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Tech key to driving down contracting costs

Managing equipment data and machine control systems lies at the heart of providing safe, productive equipment at the lowest possible cost, says Hubbard Construction’s John Sharp

With some 1,500 pieces of equipment – nearly 400 of them heavy equipment – Florida, US-based highway specialist contractor Hubbard Construction Company has adopted an 8-point selection process in a bid to boost machine productivity. John Sharp is the company’s experienced Group Equipment Director. 

‘If we don’t use it for 70% of the time, we’re not buying it’
Equipment utilization is key. When we look at our fleet, we want to own any machine that has 70% utilization on a regular basis. Anything else we rent as needed. The core machines we own give us control over critical site tasks and reassure clients about how we are going to deliver projects when tendering.

‘Keep for first component life – then replace’
We have over 25 years of maintenance history that tells us how long to expect each machine type to last. Typically, that’s anywhere between 10-15,000 hours over eight to nine years. Our goal is to run a machine for its ‘first life’, only retiring it as it approaches 85-90% of its major component lifespan.

‘If the repair time is over four hours – the dealer does it’
Modern machines are so specialized and computerized that for anything major you have to get a dealer technician in. We can’t expect our guys to know the intricacies of all the major brands of machine – or put all the service modules on our computers. We are increasingly relying on dealers to keep our machines up and running.

‘Total maintenance = total peace of mind’
Every machine we buy comes with a total maintenance and repair contract. So, if I buy a Volvo ECR235E I expect that machine to be looked after by my Volvo dealer for eight years, 12,000 hours – and give me a guaranteed buy-back at the end.

‘It’s the total package that wins the day’
We put values on each of the services a manufacturer and its dealers deliver to us. Price is the last thing we look at. We don’t buy the cheapest, but the one that delivers best value and lowest cost of ownership. We rank manufacturers on eight aspects:

  1. Field tech availability.
  2. Workshop performance.
  3. Parts availability.
  4. Rental costs.
  5. Rental availability.
  6. Condition-based monitoring program.
  7. Machine specification.
  8. Purchase price.

‘Dealers have to help manage data’
11.Machine technology is a good thing – but dealers have to help manage it, as it can be very cumbersome. That’s why we require dealers to provide Conditioned Based Monitoring Program. Services like Volvo CE’s ActiveCare Direct (in North America) monitor the machine data and tell us what we need to know to increase productivity and uptime. Manufactures and dealers have to deliver the value from all the machine data. I welcome dealers calling up and telling me a machine is underperforming, or being operated incorrectly – because that’s going to help me lower my cost per hour through less downtime or expensive component repair.

‘Machines have to be easier to use’
It’s not easy for operators to jump from a Volvo to a Cat to a Komatsu. The controls are similar but there are differences that can reduce safety and productivity. There is a shortage of skilled operators, but modern machine control systems are compensating for this, and helping us get guys in seats. Systems that help operators dig down to exactly the required depth – but no further [like Volvo’s Co-Pilot Dig Assist] have the power to boost efficiency and productivity by up to 15%.

‘Autonomous machines are the future’
The labor pool isn’t like it was in the 50s, 60s and 70s – where there were lots of skilled operators. To combat the shortage, I see autonomous or semi-autonomous machines as an interesting development for boosting safety and productivity. Manufacturers are going to have to move in that direction.

‘Boosting productivity wins business’
Finishing a project earlier than planned allows contractors to be more efficient and get to the next job quicker. More productive equals more competitive and more profitable. That’s the ultimate goal of machine ownership. If our overall cost of equipment is lower than our competition, then it can make a difference. I see the effective use of equipment data and machine control systems as being important tools in winning the productivity and profitability battle.

Fact file:
Name: John Sharp
Job: Equipment director, Hubbard Construction Company (HCC)
Background: Been with HCC for 18 years, as dispatcher, fleet manager, maintenance manager and equipment operations manager. Since 2011 John has been Hubbard’s Group Equipment Director


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