Mixing mortar might not be the most exciting activity, but it's essential to do it quickly and do it right for a successful construction project.

Pump and sprayer maker Graco Inc. has introduced its ToughTek CM20 continuous mixer to make the job more portable, consistent and economical when contractors are using pre-blended bags of stucco or mortar mix.

Construction workers building the new Golden State Warriors arena in San Francisco gave the new product a whirl last week, with success, Graco said.

The new machine, with a list price of about $6,400, saves contractors time because it continuously mixes in the right ratio of water, regardless of how many bags are used.

The idea is a change from traditional mortar mixing, which requires material suppliers to deliver four different ingredients to a job site so skilled contractors can mix the ingredients on site to create individual batches, often by hand.

More material suppliers are beginning to pre-mix their own mortar and stucco blends and sell them in 80-pound bags. That means contractors just have to add water.

Sensing the trend, Minneapolis-based Graco designed its machine to be portable, lightweight and yet hold and continuously mix three 80-pound bags at once.

"We wanted to get ahead of the market," said Graco's ToughTek product line manager Bryce Gapinski. "We saw that it's trending the way of pre-blends," so Graco developed a continuous mixer that could handle multiple bags of pre-blended stucco requiring just the right ratio of water.

"We are one of the first ones to market with this," Gapinski said.

"It's easier for the contractor. They don't have to coordinate with all the companies dropping off the material and then mixing all of this on site," he said. "They save on labor and it saves the environment because you don't have as many truckloads" coming and going from job sites.

The company, he said, is getting positive reviews for "the quality of the mix, higher output and ease of operation."

Builders who tested the machine said they liked the feature of continuous mixing over hand and batch mixing.

They also liked that this ToughTek mixer can be plugged into any standard 120-volt outlet (instead of needing 220 volts, like many do). That means "contractors can use the system at any job site," Gapinski said.

Graco's team of electrical and mechanical engineers and designers started working on the new machine eight months ago.

Four months ago, building firm RonParco in Euless, Texas, began using a prototype and began suggesting changes.

Tweaks were made.

This summer, Graco is ready to launch demonstrations for its distributors and hosting webinars.

By increasing its construction offerings, Graco treads heavier into the light construction market occupied by Toro, Wagner Spray Tech, MQ Essick and a host of others. Still, company officials believe ToughTek's innovative design and features will be more than adequate to generate millions in fresh sales for Graco.

Graco manufactures a slew of equipment that moves or distributes fluid, paints, powders and food. Its revenue increased 3 percent to $1.3 billion last year. Contractor revenue contributed about $433 million to those results, up from $397 million in 2015.

Research firm Future Market Insights reports the compact construction equipment market had "a robust double-digit growth rate over the past few years" that is expected to continue.

If Graco's bet to boost contractor sales proves correct, that would diversify income and soften Graco's reliance on its oil and gas division, analysts said.

Oil and gas customers, snagged in the global downturn, hurt Graco in fourth-quarter 2016. Graco took a $192 million noncash impairment charge against the quarter to deal with past acquisitions bearing "significant exposures" to weak oil and gas markets.

With that, growing new construction products are a welcome company goal, officials said.

Graco will sell the new ToughTek CM20 through distributors. It already has sales agreements with several equipment vendors including national outfits such as Service Partners Supply, Sherwin-Williams and C.J. Spray.

The CM20 mixer has simplifying controls such as an on/off toggle switch and an adjustable needle valve that maintains constant water flow throughout the day. The machine also employs latches for easy disassembly and cleaning.

The product expands Graco's offerings to the construction trades. Graco now plays in that space in two key ways.

It makes home insulation spray systems and spray equipment that lets builders coat steel I-beams with fireproofing materials. This year, Graco added an abrasive blaster machine to its growing arsenal that lets contractors remove stain, paint or filler from decks, bricks, concrete and cars without damaging surfaces.

Graco's growing construction product line rounds out its more traditional lines of food pumps, auto and appliance paint sprayers, factory mixers and liquid foam conversion reactors and sprayers, Graco spokeswoman Courtney Beall said.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725