Mud, muck and machines: the stratospheric growth of Collins Earthworks, the UK construction company that has gone from strength to strength in recent years, thanks largely to its ever-growing fleet of Volvo Construction Equipment units.
The poet Hilaire Belloc once described the English Midlands as “sodden and unkind” and certainly, nothing at Birch Coppice, near Tamworth, would have caused him to change his mind. On a massive construction site designated mainly for new commercial distribution centers, the Collins Earthworks team is busy treating waterlogged clay with lime to dry it out so that the construction machinery can operate.
“The weather has been terrible, but we’re getting there,” says Dave Collins, managing director of Collins Earthworks. Collins’ team is preparing the ground for two massive distribution centers – one of 70,000m2, another of 40,000m2 – on a former green-field site at Dordon, a one-time coal mining village some 30km east of Birmingham. The project also includes the construction of an access road for the buses that will provide transport for the estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people who will work in the facilities when they are completed.
On one side of the site, two Volvo crawler excavators, an EC220D and an EC300EL, are breaking up massive boulders that will be crushed into small rocks for hardcore and mixed into the clay to help stabilize the ground for building. On another part of the site, two crawler excavators are loading a line of massive articulated haulers as another area is levelled, ready for building. As each hauler is filled and driven away, the next one takes its place. An EC480E is joined by the EC700C and EC700B to load massive buckets of earth into an A25F and several A30G articulated haulers.
It’s not an easy task, Collins admits. “We’ve got lads processing the rock, crushing, breaking, riddling the muck out of it and making it a suitable fill while on the other side of the site we’ve got cohesive material being loaded into dump trucks and carried down to place in fill areas, ready for the building footprint to be completed.”
Collins Earthworks started out in the early 1990s but began its rapid expansion in the new millennium. Dave Collins, who started in the construction business as an operator, bought his first Volvo machine in 2004. Since then, his fleet has soared to more than 60 and is still growing.
According to Paul King, Volvo CE’s area business manager, Collins’ decision to go with Volvo CE followed disappointment with a competing product. “He called us in and said this machine had been a little unreliable, and could we help,” King explains. “On the back of that Dave got his first 20-tonne excavator, a Volvo EC210B, which was the first machine I ever sold to him.”
King visited the Dordon construction site, along with Volvo’s regional business manager for Region East, Ryan Hollebone, to mark the purchase of Collins’ 50th Volvo machine. They presented him with a scale model of a modern Volvo crawler excavator in a bottle, complete with customer signage and miniature operators.
However, it is clear from the ongoing growth of the company that Collins will soon be buying more full-sized machines. “We’re up to £30 million (€38m/US$43m) a year now, with a very good client base,” he explains.
What’s more, future prospects are bright. “We’re currently running about 200 people between the companies. There’s a liming company, transport, training and the earth-moving side. I like to think we’re successful. We’re good at what we do. We have a good reputation.”
Collins Earthworks is based near Nottingham, but the company is engaged in construction projects all over the United Kingdom. And wherever Collins Earthworks goes, its fleet of Volvo machines goes with it. “It’s 100% Volvo on the excavators and the dump trucks, and it works,” says Collins.
Volvo CE prides itself on the comfort of its cabs, where operators may spend up to eight hours a day. King says comfort is of key concern for operators. “It’s a place where you want to feel comfortable and safe – all-round visibility and low noise levels are a big thing. The cab of a Volvo machine is second to none so at the end of the day the operators feel comfortable, safe and happy – and a happy employee is a good employee.”
One of the stars in the Collins Earthworks team is Phil Port who has been an operator for over a decade. He has been a finalist three times in the UK heats for the Operators’ Club trials for construction machine operators, winning twice and representing the UK in the European finals, which he hopes to win himself one day. “Volvo does seem to have got it right with what they produce and make,” he says. “They’re very good, efficient and comfy machines.”
Collins agrees. As a former operator, he knows how important safety and comfort are, even if they are but a few of his reasons for sticking with Volvo CE. “We like the people we’re dealing with and we like the product. The operators like the product. Resale values, purchase price - everything works. It’s a nice easy one-stop shop for excavators, so we’ve always stuck with them.”
Photographs by Edward Moss.
Caption 1: Collins Earthworks prepares the ground for two massive distribution centers on a former green-field site at Dordon, North Warwickshire
Caption 2: Dave Collins, managing director of Collins Earthworks, owns a fleet of 60 units that is still growing.
Caption 3: Volvo CE crawler excavators make light work of a heavy-duty task.
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