Allegheny Contracting’s core business is natural gas utility pipeline installation through a team of 70 and an agile fleet of Volvo compact equipment and short-swing excavators.
"One of the main things I notice with Volvo excavators is their durability and longevity. These machines just keep running and doing their job day in and day out." —Brent Buehler, President and Owner, Allegheny Contracting
When Allegheny Contracting entered the public works construction field in 2001, the Ridgway, Pennsylvania-based company took the wide angle approach of many upstarts: tackling the unique and the unusual.
Within four short years, president and owner Brent Buehler hit the company’s profitability sweet spot, 50 inches underground.
Allegheny Contracting’s core business is natural gas utility pipeline installation through a team of 70 and an agile fleet of compact equipment and short-swing excavators.
"We quickly learned that we needed to target a niche market and hone our skills to be efficient. That is how we settled into natural gas pipeline work and have specialized in this market for the past ten years. Our jobs range from very small isolated leak repairs to major pipeline replacement projects," says Brent. Allegheny has seven dedicated pipeline crews that average 7 years of experience.
In Pennsylvania, according to the Public Utilities Commission, inspectors monitor more than 47,000 miles of underground utility pipeline. A significant amount is aging cast iron or bare steel pipes which are prone to corrosion. The trend is towards replacement versus expansion of end-user pipeline.
While age alone is not reason to replace first generation underground lines, technological advances are increasing delivery reliability and flow rates. New pipelines are also made of state-of-the-art plastics that are better suited for underground use and can flex with changing temperatures and bend along the contours of the ground.
Allegheny’s services span asphalt and concrete cutting, trench excavation, main and service line installation and remediation of sidewalks and roads. This turnkey business within a niche application makes Allegheny very competitive since they offer companies a single solution. Add to that Allegheny’s stellar safety record and certification as a DOT-qualified pipeline contractor. They are a member of the National Utility Contractor’s Association (NUCA), National Utility Contractors Association of Pennsylvania (NUCA PA), and NFIB. Allegheny Contracting received the NUCA PA Small Business Safety Award in 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010, and 2011.
Brent attributes the company’s strong safety culture and its dedicated workforce as the backbone of its success. "Our safety record has also helped in recruiting new team members. We have been able to attract a number of highly skilled people over the years based on our safe working conditions," he said.
Currently Allegheny is contracted for a multi-year plan to replace several miles of underground gas pipelines in several counties within Pennsylvania.
In March 2015, Allegheny started a $1.7 million project to update 5,000 feet of four- and six-inch 1940s-era bare steel natural gas pipeline near the main campus of Penn State University in State College. The lines parallel a section of Atherton Street, a roadway traveled by more than 38,000 vehicles a day during peak traffic periods, according to Pennsylvania DOT statistics.
Allegheny is placing on average 250 feet of line per day. The new six-inch diameter medium density plastic pipeline is being installed in a manner that minimizes service disruptions to homes and businesses. Sections are fused above ground to length using McElroy 28 fusion machines, lowered into place on top of 4 inches of limestone sand and backfilled with sand bedding followed by crushed stone. Allegheny is utilizing trench shoring equipment manufactured by Kundel to protect employees from trench collapse.
Allegheny runs a lean equipment line-up due to vehicle congestion and narrow working lanes. On this particular job are a number of Volvo machines including ECR58 and ECR88 mini excavators, BL70 backhoe, an EW180 wheeled excavator, skid steer loader with rock saw cutting attachment, and tandem axle dump trucks.
Wheeled excavators are a rare sight in North America but slowly gaining acceptance due to their road-ability and the added stability their outriggers provide on uneven terrain. They also have a slim profile to fit within a single lane of traffic or median strip and can travel at up to 22 mph, all attractive factors when working in congested environments.
Simultaneously, a few miles away on University Drive near a Penn State University student housing area, a second crew is replacing 2,000 feet of two-inch gas pipeline directly under the sidewalk. Two ECR 58’s are performing excavation, rock breaking, and lowering in work, fitted with hydraulic breakers and compaction plates in addition to their standard buckets.
"The ECR58 is perfectly suited for our type of work," says Brent. "It is light enough to limit secondary damage to property but powerful enough to do the job of a larger machine. They are very productive and versatile and with the range of attachments they can be equipped for almost any job we encounter." The short-swing ECR58 mini excavator measures just six feet, seven inches wide and carries 5,980 lbf of tear-out force.
Allegheny routinely equips these excavators with hydraulic breakers and vibratory compaction plates in addition to a selection of buckets.
Allegheny opts to purchase equipment and lease to fill in the gaps based on the demands of each job, Brent says. The wheeled excavator is a perfect example. His local Volvo Construction Equipment dealer, Pat Maurer with Rudd Equipment, recommended this particular model which Brent took on lease. Says Pat, "This was a unique job that required that the pipeline be run down the center of an active four lane road, and all the equipment had to be removed from the road in the evenings. So the EW180D is a great fit because of its reach, digging depth and mobility."
Allegheny operates more than 25 Volvo machines in its fleet, including several ECR58 and ECR88 mini excavators; BL60 and BL70 backhoe loaders, MCT135C skid steer loader and an ECR305C short swing excavator. Machines average 1800 hours per year.
Initially Brent was not a brand-loyal buyer. "As a business owner, I shop for value over price. I have found that the cheapest machine is generally not the best fit for the long term. We experimented with machines of lesser quality in our early years and the cost of downtime and constant failures far exceeded the savings on the purchase price," Brent says.
He says, "We were introduced to Volvo by Patrick and at first we were skeptical. Over time the machines have proven their worth and the support we receive from Rudd is second to none. One of the main things I noticed with the Volvo excavators is their durability and longevity. These machines just keep running and doing their job day in and day out with very little downtime. The reliability of the machines and the willingness from Volvo to stand behind their product, in my opinion, makes Volvo one of the strongest equipment brands out there." - October 2015