Launch Slideshow

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Integrating Technology

Integrating Technology

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    Ernie Walker, chairman and CEO of Transit Mix Concrete & Materials Co. in Johnson City, Tenn., is a true believer in the power of technology. “Information is everything,” he says.

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    Ernie Walker with a small portion of his Transit Mix Concrete & Materials fleet. With GPS, the producer can track when trucks arrive at a jobsite, complete a pour, and wash out.

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    Transit Mix Concrete & Materials' dispatch office. The producer monitors the time it takes trucks to load, tracking productivity.

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    Transit Mix's Ernie Walker (right) with plant manager Larry Mitchell.

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    Each truck in the Nevada Ready Mix fleet has a screen that gives the driver all of the information for the delivery, including the sales ticket and directions.

Capabilities expand

Concrete producers, who long have used some computer programs in their back office and batching areas, are seeing the benefits of adding new programs and integrating their systems. Computer companies, meanwhile, are taking advantage of high-efficiency chips, larger memory capabilities, and wireless technology to provide a wider (and cheaper) range of options.

“Everyone is concerned about operational economics,” says Shaun McGough, regional sales manager for Fullerton, Calif.-based Jonel. “An investment in a technology which producers can quantify in savings is going to be popular, especially since the budget limits that used to exist for memory space and costs have been removed. The restraint now is boiling available technology down to the features that producers want, so they can understand the capabilities and use them efficiently.”

Most producers are familiar with at least some technologies now, and most are curious about what additional benefits exist, says John Rabchuk, president of Systech Inc. in Woodridge, Ill. Industry consolidation has spurred that movement, as managers often introduce new technology systems to acquired or merged plants.

But technology isn't only for the multinational producers. It's also spurred local competitors to react. “The big guys have sophisticated operations, but the regional supplier has discovered that technology can be a great equalizer,” Rabchuck says. “It doesn't take much money to give the smaller guys the same tools as the big guys, and they may be more agile than the big guys.”

That was the case for Kitty Hoyle, owner of Wellington Hamrick Inc. in Boiling Springs, N.C. “We're a small company, and we need technology even more than others because we don't have the manpower to allow each person to handle only one job,” she says. “Technology helps us use our resources efficiently—and that's not lost on the customer. He doesn't care how you're handling any truck but his.”

The producer opened a new facility in 2004 and bought a state-of-the-art program. “Technology changes so quickly, that we wanted to be as up to date as possible to start out, or we would fall behind immediately,” says Hoyle.

Charlie Stone, vice president of Sardinia Concrete Corp. in Milford, Ohio, agrees. Sardinia uses a variety of new software programs and is always looking for more. “We're a small, private company, but we keep up with the technology and tools that a larger company can have. We know we have to work easy and work smart, and automation lets us do that.”

Producers' IT managers and owners cite three key areas of computerization: batching systems, back-office administration, and dispatch. Producers have used computers to perform these functions in various forms for some time. But computer suppliers are expanding their options to software providers who, in turn, can now provide additional benefits at cost-effective levels of investment.

Batching systems improve

Batching systems have greatly improved concrete efficiency, says Rusty Shealy, owner of Capital Concrete in Lexington, S.C. “There's no comparison between a computerized batching system and doing it manually today,” he says. “Hitting the right target is far easier.”

Even so, producers who use older computer systems may be giving away margins. Batching inaccuracies alone can cost a producer 30 to 80 cents per yard, not even accounting for maintenance or mixing inefficiencies, notes Systech's Rabchuk. “Too many producers don't monitor their mixtures closely enough,” he says. As a result, they provide 3000-psi concrete when 2500-psi strength was specified. “They watch specialty mixtures closely, but they should be spending time on their bread-and-butter mixtures, which account for 80% of their volume.”