do, and this is how we do it’, and the people around him have made this possible.

“We see a lot of small companies jumping into the fray and claiming that they’re engineering companies, but hopefully our clients know what we deliver and compare the deliverables against these other companies. We’ve maintained the relationships with most of our companies and it isn’t necessarily just down to the lowest price. They know it’s the quality of what we deliver.” With can line projects completed on six continents in more than 50 countries, most of these lines continue to produce high-quality cans, which is testament to Roeslein’s quality.

Roeslein has achieved an inordinate amount since starting 25 years ago. From the original concept to now looking at ways to actually power these projects in a sustainable way, it seems that there is just no limit to what the company can do.

Through drive and enthusiasm and the dedication of a supportive team, we will no doubt see Roeslein continue to support the can making industry for the next 25 years and beyond.

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