In every marketplace, businesses compete by establishing themselves within a competitive position that sets them apart. Sometimes that can mean providing the lowest price, the most unique twist, or the largest selection. But for DK Organics in Lake Bluff, Illinois, their focus has always been to provide the absolute highest quality products and follow the strictest production control to ensure that quality is consistently maintained. And for more than 20 years, they have been delivering the finest compost, mulches, soils and aggregates in the Chicagoland area.
It has been said that regulation can spawn an industry, and in Illinois, that has certainly been the case for the compost and organics industry. When the green waste landfill diversion law was enacted in 1988, the market was suddenly faced with a glut of material that now had no established disposal solution. David â€œSidâ€ Gorter DK Organics realized the tremendous potential that was unfolding and quickly scrambled to become educated enough to enter the business.
Sid continued to refine their production methods and further increase the quality and purity of all their products. Continuous process improvements, capitalization on new university-level research and advancement in equipment were all investments they made to ensure they maintained their high-quality advantage.
Creating top quality products requires top quality equipment, and a critical piece of equipment for any organics yard is a screen. Insisting on having the best, DK Organics was one of the first companies in the United States to own a Doppstadt SM series trommel, acquiring their first unit back in 2003, just a year after they first became available domestically. “The Doppstadt engineering is definitely superior in our eyes,” explained operations manager Andrew Mariani. “The efficiency of their production, the ease of operation and the minimal downtime have definitely had a positive impact on our operations and our product quality.”
Their Doppstadt trommel is certainly asked to do a lot: screening fines from mulch, finishing compost, creating blends, cleaning soil; they even offer it on a contract basis to organic farmers offsite that are running small-scale compost operations. But never content with the status quo, Gorter already had his eye on the next innovation he recognized would propel them further ahead of their competition. “For years, Sid was waiting for the Doppstadt star screen insert to become available in the US market,” said Mariani. And just as they were among the first to get their hands on the Doppstadt brand back in the early 2000s, DK Organics was again among the first to get an SM star screen insert in March of 2011. “We traded in our existing [SM] 720 and got a new 720 with the star screen.”
The Doppstadt star screen insert is engineered to drop directly into the trommel unit, simply replacing the drum in an easy 15-minute change. It works on a revised principle utilizing a urethane star design for extended life. The star shape on the shaft is oblong as opposed to the conventional round star which aids dramatically with shaft cleaning. Alternate shaft speeds on the deck, exclusive to Doppstadt, are extremely effective in the stratification of material feed, leading to a cleaner oversize product and increased production rates. Wet, clumpy organic material with moisture content as high as 60% or more can continue to be processed, with throughput results as much as 50% higher than screening through a drum.
For DK Organics, the results were significant. “We had been running a 1.5-inch drum but recognized that we were just not getting the product we wanted in the time we wanted it with the quality we are aiming for. But the star screen was an immediate game changer for us. We were now doing in a day what had previously taken nearly a week to run. Seriously.”The resulting increase in quality was also as dramatic, and Mariani believes this single equipment investment alone has put them far ahead of their competition.
“DK Organics is obviously not the only game in town, and other providers work hard to meet the needs of their customers too. But for us, our goal is to produce and deliver the highest quality compost, mulches, and soils possible. Our customers come to us with that expectation and we need to always look for ways to exceed their standards. Our investment in this star screen is another example of that.”- Mariani
Their process begins with control over the source product. DK Organics insists on using only clean, controlled yard waste and landscape material. After primary shredding, they produce a menu of mulch products, some of which are double (or even triple) ground fine to result in a premium product. Source materials include southern hardwood bark, premium hardwood, and leaf mulch. Color and texture are crafted through precision aging; although they recently added a dark red product to their collection as a result of strong local demand.
Composts are produced with an initial grind, after which the material is windrowed and aged for 2-3 months. Heat, oxygen, and moisture are constantly monitored; the piles are turned to replenish oxygen, and grass is added when additional moisture becomes necessary. The final product is screened for purity and sold in bulk. Custom blended composts, mulches and soils can be crafted upon request, and are mixed with precision in the Doppstadt SM trommel with the star screen insert. Mariani has found that the strong agitation of the star screen is a perfect environment for producing a consistently blended product.
As with any industry, staying on top means not standing still. Competition is always going to catch up, and the marketplace demands constantly mature. As standards rise and expectations become greater, DK Organics will always be thinking two steps ahead. It has been more than 20 years since they first realized the opportunity to gain an advantage in this Northern Illinois market, and they are not about to let their guard down anytime soon.