Today’s construction scene leaves no room for gambles as rigid spec requirements and unpredictable federal funding is forcing contractors to analyze every project they bid down to the cent and second.
If Paulo Baltazar was a betting man, you might say he went all-in when his company, Baltazar Contractors, wagered its ability to turn a profit on a $22 million, 6-mile water transmission pipeline replacement job on one excavator.
But today’s construction scene leaves no room for gambles as rigid spec requirements and unpredictable federal funding is forcing contractors to analyze every project they bid down to the cent and second.
So when Baltazar sized up the South Transmission Main project in Agawam, Massachusetts, the hard numbers pointed in one direction — anteing up to a Volvo EC700C crawler excavator that could do the work of two machines.
The South Transmission Main serves around 28,000 people in this suburb of Springfield, Massachusetts. The 36,000 foot stretch of 48” and 54” steel pipe was originally placed in 1928 to funnel water from the Provin Mountain Reservoir. Corrosion and poor welds led to two major ruptures in recent years, prompting the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission to overhaul the entire span of pipeline. Baltazar Contractors, based in nearby Ludlow, was awarded the bid.
Baltazar Contractors, Inc. is a family-owned company specializing in the installation of sanitary sewer, storm and water mains, site development, roadway construction and streetscapes throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts. The company was started by Francisco Baltazar and his son, Paulo, in 1992, bringing with them more than 35 years of experience in the construction field. Today, Baltazar continues to be led by Francisco, Paulo and his brother, Dinis. Says Francisco, “I started this company based on Paulo’s passion for the business and, as a father, for my desire to see my sons doing what they love.”
The business has more than quadrupled from 20 employees to more than 90 and a fleet that grew from 20 machines to 100-plus. “We have always specialized in underground utilities, primarily water and sewer, but as time progressed we handled bigger and more complex projects. We love a challenge – which is how I would describe this project,” says Paulo.
The Agawam project, which is expected to be completed in the spring of 2016, consists of replacing the 6-mile pipeline from the 16 million gallon underground Provin Mountain Reservoir and includes the installation of 11 valves, 13 air valve chambers, 12 drainage blow-offs, 6 box culvert crossings with modifications, 13 wetland crossings and 13 road crossings. Neighborhood sprawl has encroached upon the pipeline’s path in many areas, leaving a slim 80 foot right-of-way to position equipment.
Because the South Transmission line is the region’s primary water source, construction is being performed in three phases to limit service disruptions. Each phase consists of installing a section of 48” – 66” diameter pipe, and related valves and infrastructure. This section is pressure-tested, disinfected and goes through a series of water quality testing before being brought online.
The replacement pipe is placed in 20-foot, 22,000-pound concrete segments. Each piece is cast at a specific grade and profile that follows the contour of the ground. The pipes are individually numbered and thermal-welded together like pieces of a snaking jigsaw puzzle.
These hurdles forced Baltazar to rethink how they would complete the job.
Luis Santos, Project Manager, explains that they wanted a primary excavator to dig, remove and replace the pipe. But the machine they had simply did not have the hydraulic muscle demanded. Compounding the challenge was the steep 25° slant of the Provin Mountain.
“Our plan was to cut the existing pipeline into segments, then using a 72”, 9,000-pound digging bucket on the excavator, grab hold of the old steel pipe, pull it out by wedging it in the bucket and place it to the side. Then we’d attach the new concrete pipe to the bucket via a chain sling and swing it back into the trench. However the previous excavator could not lift the pipe with the bucket attached. We were losing three and a half minutes per pipe by taking off the bucket and reattaching,” Luis says.
When Paulo consulted with Peter Gaj, his dealer with Tyler Equipment in East Longmeadow, Gaj suggested bumping up to a larger size machine that would give him more power but use less fuel. “Three factors were critical to me in selecting the right machine: the ability to produce rapid cycle times, having a high breaking point and being fuel-efficient,” Paulo says.
Adds Pete, “The competitor machine was constantly maxed out revving and burning more fuel. When we went to the Volvo EC700C, with the way Volvo designs their excavators you do not need to run them at max horsepower. For this application the excavator can run at about three-quarters throttle, around 1400 rpm, and that is where you also start to see the fuel savings. It’s not taxed at all and that also makes it more stable on the uneven terrain. Even though it is a next step larger in size than what they were using, because of the lower rpms Baltazar is actually saving more fuel, which we know because we are tracking consumption through the Volvo CareTrack telematics system.”
Pete’s confidence was initially met with doubts from Baltazar. It took a call to the Volvo factory in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, where the excavator product manager confirmed Pete’s calculations.
“Then it was a quick mathematical equation for Paulo,” Pete says. “He said, ‘If I go with this machine I can make the payments and still make a profit on this job by saving three and half minutes per pipe in cycle time.’”
Says Paulo, “Pete’s comprehension of what I needed and his knowledge of the Volvo product was instrumental in getting us the right machine for the project at hand. We have been very impressed with the excavator’s picking power at maximum reach and the smoothness and response time.
Once on-site the Volvo proved its worth and then some consuming pipe faster than Vianini Pipe in Somerville, New Jersey, could initially produce and ship it. “Right now we are laying an average of 200-300 feet per day,” said Luis. (The winter shutdown period allows Vianini to stockpile inventory to meet Baltazar’s in-season demand.)
Dana Kroll is the EC700’s main operator. After 27 years of running equipment he knows what sets a machine apart.
“The comfort factor — are you kidding me? I’m seeing the chiropractor a lot less,” he says, “Not that I am saying I am old, but you know it’s a very comfortable machine. Besides having 14 air vents keeping you cool on a 95 degree day, you have the two-way radio for communication. I also find the controls to be very smooth, especially when you are lifting 11-ton pipe and placing into a hole. It’s been a tremendous machine for us.”
Dana adds, “There’s six miles of this pipe and we are slamming it in the ground pretty fast. You know everybody says, ‘Look at the guy in the big dig,’ but it’s the guys in the hole that you need to give a lot of credit to, too. It’s a well-organized operation.”
Baltazar fits the excavator with a Felco conveyor system that feeds ¾ crushed stone into the trench from the rear of the machine and is activated by auxiliary controls inside the cab. This optimizes the tight space constraints and eliminates having to use the excavator bucket to add stone into the ditch.
Luis estimates Baltazar will complete the entire project three months ahead of schedule.
The Baltazar’s are lining up future jobs for the EC700C, particularly in mass excavation and deep sewer projects where it is best suited. Notes Dinis Baltazar, “We are planning for continued growth and to continue to provide quality work and take on even more complex projects with new challenges.”
“The company owners are all about giving employees what they need to get the job accomplished. They do expect things to get done, and we do our best to do that, and go with the right pieces of equipment. You’re able to get the job done ahead of time, and that is what the customer is looking for,” Luis says.
For Peter Gaj and Tyler Equipment, the bottom line is also about keeping the customer satisfied. Says Peter, “Let’s face it, the relationship is what sells the machine. Once a customer develops trust in you, and as long as you have a good product and company like Volvo behind you, it all works.”
Baltazar Contractors switch to a Volvo EC700C excavator to ramp up productivity on a major water transmission pipeline near Springfield, Massachusetts.