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.

Dispatch integrates with system

Back-office systems also can integrate with batching and dispatch, creating a seamless system from order to delivery. “It's a cradle-to-grave system, with one customer ID on everything,” says Capital's Shealy. “You gain better quality control and efficiencies in loading trucks, and then you gain better utilization of your fleet.”

Transit Mix's system can monitor the time trucks take to load, tracking productivity. “If it takes 30 minutes to load after the order has been ticketed, somebody isn't paying attention,” says Walker. Recently, when a delivery report showed him that one truck took longer to load than others, he alerted preventive maintenance. A mechanic discovered the mixer's hydraulic motor and pump had slowed.

The system allows the first truck at the site to set up a “geo-fence” with its GPS system. As each subsequent truck breaks the fence, its time of arrival is logged. The trucks' sensors also indicate when the drum begins to rotate reverses. Thus, the producer can track when trucks arrive and pour and when they wash out. Wireless systems allow Walker or sales reps to check deliveries from any location.

Challenges still exist

To be sure, challenges to achieving high productivity still exist. Training is required, although because most employees are by now familiar with basic software, it's mostly a matter of learning the incremental differences. Producers also must stay current with updates to gain the most efficiencies and integration. Service, training, and updates are key factors in determining which system works best.

But efficiencies can provide fast pay-backs, making the cost of new systems easier to justify. And computer companies are not done providing enhancements. “Plants soon will be more dynamic, monitoring production in real time and adjusting to conditions all day long to account for humidity changes and other alterations,” says Systech's Rabchuk.

Software will offer more optimization and decision-making capabilities. “The systems will gather the data and make recommendations on the best way to utilize the fleet and plant, taking into account traffic congestion and other problems,” says Command Alkon's Newport. “It will make new recommendations all the time, and be capable of making the decisions to adjust. It will take a giant leap to give that kind of decision-making capability to the systems, but it will help producers make better decisions and free them for other tasks.”

Those efficiencies will be gained regardless of company size. “Pouring concrete is an event, and your customer needs confidence that you will perform reliably,” says Hoyle of Wellington Hamrick. “Technology ensures there is a place for smaller companies in the industry.”

— Craig A. Shutt is a writer and editor with James O. Ahtes Inc. in Chicago. For more than 15 years, he has helped produce Ascent magazine for the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute. You can contact him atcraigshutt@ameritech.com.

Web Extra

Selecting the proper computer system requires evaluating several factors. For further advice and suggestions from the producers interviewed for this story, visit our Web site at www.theconcreteproducer.com.