How to increase the productivity of construction equipment

Editor’s note: This piece was written by John Sharp, Equipment Manager for Florida-based Hubbard Construction Company. Sharp has been with HCC for 18 years and has also worked as a dispatcher, fleet manager, maintenance manager and equipment operations manager.

With some 1,500 machines including nearly 400 heavy machines, the road specialist Hubbard Construction adopted the following process to increase machine productivity and reduce cost.

Don’t buy it if it’s not used 70% of the time

The use of equipment is essential. When we look at our fleet, we want to own any machine that has 70% regular utilization. All we rent as needed. The base machines we own allow us to control critical site tasks and reassure customers that we will deliver projects when tendered.

Keep the machine for the life of the first components, then replace

We have over 25 years of maintenance history which tells us how long each type of machine will last. Typically, this is between 10,000 and 15,000 hours over eight to nine years. Our goal is to operate a machine for its “first life”, only retiring it when approaching 85% to 90% of the life of its major components.

A repair over four hours must be done by the dealer

Modern machines are so specialized and computerized that for anything important you have to hire a dealership technician. We can’t expect our guys to know the intricacies of every major brand of machine – or to install every service module on our computers. We increasingly rely on dealers to keep our machines in good working order.

Total maintenance should mean total peace of mind

Every machine we buy comes with a full service and repair contract. So if I buy a Volvo crawler excavator, I expect my Volvo dealer to look after that machine for eight years, 12,000 hours – and give me a guaranteed buyback at the end of it.

It’s the total package that wins the day

We value every service a manufacturer and its dealers provide to us. Price is the last thing we look at. We don’t buy the cheapest, but the one that offers the best value and the lowest cost of ownership. We rank manufacturers on eight aspects:

  1. Availability of field technicians
  2. Workshop performance
  3. Parts Availability
  4. Rental fees
  5. Rental Availability
  6. Condition monitoring program
  7. Machine Specification
  8. Purchase price

Dealerships need to help manage data

Machine technology is great, but dealers need to help manage it, as it can be very heavy. That’s why we require dealers to provide a conditioning monitoring program. Manufacturers and dealers must provide the value of all machine data. I welcome dealers who call me and tell me that a machine is underperforming or not being used properly because it will help me reduce my cost per hour through less downtime or repair of expensive components.

Machines need to be easier to use

It’s not easy for operators to switch from a Volvo to a Cat to a Komatsu. The commands are similar but there are differences that can reduce safety and productivity. There is a shortage of skilled operators, but modern machine control systems make up for that and help us sit the guys down. Systems that help operators dig exactly to the required depth, but lack the power to increase efficiency and productivity by up to 15%.

Autonomous machines are the future

The labor pool is no longer like in the 50s, 60s and 70s when there were a lot of skilled operators. To fight against the shortage, I see in autonomous or semi-autonomous machines an interesting evolution to gain in safety and productivity. Manufacturers will have to move in this direction.

Increasing productivity wins business

Completing a project ahead of schedule allows contractors to be more efficient and move on to the next job faster. More productive means more competitive and more profitable. This is the ultimate goal of owning a machine. If the overall cost of our equipment is lower than that of our competitors, that can make the difference. I see the effective use of equipment data and machine control systems as important tools in winning the battle for productivity and profitability.