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.

Most new batching programs offer managers a better look at material costs by expanding the information chain. These programs provide real-time alerts to key personnel when batching is out of tolerance, says Monty Newport, of Command Alkon in Birmingham, Ala. “These systems provide producers information at the organizational level so that better control of material usage is a key area that can be improved.”

Transit Mix's Walker is a believer. Transit installed hydronic probes at all three of its plants, at a cost of about $7000 per set of two. “It was worth every penny,” he says. “It lets us control our water content much closer. The better your mixture, the less time the driver spends at the slump rack.” That minimizes truck time, which creates more productivity. He estimates the system saves about 2½ trucks' worth of time each year. “We can do more with less, and that drops to the bottom line,” he says.

Nevada Ready-Mix in Las Vegas recently added a slump monitoring program to its batching controls. “Our goal is to add the capability to batch high-strength concrete for projects that require 10,000-psi strength, and produce 400 to 600 yards per hour,” explains Ron Reed, concrete operations manager for the producer, a division of Mitsubishi. Nevada premixes its sand and water for better efficiency and is working toward its volume goal since the program went live in summer 2007.

Office systems reduce errors

The lower cost of computing technology is causing producers to look inside for improvements. Modern back-office software and hardware updates add efficiencies and facilitating integration with other operating systems.

Geiger Ready Mix in Kansas City, Mo., recently added a new system to replace one that had been accruing since the late 1970s. “We'd focused on automating our production side rather than the business side,” says president Steve McDonald. “The new system provides us with enhancements for reporting information and handling accounts receivables and other systems.”

The programs take in orders and create tickets with all necessary data, which then can be downloaded to billing. “Integrated reporting is a key benefit,” he says. “Before, we had islands of information that couldn't be used by different people. Now, reporting mechanisms are integrated and easier to access.”

Geiger's key reason for adding the systems is to prepare for future e-commerce capabilities. Online access will allow customers to place orders and review their accounts at any hour. “We want to make the business simpler and easier for our customers,” McDonald says. “The pressure comes from ourselves, not from our competition. We want to stay ahead and continuously improve.”

Sardinia's Stone also sees productivity gains in the administrative side. “Our new system helps gather information and make good decisions,” he says. “We need fewer people to work on a project, so they can use their time better.” A multi-million dollar project used to take 30 to 40 hours to prepare. Today, that total has been cut in half.

“These new accounting systems help producers get cash in quicker, which is the goal,” says Command Alkon's Newport. Contractors also like the responsiveness, as it lets them gather expenses quicker for their next draw.

“A staff member can stay busy just looking for paperwork, copies of a ticket, or an invoice,” adds Systech's Rabchuck. “These systems free people to provide better customer service.”

The systems also allow producers to better measure their effectiveness with each customer. “They are realizing that they have a gold mine in their databases,” Rabchuk says. The systems can evaluate which customers require the most high-maintenance (and high-cost) service.

Sardinia combines all material for a project into one file, which can be accessed from any site. All contracts, bid sheets, specs, and other paperwork is scanned and uploaded to the file. “We used to have to fax or e-mail information as it was requested, but now it's all in one centralized place that everyone can use,” says Stone. “We can work easier and smarter.”